This report presents information on public opinion about transgender people and their rights in China. We analyzed data from the 2017 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey, China panel, to provide new information on views toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society.
There is limited research on attitudes toward transgender people in China. A 2016 study of social attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in China, with a non-probability sample of 28,454 respondents, found that among social institutions families have the lowest degree of acceptance of LGBTI people (57.6% of the respondents indicated “low acceptance” or “complete rejection” in families); more than half of respondents were “not sure” about levels of acceptance in schools, workplaces, and religious communities.Another report of a nonprobability sample suggested that nearly 90% of families are not accepting of transgender family members, and 70.8% of transgender people experience school violence. This low acceptance may reflect a Chinese culture that emphasizes traditional gender norms. That said, at the societal level, Chinese people appear to be accepting of transgender people with whom they do not have a personal or familial connection. For example, Jin Xing, an openly transgender woman, is one of the most popular talk show hosts in China. Her show has more than 1 million viewers per week, and she is very popular among mainstream audiences. In contrast to the low level of acceptance in many parts of mainland China, a 2017 study of Hong Kong residents age 18 and over found that 80% of Hong Kong people are very accepting, moderately accepting, or a little accepting of transgender people, and 67% completely or somewhat agreed that Hong Kong should have a law that protects people from being discriminated against because they are transgender.
Research in China has shown that family pressure is a great concern for transgender people. Research shows that levels of family acceptance of transgender people is low. For example, a 2017 survey by the Beijing LGBT Center, which collected a nonprobability sample of transgender people, indicated that the majority (59.7%) of parents or guardians of transgender people who were transitioning at that time were unsupportive of their transition. Of 1,640 participants whose parents or guardians knew or guessed their transgender status, all but six experienced violence from a parent or guardian. Another survey of 1,309 transgender women and men across 32 provinces and municipalities in China also showed that a vast majority of transgender women (90.4%) and transgender men (84.5%) reported “intense conflicts with parents,” and that such conflict was significantly associated with an increased risk of suicide attempts. Another survey, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), collected a nonprobability sample of adults in China and reported that “compared with other minorities … trans people face the highest levels of discrimination, especially within the family, schools, and workplaces.”
Chinese law is largely silent on transgender rights. Without a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in China, there are only a few prohibitions of discrimination based on “sex,” mainly in employment and education settings. Yet, it is unclear whether these regulations can apply to transgender people. Reports suggest that transgender people suffer discrimination in the workplace – the unemployment rate among transgender people is nearly three times that of the general population, according to one study. The vast majority of primary and secondary schools in China require students to wear school uniforms based on their legal gender identity and only provide gender-specific dorms, restrooms, and bathrooms for their students – all of which are informed by a binary notion of gender. There is no explicit ban on transgender people joining the military, but transgender people who have undergone gender-affirming surgeries (GAS) would fail the military physical examination due to surgical history.
China allows transgender people to change their names and gender markers on their identity documents, requiring complete GAS and a certificate of gender authentication from a domestic hospital, along with verification issued by a notary office or “judicial authentication institution.” However, there are still great difficulties for transgender people to amend their gender markers on various other official documents, including academic certificates, diplomas, and vocational qualification certificates, which poses serious challenges for obtaining jobs. To access GAS in China, transgender people have to meet a number of strict and often insurmountable requirements. These include: providing a formal diagnosis of “transsexualism,” notifying immediate family members, submitting an official verification that they have no prior criminal record, and being over 20 years old and unmarried. In practice, “notifying immediate family members” has translated to notary-verified “consent letters from parents,” regardless of the transgender person’s age, which may not only intensify conflict between the transgender person and their family but may be impossible to obtain for many transgender individuals.
Regarding the right to form a family, transgender people are allowed to marry a person of a gender different than their legally recognized gender. The old GAS regulation requires that “the patient[’s] sexual orientation is directed at the opposite of their target gender,” though this requirement has been deleted in the new GAS regulation. China outlaws surrogacy, while other assisted reproductive technologies are provided only to married couples who have infertility as a form of medical arrangement. There is no law forbidding transgender people from adopting children. In practice, it is unclear whether transgender status deems a person “unfit for adopting a child”; however, there are several cases of openly transgender people successfully adopting children.