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Date: Sun, 13 Dec 1998 16:38:29 -0800
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
From: "Marilyn Levine, Lewis-Clark State College" <mlevine@lcsc.edu>
Subject: H-Asia: Chinese Gender Classifications

Ed. Note: This request has been forwarded to us from an H-ASIA member on behalf of Professor Rice. Could you BOTH respond to the list and send your response to j.c.rice@btinternet.com Thanks, MAL

Chinese Gender Classifications

A dialog from the H-Asia list, December 1998

Date: Sun, 13 Dec 1998 16:38:29 -0800
From: "j.c.rice@btinternet.com" "Julia C. Rice"

Dear H-Asia Members:

I once heard that Chinese passports identify nine different genders in people. Does anyone out there have any knowledge about the accuracy of this information and if so what these nine genders are identified as being?

I think it was described as being something like this:

Masculine male.
Feminine Male.
Feminine Female.
Masculine Female etc.

I know it's a strange request however I'm teaching a lesson on Gender and film and would love to include this information in the presentation however I'm not sure as to its accuracy.

sorry for any cross-posting

Julia C. Rice

Date: Sun, 13 Dec 1998 20:37:18 -0800
From: Par Cassel <par_cassel@hotmail.com>

When I worked at the Swedish Embassy in Peking the other year I saw hundreds of Chinese passports of different kinds and I never came across any passport with the classification you mention. However, it is a widely known fact that private Chinese passports classify people in terms of occupation (I'm afraid I don't know how many), which may be the source of this misunderstanding.

Par Cassel
Kanazawa, Japan

Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 08:29:05 -0800
From: Xiang / Goodkin <goodfeng@worldnet.att.net>

Julia, I never heard that about Chinese passports, but after reading your note I went to fetch my husband's passport. His was issued in 1995 in the People's Republic. In the slot for sex it gives one character only, "nan" meaning male. Perhaps in a different era?

However, if your point is to talk about the fact that culturally some groups divide the world into more than 2 genders, may I suggest Serena Nanda's work on the hijira of India. I believe the book is called "Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijiras of India." A hijira is a person born a biological male who discovers his impotance. In order to rectify this problem in the next life, he gives his life to serving the goddess (of fertility?) Bahuchara Mata. The hijiras undergo castration, and live and dress as women; but, are not considered women or men.

Karen Goodkin, Depts. Anthropology

Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 20:15:29 -0800
From: Fritz Blackwell <blackwel@wsu.edu>

It should be pointed out that not all of those castrations are voluntary. For some strange reason, there has been considerable romanticizing on this subject lately.

Fritz Blackwell Washington State University

Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 20:15:29 -0800
From: Daojiong Zha <dzha@miyazaki-mic.ac.jp>

Being a Chinese (PRC) passport holder I find the story you reported too absurd to be credible. My passport simply identifies me to be a "male." That is it. In fact, I do not recall encountering anything like what your story says in my adult life in China before I left there ten years ago.

One possibility (I'm just guessing here) is that someone mistook the classification of the citizenry into nice classes during the Cultural Revolution (CR) to be true of gender talk in China. The fact of the matter is that even during the CR one fell into either a "revolutionary" or a "counter-revolutionary" male or female.

Zha Daojiong

From: "Julia C. Rice" <j.c.rice@btinternet.com>

I just want to thank everyone for their help with my query... I really hope that it did not offend anyone as it was not meant to do that... just one point that needs to be clarified... I'm not a professor yet... but I'm working on it. ;-))

One response which came to me off line...although I believe that it may have been posted from a member of this newsgroup...needs to be aired...so here goes...

>I am glad you checked this before including this in your presentation,
>otherwise, it will become one of the greatest joke.

I'm sorry to say that it would have not been treated as a joke. You see... my students would not have had any thing to compare this information with to check on its validity.... they would have believed what I said and gone on to regurgitate the information that I gave them and unintentionally reinforced this untruth. That is the responsibility that all teachers, lecturers etc. have to accept.... our students trust us.... it is our responsibility to check our information and sources. That is why these global links that we have through newsgroups are so important... they provide us with the opportunity to do this.

I always try to verify anything that I'm not too sure of...even if it does display a lack of knowledge on my part...(in this case the answer would not have been found in a book).... this just illustrates the importance of doing this. ;-))

take care and many thanks for your help,


Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 21:26:09 -0800
From: Xun Liu <Xun-Liu@worldnet.att.net>

The present confusion may have stemmed out of a special feature report in Chinese media early this year.The feature report was about some medical doctors in China who performed many sex change operations for their patients. The report discussed at length some of the doctors' concern that the current practice of gender classifications in China and in the world may not be sufficiently representative of the physiological and social reality in the world. I remember that in the report the doctors cited clinical encounters with patients whose anatomical structure and social behavior clearly defy the strictures of the current classficatory categories. The report quoted one of doctors suggesting a list of gender categories (9?) other than the nan(male) and nu(female) categories and calling for more social compassion toward and understanding of those people who fall into these categories.

Now I can't quite pinpoint the exact or even approximate date and source of the report. But given the few sources of Chinese available to me, I would think the most likely source is the CND (China News Digest) over the net. I would suggest the interested parties contact CND editorial staff for confirmation of the report. The feature report itself was originally carried and well-covered in newspapers in China.

Sorry about the unspecificity. And good luck hunting.

Xun Liu
Ph.D candidate
History Department
University of Southern California