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Hu Wenge: A woman's touch

Hu poses outside his apartment in Beijing. Photo: GlobalTimes


A female impersonator in the Peking Opera and China's first cross-dressing pop singer, Hu Wenge(胡文阁) looks back on his career over green tea on a recent afternoon.


"It's so ridiculous," Hu says. "Life seems to be playing jokes on me." He takes another sip of his tea and manages a little smile.


Hu performs the art of nandan, or female impersonation, in the style of the Mei Lanfang school.


Hu, 45, is in disbelief about the current age, where a cross-dressing pop singer like Li Yugang(李玉刚) can appear on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the most sacred honor for a performer in his eyes.


More than a decade ago, Hu himself sought out a spot in the Spring Festival Gala, and was rejected twice. He gave up all hope of turning his cross-dressing act into a career as a pop star and poured all his energies into Peking Opera, an art form with a long history of male actors impersonating females. The opera only started to accept females after 1911, and female actors weren't common until the founding of New China in 1949.


Hu chooses not to think about what his life would have been like had he known popular culture would eventually become more accepting of acts like his. Despite this, he's confident that Peking Opera affords him a higher level of artistic expression not possible for a pop music performer.


"Pop entertainment just tries to have mass appeal and make money," he says. "Peking Opera is real art."


In his 30-square-meter living room, all the surfaces are filled with awards he received and glass-framed pictures of him posing in nandan clothes. There's even a photo of him shaking hands with former Premier Wen Jiabao and US President Barack Obama.


"That was Obama's first visit to China back in 2009," Hu explains proudly. "We gave a performance at the Great Hall of the People."    

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