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24 November 2023

Zhao Yede 赵烨德 (1965 - ) sex-change surgeon

It is said but not confirmed that the first transgender operation in China was performed in secret in 1983.

In 1992 Zhao Yede, from Zhejiang province, was working as a resident in a hospital in Beijing, where one of his duties was replying to letters from patients.  When newspapers reported transgender surgery there, the hospital received many requests for similar surgery.  Zhao researched the topic, and decided to move to Shanghai to learn from Dr He Qinglian, known for performing China's first female-to-male transgender surgery that year. 

By 1999 Dr He had performed 11 male-to-female and 39 female-to-male operations – the most by a single doctor at that time.  He had by then received over 4,000 letters requesting such surgery.  He’s major innovation was to use skin from the patient's inner thigh to create the penis, which leaves minimal scarring (other surgeons doing phalloplasty used skin from the patient’s stomach or forearm).

Zhao practicing in Shanghai continued using He’s methods.  He has operated on trans persons from all over China (although not from Xinjiang), and from all occupations. 90% of his patients are trans men desiring phalloplasty.  By his method, it takes at least three surgeries for a trans man, and the price is correspondingly higher: ¥ 80,000-100,000 as opposed to ¥30,000-50,000.

Chinese regulations stipulate that candidates for transgender surgery must not have a criminal record, and must have a certificate from a psychiatrist and a letter of consent from family members.  Since one of his patients returned after a few months demanding a reversal, Dr Zhao asks several probing questions.  He accepts only 10% of those who apply to him.

He argues that whether we think of ourselves as a man or a woman is dependent on directives from the brain: Everything is dependent on these directives.   And likewise for trans persons: “There’s a directive anomaly. It’s not something you can change.”

Graduation diplomas are the only official document in China that cannot be revised after being issued, and thus students, wanting to transition, want to have the operation before graduation.

Zhao has 40-50 consultations on a busy day, and he and his team do up to five operations a day.

Many patients are now coming from abroad, from Malaysia, Singapore and Japan.

In 2012, there was media attention to Zhao’s work when twins becoming men were his patients.

*not Zhao Yide, Party Secretary of Shaanxi.

*Not Dr Lee Zhao who is part of the transgender surgical team at NYU Langone in New York.

  • "China's Sex Change Master”. Shanghai Daily. 2 September 1999. 
  • “China: Treatment of transsexuals who have undergone a sex change operation, particularly in Hong Kong (1997-2000)”. Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 4 April 2000. Online.
  • Xu Junqian. “Helping women find their inner man”. China Daily, 2017-03-24.  Online.
  • Cao Xi. “Being true to yourself: LGBT in China”.  CGTN. 01-Feb-2018.  Online.
  • Piper Weiss. “Twins Undergo Sex Change in China. Go from Sisters to Brothers Together”. Yahoo, March 28, 2012. Online.
  • “Identical twins first to undergo gender surgery in China”. Out News, 28th March 2012.  Online.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it was in 1983. The patient was Zhang Kesha (张克莎)


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