Bodily Transformations: Responses to Intersex Individuals in Early and Imperial China

Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This paper discusses the most important accounts of intersex individuals in early and pre-modern China, focusing specifically on the records which describe these people as changing sex at puberty. Contemporary medical knowledge interpreted this as a spontaneous sex change; in fact underlying sex was being revealed. Such transformations came to be interpreted in dynastic histories and other official texts as omens of dynastic change; when the same stories appear in anomaly accounts, they are understood simply as curious or strange incidents. Intersex individuals were uniquely challenging to gender norms, and as such they provide an important focus of discussion about social attitudes towards appropriate roles and boundaries. From the late Ming dynasty onwards, particularly with the case of Li Liangyu, members of the literati elite in China began to do more than simply record the reintegration of intersex individuals into mainstream society through categorization into the opposite gender followed by marriage, as they started to consider the difficulties they suffered.

Bodily Transformations: Responses to Intersex Individuals in Early and Imperial China





Harry Fischer Carl Lischer Louis Byers“True Hermaphroditism,” Annals of Surgery 136.5 (1952): 864–73.


Fang XuanlingJinshu29:910.


Liu JianguoXinji Soushen ji46. This story subsequently figured in Fan Ye Hou Hanshu 82B:2741–2742. At this stage details such as the different expertise of the two men were maintained. For a much simpler later version of this tale; see Li Fang 李昉 Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (Congshu jicheng ed.) 284:19a “Wulei 巫類”.


Liu JianguoXinji Soushen ji227. For an alternative translation of the Soushen ji passage; see Kenneth J. DeWoskin and J.I. Crump trans. In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Stanford: Stanford University Press 1996) 95.


Lu RenlongXingshi yan37:522–3.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 31 31 10
Full Text Views 9 9 5
PDF Downloads 5 5 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0