China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-dresser by Michael Bristow - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Tutorials from a Transvestite

China in Drag: Travels with a Cross-dresser


Sandstone Press 213pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

The cross-dresser of this curious book’s title was Michael Bristow’s Mandarin teacher while the author was working for the BBC in China. Using the story of his teacher’s life, Bristow skips through a range of Chinese events and people, while touching on the national character. Readers who know little about China can skip along with him.

Born in 1951, the teacher was taken out of school in the 1960s, as a result of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution, and sent to the countryside in the ‘cold northeast’ to ‘learn from the peasants’. His first job was at an MSG factory. Bristow became aware of his teacher’s cross-dressing habit only after some years of being his student. One morning the teacher appeared

wearing a smile and a full outfit of women’s clothes … a tight white T-shirt that clearly showed a bra underneath. It had glitzy silver writing on the front. He was also wearing matching white trousers. They were three-quarter length, which allowed me to glimpse the tights he’d pulled on … He wore pink lipstick and light-blue eyeshadow, and had used a thick black pencil to trace the line of his eyebrows.

When cross-dressing he moved his body differently and spoke in another

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