University of Westminster flag

Westminster Forum, 5th Floor, Wells Street Building, University of Westminster, 32/38 Wells Street, London, W1T 3UW

He Xiaopei

Zhang Xi’s story: a woman with AIDS

Followed by a discussion with He Xiaopei, producer

In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles

In the producer’s words…

My initial thought was to tell the story of someone with AIDS who was not afraid of dying. However, ‘not afraid of dying’ could not bear the weight of Zhang Xi’s story. During the editing process, we fell into a trap regarding ‘truth’: we could not tell when Zhang Xi was telling the truth and when she was fabricating a story. And if it was fabrication, we couldn’t understand why she was doing this. Our editing reached an impasse. After two years of reflection, we finally understood: this doesn’t record Zhang Xi’s real life; rather, it records Zhang Xi ‘deducing’ her own life story. She seized the power to tell a story, decided which figures would appear in it, even arranged dramatic events. We are no longer entangled in the question of truth or falsehood, but follow Zhang Xi’s wish to express her suppressed or as yet unsatisfied desires.

People often think that the director and camera operator are in complete control while actors are in a passive position, and that the researcher has absolute authority while those being researched have an inferior status. But Zhang Xi, suffering from terminal liver cancer, overturned this relationship. She grasped the microphone and the video camera to tell a story that controlled the director and dominated the researcher. People often think that LGBT people suffer from the deepest oppression and vilification. Zhang Xi tells everybody that those groups you have never heard of, with their very deeply buried desires, are oppressed to the extent that they cannot even produce a voice.

People often think that the economy has developed and society has progressed. Zhang Xi reveals the existence of the urban poor: illiterate, unemployed, drug-addicted, violent; dumped at a remote distance by the rapid pace of development, ensnared tightly by sickness and prison. 

People often think there is no way to overcome the fear of AIDS. Zhang Xi tells you how her family and ex-husband treated her after she was infected with HIV.

People often think death is terrifying, but Zhang Xi could laugh about it. However, those things that we cannot talk about, those painstakingly concealed truths are more terrible than death itself.

Speaker’s Profile

“Hills trained me to be a professional shepherd and the Himalayas turned me into a full-time mountaineer. A government job made me an economist while the women's movement and gender studies converted me into a feminist. Participating in LBGTQ organising in China helped me realise there are many people, especially people with disabilities, HIV positive women, bisexual women, sex workers, who are also oppressed due to their gender and sexualities. This is why I set up the Pink Space Sexuality Research Centre and promote sexual right and sexual pleasure among people who are oppressed.” He Xiaopei

Dr He Xiaopei completed a PhD at the University of Westminster in 2006, titled ‘I am AIDS: Living with the Epidemic in China’. She is currently executive director of the Pink Space Sexuality Research Centre in Beijing, a women’s sexual rights NGO she founded in 2007.

All welcome 

Non-University of Westminster attendees please register with:
Dr Derek Hird 
Email: [email protected]

For enquiries about the Contemporary China Centre, please contact:
Professor Harriet Evans 
Tel: 020 7911 5000 ext 7603
Email: [email protected] 

Contemporary China Centre
Department of Modern and Applied Languages
University of Westminster
309 Regent Street. London, W1B 2UW