Cross-dressing teacher inspires former Shoreham reporter’s book on China

China in Drag by former Shoreham Herald reporter Michael Bristow
China in Drag by former Shoreham Herald reporter Michael Bristow

A former Shoreham Herald reporter, who went on to work for the BBC in China, has written a book about the country’s history based around the life of his cross-dressing Mandarin teacher.

Michael Bristow cut his teeth as a young journalist at the Shoreham Herald newspaper for two years, starting out at its former East Street office in Shoreham in 1994.

He said: “It was my first job as a journalist.

“I got to do lots of interesting things and I remember that time with great affection.”

He moved to China to learn Mandarin in 2005 and later got a job as a BBC correspondent in Beijing.

Covering everything from earthhquakes to the Olympics, he stayed in China until 2012 with his wife and two children.

He described it as a ‘fascinating’ place.

“It’s a culture very different to our own,” he said.

“It’s a very old civilisation and a communist country, but has introduced a lot of capitalist reforms, and is growing in strength.”

Resolving to write a book about China, he decided to focus the story around the life of his Mandarin teacher, a pensioner with whom he had taken lessons with twice a week for five years, as Michael said: “He is about as old as communist China.

“The ups and downs of the country are his ups and downs.”

It was only when travelling together for research that Michael discovered, to his surprise, that his teacher was also a cross-dresser, and he decided on the name for his book, China in Drag.

“Under communisim, people didn’t express themselves in different ways,” Michael said.

“That’s changing now.”

He describes his book as a mix between a travel book, a biography, a recent history of China and a bit about what it is like to live there.

The 48-year-old now lives in York and works for the BBC World Service.

His book can be bought online at