Korean Transgender Entertainer Jang Chae-won’s Tragic Story

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Pretty Woman, Jang Chae-won

People belonging to a sexual and gender minority are not something you see very often on Korean television or as part of the entertainment industry in general. As most know, South Korean morals are built up quite strictly of Confucian values that highly impact on how people act and govern their relationship with others. This caused society to adopt a strict moral code of conduct that is not open to change and contemporary views, such as the ones about non-binary sexual and gender orientation, viewing them as deviant forms of conduct. Jang Chae-won is one of the few that managed to break that perspective and made it on one of Korea’s leading television shows in the ’00s, SBS’s Truth Game.

Her appearance gave the public and viewers a new take on how they perceive gender minorities, being a transgender herself, as she shared stories of her transitions. Another interesting point was that she has also once appeared on the show before her transition, giving the episode she appeared in the title The Man Who Appeared (on the show) 3 Years Ago. Sadly, not long after her appearance, she was found dead, apparently of suicide, something that is unfortunately quite common among the gender and sexual minorities in South Korea. So, are you interested to learn more about Jang Chae-won? Let’s take a deeper look at her appearance on Truth Game and her suicide case.

Profile and Facts

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Full Profile

Name Jang Chae-won
Previous name Jang Jung-han
Date of Birth July 18th, 1982
Death October 3rd, 2008
Gender Female

Facts

  • Has starred on Truth Game in the past as a crossdresser in the episode “Find The Girl.”
  • Her death was around the same time as the death of another sexual minority member named Kim Ji-hoo and another celebrity, Choi Jin-shil, sparking suspicion of a copycat suicide situation.
  • Earned the nickname ‘The Second Harisu.’

Appearance in Truth Game

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Truth Game is a show that aired on SBS from 1999 to 2008, focusing on relevant social issues that are then brought up by a group of panelists. The format of the show revolves around a group of guests who are invited in the episode with a certain theme in mind and panelists have to judge which of the group fits into the theme or issue at hand from the stories told by the guests. This format fits into the title Truth Game, as they would have to judge which of the guests is really telling the truth and truly fits with the episode’s decided theme or topic.

Unlike the usual format, the episode in which Jang Chae-won appeared, focused more on her story after previously appearing on the show, in its normal format, as a guest while crossdressing. The topic of the previous episode was to identify which of the guests are ‘real girls’ or identify themselves as female, and at the time as a crossdresser, Jang Chae-won still identified herself as a male, as well as others, who still viewed her as a male. Three years after the airing of the episode in question, in 2007 to be exact, she was invited back as the producers of the show heard she now identifies herself as a female, making her one of the only transgender stars in the Korean entertainment industry.

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At the time, there was only one other transgender star in the industry who had put her name out there, and that was Harisu. This earned Jang Chae-won the nickname ‘The Second Harisu,’ which to most seemed very applicable at the time. She was a guest in Truth Game after she had undergone her sex reassignment surgery, thus giving viewers and the public her view and take on her life as a transgender. She stated that even though her life as a transgender woman has not been easy, it is very important for her to be confident and open about the fact that she is who she is. Through various plastic surgeries and her sex reassignment surgery, Jang Chae-won said that she has found her truth as a woman, which is why she wanted to go back on the show when invited.

After her episode aired, a lot of the viewers went to her mini homepage and commented encouraging words and support for her actions. They commented with words such as, “You’re beautiful because you’re confident, your display picture seems like a doll,” “Please don’t pay attention to the hate comments and don’t be sad, the confidence you show while living your best life is honestly really cool,” “Please don’t be frustrated and be brave, show the vision that only Jang Chae-won-ssi can unfold,” “If you’re not regretting your own choices and can live a happier life now than before, please don’t mind those who say bad things about you.”

Suicide

A year after her appearance on the show, Jang Chae-won was found dead in the bathroom of her house. This came only three days after the death of another celebrity, Choi Jin-shil, who was also found in her house under similar conditions. Jang Chae-won seemed to have hanged herself in the bathroom as a means to end her life. Her body was initially found by a friend of hers who was worried when she had not been answering their calls and went to visit her.

The friend didn’t go to visit her by herself, but she asked her boyfriend to also check up on Jang Chae-won. When they arrived, the door was locked so they had to break in, and when they got inside they found her dead body. After the body was found, the friend reported the incident to the police which then led them to launch an investigation. After the investigation was conducted the death was ruled as a suicide as no trace of homicide could be found at the crime scene.

The police came to the conclusion that the suicide might have been a result of her recent break up with her boyfriend and the issues she had been having with the people around her bringing up her sexuality and gender. Her friend also revealed that as they watched the news of Choi Jin-shil’s death the day before that, Jang Chae-won said that she could understand why she chose the path of death. She also uploaded a strange message a few days before her death on her mini homepage, reading, “Mom, I’m sorry. Next time I’ll be better.”

Public Reaction

Some of her fans seemed to have belatedly learned about the news from her mini homepage, as the reports that came out were somehow covered up by news of the other suicides that happened at the time. After the news came out, fans and close friends left messages on her mini homepage, expressing their grief. The public seemed to agree with the police’s ruling, suspecting it might be a case of copycat suicide due to the frequency of sexual and gender minority suicides at the time.

So what do you think of Jang Chae-won as one of the only transgender celebrities in South Korea? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!