28 May 2005

Offensive to their culture, maybe

AP: "An exhibit showing Chinese bodies and organs is drawing protests from Chinese-Americans who say the display of corpses is offensive to their culture."

The exhibit is "The Universe Within", which shows plastinated bodies, letting us all see what lies under the skin.

Now, on one of my visits to China, in either 1990 or 1993, I visited the Natural History Museum which, if I remember correctly, was on Qianmen Dajie, the big street running south from Tiananmen Square.

Downstairs was pretty standard old-school museum stuff — cases of insects on pins, and moth-eaten stuffed animals.

But upstairs there was an extensive exhibit of human bodies in, I believe, formaldehyde. It focused on human oddities, especially deformed babies, but also included two bisected bodies, one male, and one a woman who died in childbirth, her unborn child still in the birth canal. Most interesting, I thought, was the body that had been flayed, exposing the musculature beneath.

The people I saw there didn't seem offended — they were instead rather gleefully pointing out the most freakish exhibits to one another.

Now, that may be a reflection of the Chinese government's attempts to change Chinese culture. And the people who would have gone to such an exhibit might be the Chinese version of uncultured louts. But from what I saw, I wouldn't have concluded that it was offensive to the culture.