The People´s Republic of China – a country that is recently trying to present itself well and in a pleasantly manner to the Western world. China boasts about its rapidly increasing economy, growing middle class and is in the forefront of commercial interest because of its globally fastest expanding market.
China shows a face of a good-natured Chinese bear to the West. We are aware of the fact that this bear has its claws hidden somewhere, but we desire to burrow our heads into its fur and cuddle it close. The colors covering the bear´s coat, colors of “yin and yang” do not only reflect the bright and dark sides of the recent past of China, but also current present. A great leap forward. Campaign against the rightists or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution may belong to the past. Nevertheless, massive violation of human rights occurs even nowadays.
What China definitely does not boast about is the highest number of people unjustly imprisoned. Although China in fact remains a totalitarian state, it has built a specific type of capitalism which does not hesitate to turn even its own citizens into money and misuses them as a source for organ trade.
I have created a panda-man-abused prisoner. In the installation formed from teddy bear bodies, the Chinese pride and joy blends with one of the Chinese taboos. General awareness of the problems and ethics connected with human organ trade shall be spread to public through my Project.
Thousands of political prisoners stay behind bars and Chinese authorities constantly suppress freedom of speech and right to own opinion especially among minorities such as the Uighurs, the Tibetans or religious groups such as the Christians or people practicing Falun Gong (Falun Dafa). Practitioners of Falun Gong have been, as the organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International state, since 1999 unreasonably persecuted and imprisoned, tortured and even killed in prison – often only due to demand for a compatible human organ. Although the official Chinese media say that prisoners are no longer used as the source of body organs by government since 2015, the latest information show that such practices are still ongoing on a large scale as there is a lack of volunteer donors. The statistics suggest the same. In Canada, for example, recipients have to wait for up to 6 years for a new body organ, while in China it is possible to get a new body organ for foreign clients within few days.
China currently has, according to official statistics, 169 transplantation centers and intends to almost double their number within next four years. It is not clear, where the sufficient number of volunteer donors would be found for those plans of Chinese health service.
It is difficult to prove how much does organ transplant tourism to China refer to European countries. A number of countries wants to have as good political relations with China as possible because of their good economic connections. Unfortunately, those countries often close their eyes to their conscience and to the abuse of prisoners. Peking is therefore going to show us two faces of panda in the future and maybe, literally. China loans its national symbol to the ZOO of friendly countries to express exceptional diplomatic relations. So called “panda diplomacy” has a very long tradition in China and it is the greatest act in terms of how the Chinese respect and honor pandas. Killing a panda could be punished by death sentence in the past. Nowadays, many years in prison are waiting for anybody who kills panda intentionally.
Human organ policy differs from panda diplomacy in China. The difference between the way China treats its own citizens in comparison with its national symbol and the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund, is striking. Like in the case of prisoners of conscience, panda bears are being misused for their body parts that are said to have healing power in traditional medicine. While human organ trade happens with official blessing, trade with panda bears´ body parts is the domain of poachers and illicit trade.
No matter how the effort to protect giant panda in the wild is of course correct, I am trying to draw public attention to this different approach between animal and human value of life in my Project. Therefore the aforementioned contradiction between protection of giant panda and protection of human life is inserted into the bear-object, as well as the right to life and right to have own organs both for panda and Chinese prisoners. I also proceed from our cultural conception of teddy bear as something nice and cuddly, something that suggests being our friend of whom we take care since childhood. The bear is sewn using hair and is made out of realistic imitation of human skin, including pigmented blotches. It has nipples, a belly button and remains of cutting wounds in identical positions as the real victims of organ trade. Its color and body parts also refer to panda bear. It is approximately of the same size and weight as a newborn baby. That way I wanted once again to underline its vulnerability and the need to care for it and protect its life.
The number of victims of organized organ harvesting is difficult to be verified due to the fact that China does not publish those statistics. Ethan Gutmann, an American investigative journalist conducted a several-year research and estimates that approximately 65,000 people were murdered that way. As the organ trade still continues, the number is likely to increase. Therefore there are at least 65 bears in my installation, each of which symbolizes 1,000 of victims of violent organ harvesting.