Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body. by Ari Larissa Heinrich (Book Review)

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Post-Mao China has seen the embrace of a neoliberal market logic that has brought the objectification and commodification of human bodies and body parts to its logical conclusion—kidneys, livers, and even hearts and corneas are now available within weeks for anyone able to pay. The rejection of the collective values and morality of the Maoist period, combined with the defunding of military, police, and health care institutions and the encouragement for these agencies to find their own revenue streams, has coincided exactly with a global revolution in transplant surgery and immunosuppressive drugs that make transplant surgery a miracle cure when suitable organs are available. Chinese people have long had a strong cultural preference to preserve their bodies intact to the grave, and this, combined with a lack of faith that organ distribution systems are fair, has meant that donation rates among the general population in 2015 were a mere 0.6 per million. Yet according to Chinese government officials, death row prisoners determined to make right their debt to society donate their organs at extremely high rates. Wealthy transplant patients in China and from foreign countries have taken advantage of this situation. Transplant tourism to China has been illegal since just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and harvesting of organs from prisoners was made illegal in all cases in 2015, but even Huang Jiefu, the official in charge of compliance, has acknowledged that the practice "probably" continues and that ninety percent of an acknowledged 13,000 annual transplants continue to be sourced from prisoners.


Review of the book Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body, by Ari Larissa Heinrich.