Baby-eating spectacle disgusts U.K. viewers

Globe and Mail with a report from Reuters
By Ruth Cowen
January 3, 2002

LONDON -- British television viewers were horrified by the broadcast of a controversial documentary last night in which photographs show a Chinese performance artist eating a stillborn baby.

Complaints flooded into Channel 4 for televising the program called Beijing Swings, in which respected art critic and writer Waldemar Januszczak explores the city's underground art scene in an attempt to discover why China is currently producing the most shocking modern art in the world.

Extreme performances in the documentary included one man being covered in boiling wax and another marinating an amputated human penis in a vat of alcohol. Most disturbing were the pictures showing 32-year-old Zhu Yu washing a baby's corpse then putting dismembered parts in his mouth.

Mr. Zhu, a Christian, is seen showing the images to Mr. Januszczak and explaining that he set up the baby-eating performance after realizing that no religion or secular law expressly forbade cannibalism. He realized, he said, that he could base his work on this moral void.

In an interview from his Beijing apartment a few hours before the broadcast, Mr. Zhu said that people should be revolted. "When facing an issue, we must try to allow people's debate of an issue to produce a deeper discussion," he said. "Only if people did not curse it, did not detest it, would there be something wrong. They are right to scold."

Mr. Zhu, who says he's a devout Protestant, said nowhere does the Bible explicitly forbid the consumption of human flesh.

"There is nothing that cannot be reconciled with art, morality included," he said. "Even cloned people are appearing. We do not have many taboos any more. So in the final analysis, do we or don't we have a bottom line? That's the discussion this work triggers."

He calls the piece Eating People, and said it was staged at his home in early 2001.

Politicians and media critics had condemned the broadcast but Britain's Broadcasting Standards Commission said it could not judge a program before it was shown. China's embassy in London has blasted it as damaging the country's image.

A Channel 4 spokesman said the images in Beijing Swings "appear in the context of an intelligent and thought-provoking film" and were preceded by strong warnings.

Complaints about the film started arriving on the Channel 4 Web site even before the broadcast last night, with furious viewers focusing their anger on the "utter depravity" of showing cannibalism on screen.