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The History Issue

Chinese Natural History Museum

Last year, Belgian photojournalist Nick Hannes took a year off from shooting warzones all over the world and travelled from Antwerp to Vladivostok and somehow then ended up in Beijing.

by Nick Hannes; Entrevista: Kasper Demeulemeester
May 2 2008, 12:00am

PHOTOS BY NICK HANNES, INTERVIEW BY KASPER DEMEULEMEESTER

Arm, head, hand. I think that they're trying to explain how the tendons on the fingers work, but I had no idea what the addition of the arm and the head mean... These are all real human body parts, but I had to guess what the story was, since all information was in Chinese.


Last year, Belgian photojournalist Nick Hannes took a year off from shooting warzones all over the world and travelled from Antwerp to Vladivostok and somehow then ended up in Beijing. While there, he heard things about their Museum of Natural History which made him think, "Ewww, weird," and also "Hmmmm, cool?" Locals told him there were whole halls consisting of rows and rows of human body parts in jars, fetuses, and various different kinds of deformed babies.

While the rest of the museum has been renovated in time for the sumnmer Olympics, this part has been ignored and kind of Swept under the rug from the public. So you basically have a whole museum of cool new fake plastic dinosaurs, educational dioramas of stuffed wild animals, and then the Frankenstein Wing. Nick bought a ticket, walked in, hid his camera, ignored all signs prohibiting photographs and avoided the Chinese guards to get us some pictures. In a lost corner of the museum, not shown on any of the museum indicators, he walked into a hall where a mutilated baby's head pickled in formaldehyde welcomed him in.       This is a child's head where the lips, jaws and gums were cut out to more clearly see the teeth.

These are a fetus and two deformed babies. I suspect they must have been born with their brains outside their skull or something. They might even have been Siamese twins born with their heads attached to each other. It was really weird to see all these families with little kids walking around.

Parents were pointing at and explaining the body parts to their kids in the same casual manner you would an Egyptian mummy or Triceratops skeleton.

Totally business as usual.


This is a human jaw, heavily affected by the chemical fluid in which it’s been swimming for years.



A baby or a little kid with an open skull.

As a Sunday afternoon bonus, here are a few more shots taken at the body-part wing of the Beijing Natural History Museum by the VBS camera crew who shot the Supergirl series. Enjoy!