Head transplant planned in China


Surgeons Ren Xiaoping 任晓平 of Harbin Medical University and his Italian colleague Sergio Canavero say they will soon announce the date of the world’s first head transplant operation that will involve dozens of specialists and take place in China.

  • “Medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure,” said Canavero, according to the South China Morning Post.
  • “Our society is an open one and our job is to solve scientific and technological problems in our professional field,” said his Chinese counterpart, Ren, according to a separate article in the SCMP.
  • “Western bioethicists needed to stop patronizing the world,” Canavero also argued, citing China’s willingness to allow the operation as a sign of the determination behind President Xi Jinping’s campaign to “restore China to greatness.”
  • Technically a body transplant, the head transplant operation will match a recipient’s disease-free head with the healthy body of a brain-dead patient. Ren and Canavero say they have “rehearsed the procedure on two corpses, reconnecting the spinal cord and blood vessels of the head of one cadaver with those on the body of another in an 18-hour experiment last week.”
  • Not everyone is convinced. On social media platform Weibo, comments (in Chinese) included: “Canavero is a fraud in Italy — I don’t know why he’s widely reported by Chinese media,” and “Have you heard of the ‘straddling bus’?” [A fake, hyped transport innovation.]

If I were a head in search of a body, I am not sure I’d trust Canavero, at least not based on his website. But he is right that China is going to leap ahead in some areas of medicine where the country’s attitudes to ethics differ from those in the West.

Comrade vice-chancellor  

All foreign-funded universities must give Party secretaries vice-chancellor status and a seat on the board of trustees “at all education joint-ventures…reversing an earlier promise to guarantee academic freedom as the party strengthens political control over all levels of education,” according to (paywall) the Financial Times.

  • More than 2,000 Sino-foreign education joint ventures have been established. They range from small joint institutes to whole campus ecosystems, like New York University Shanghai.
  • As of this newsletter, no other major media organization has reported on the new requirements, nor have there been substantive comments from anyone at the institutions likely to be affected.

Fire in Beijing kills 19

A fire at a makeshift tenement building near a construction site in the south of Beijing’s urban sprawl killed 19 people. The victims were probably all migrant workers.

  • Sohu says (in Chinese, with photos) that 14 firefighting teams using 34 trucks were dispatched.
  • The BBC reports that it took around three hours to put out the fire.

The People’s Daily notes (in Chinese) that “seven major fires” have occurred in construction sites in Beijing this year. After this weekend’s fire, all companies responsible for the seven fires have been suspended from bidding for construction projects for 30 days, while Caixin says that Beijing authorities have also “launched blanket citywide inspections targeting unsafe buildings.”

The U.S. hardens on China in trade and in space

Two interesting comments from Jonathan Swan of Axios in his Sunday afternoon briefing:

  • “President Trump’s hardline trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer is wielding extraordinary — and growing — influence inside the White House,” and he is “increasingly winning internal arguments over the administration’s inevitable economic confrontation with China.”
  • “The escalating military space battle with China” was Swan’s takeaway from “the most illuminating session” of two days he recently spent traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.

A job posting in Washington

The Voice of America has a job opening for a China Branch Chief based in Washington, D.C. Responsibilities include managing a multimedia newsroom of about 100 journalists producing Mandarin and Cantonese content. The application deadline is midnight Eastern Time on November 29, 2017. For more information and to apply, please click here if you are a U.S. citizen, and here if you are a foreign national.