The Head Transplant

Image by Lian Low

Written in Chinese by John Sheng

Translated into English by Ouyang Yu

For someone to be cured of his uremia, it is necessary for him to go through a kidney transplant operation. If it is a liver injury, a liver transplant has to be involved. If it is a severe facial deficiency, one has to go through a facial transplant. Even though it may result in a distorted face, the face as a whole is nevertheless preserved. Professor Jin Shan attempted a head transplant, namely, replacing someone’s head with someone else’s. Of course, he would have to start with an animal, swapping the heads of two dogs. Slowly, they woke up in the operating theatre. Subsequently, they were up and about. If no one told you, you wouldn’t have known that these two huge and fierce wolf dogs had gone through a head transplant by Professor Jin Shan. However, he now faced a serious issue as to what could be done to place Mr B’s head on Mr A’s shoulders if, in an accident, A’s head was wrecked and B’s body was destroyed, thus making someone ‘new’ altogether. One being, after all, is different from another, not only in facial features but also in their memories. If one’s memory could be preserved for eternity, that would mean that one could live forever, which is to say that, when one is close to dying, he would realize his dream of living forever if his memory could be transplanted to the body of a younger person, best if it were his own clone. The problem, though, is how Mr B was to face his own wife or Mr A’s wife. If he was to sleep with his own wife, it means his wife would have to sleep with someone else’s body. If he was to sleep with Mr A’s wife, it means that Mr A’s wife got her husband’s body back but had to endure the fate of being gazed at by ‘another man’. How then did this new man resolve his dilemma? One would assume that Mr A was dead while Mr B was alive because one’s brains, after all, dominated one’s body. However, not everyone thinks so, assuming that one’s body is what takes physical action even when one’s brains are the headquarters. Whatever the theory, scientific experimentation is necessary although ethical and social issues are inevitable.

The head transplant operation presents an amazing scene of ‘execution’ as Mr A and Mr B, both dead, have to be placed on the operating table. First, Mr B’s head, severed from his body, is supplied with oxygen and transfused with blood, until it wakes up and the face turns ruddy, when Mr A goes through a fairly easy separation operation, in which, his head, cut with a knife, in an act of beheading, is removed, without anesthesia, as it has been totally wrecked and his body is supplied with oxygen and blood as well as thoracic pacing till his intact body is revived. What follows is the connection of Mr B’s head with Mr A’s body, a moment of thrill as much as of pain. All this was only a process of imagination although Professor Jin Shan was confident that everything was possible.

Things under heaven happen by pure chance and are cruel. One day, when Professor Jin Shan had just finished an operation in the theatre, someone came in a hurry and told him of a serious car accident involving his wife. On hearing the news, his heart sunk as he rushed into the ICU ward. He could see that his wife’s face remained intact but her body had been crushed in places; she was now in a coma. Much saddened, Profess Jin Shan was determined to save her life if this meant that he had to do a body transplant. The next day, misfortune struck as his wife was pronounced dead although Professor Jin Shan did not give up. Instead, he moved her body into his laboratory, where he began an operation on her by removing her head from her body before supplying her head with oxygen and blood. After giving up on her body, he saved her head. Something incredible happened, amidst his sorrow and expectation, when not only colour returned to her face but, slowly, she opened her eyes. She lay there, quiet and peaceful, looking at her husband as if lost in thought. ‘My dear, you are fine. I am sure I shall help you stand up again.’ She winked at him, a casual sign they had agreed to as they had learnt from a film, holding a ‘dialogue’ by winking. For example, they would read letters in sequence and if one got it right the other would wink before they did the second round, until a word was completed.

Shortly after, all their friends and family came visiting her. In her consciousness, she was clear what had happened although she was reluctant to let others come to ‘watch’ her in her current status. Would a woman be considered a woman without her body? Still, she would very much like to see her own loved ones. For this reason, when her mother and older sister came, she opened her eyes, looking at them quietly. ‘My dear, it breaks my heart to see you turned into this. Mother wishes that you had her body so that you could go back to your kids again.’ It was a brief meeting but her loved ones managed to communicate among themselves. When she saw the sorry state she was in, her mother was overwhelmed with sorrow and never went back to see her again, leaving Professor Jin Shan to keep her company alone. As a response, she would always keep her eyes open. When she gently closed her eyes, Jin Shan understood that it was time he should go back and look after their children. Although the kids all thought that their mother had died, their father insisted that her eyes could still see them even though she was dead. Having learnt about the news, friends came to visit her but, feeling ashamed of her current situation, she, by refusing to open her eyes, indicated to Professor Jin Shan that he should let them go away, giving them all the impression that the professor had only kept the dead head of his wife. The other day, when Professor Jin Shan came to keep her company as usual, he told her that a middle-aged woman suffering from brain hemorrhages had just died and that he would perform a body transplant on her to enable her to come alive as a full human being and to go home and live with her kids.

After hearing his report, the professor’s wife did not open her eyes again. Obviously, she refused to take in someone else’s body because what she had would be someone else’s body even if the operation was successful. How would her kids feel about that? Would they still regard her as their blood mother? In addition, Professor Jin Shan would have to spend the rest of his life with ‘another woman’. She could not face any of those issues. In fact, since she lost her body, Professor Jin Shan’s wife would not see her kids even though she could see her loved ones. For this reason, she had long wanted Professor Jin Shan to give up on her by letting her go. Seeing that she refused to make a response, the professor took the final farewell with her one late night. When he switched off all the machines, his wife’s head slowly lost all its functions….

Author: Ouyang Yu

Ouyang Yu came to Australia at the age of 35, and, by 57, has published 65 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and criticism in English and Chinese languages, including his award-winning novel, The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002); his collection of poetry in English, The Kingsbury Tales (2008); his collection of Chinese poetry, Slow Motion (2009); his book of creative non-fiction, On the Smell of an Oily Rag: Speaking English, Thinking Chinese and Living Australian (2008); his book of literary criticism, Chinese in Australian Fiction: 1888-1988 (2008), and his translation in Chinese, The Fatal Shore (forthcoming in 2012). His second novel, The English Class (2010), won the Community Relations Commission Award in the 2011 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award, as well as short-listed for the 2011 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the 2011 Western Australia Premier’s Awards and Queensland Premier’s Awards. Ouyang Yu was nominated one of the Top 100 Most Influential Melbournians for the year 2011 as well as the Top 10 most influential Chinese writers in the Chinese diaspora. Ouyang is now professor of English at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.

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