Planet China

Icy Thinking

Last week it was revealed that children’s author Du Hong, who died from pancreatic cancer in May, has had her head cryogenically frozen, making her the first Chinese to undergo such a procedure.

The operation was conducted by American cryonics company, Alcor. Since its founding in 1967, Alcor has carried out 141 freezing procedures, but reported exactly zero reanimation procedures. In a brief Q&A published by 21CN Business Herald, Alcor explains that the freezing process is currently “irreversible” but that the “technology of the future is boundless in possibility”.

Du Hong was the fifth Alcor patient this year. In addition to writing children’s books, she was also the editor of The Three-Body Problem, a Chinese work of science fiction which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel (see WiC262). In the book a character’s head is cryogenically frozen and despatched to outer space, where it is eventually reanimated by aliens.

Du Hong’s connection to the novel and her decision to undergo cryostasis has attracted great debate. Most have questioned the scientific benefits of the operation. Jiang Jiyao, a noted neurosurgeon, is sceptical that the structure and tissue of the brain can survive the low temperatures required for cryostasis. Alcor’s endeavours are “commercial rather than medical”, he also suggests.

Although Alcor is a registered non-profit body, its patients have to pay a range of fees to undergo the procedure. According to Du Hong’s husband, the cost of freezing her body would have been Rmb2 million ($314,329) so they only froze her head, which was cheaper at Rmb750,000. But even after making this economy, her husband still had to sell their flat and fully deplete Du Hong’s savings account.

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