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Chinese Lady Dai leaves Egyptian mummies for dead
By Yu Chunhong (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2004-08-25 08:59

People all over the world think of Egypt when talking about body preservation and mummies, but how many people know that the best preserved bodies in the world are actually in China?

The body of Lady Dai [special to chinadaily.com.cn]
According to some scientists, what the ancient Chinese were able to achieve in body preservation leaves the Egyptians in their dust. The body of Lady Dai of the Western Han Dynasty, housed in the state of the art Hunan Museum, attracts flocks of visitors every day. When people gaze at the body, they cannot help but wonder, how did they do it?

But from now on, people do not have to travel to China's Changsha City to pay her the visit, as the archaeology documentary film "Diva Mummy", featuring her and two other almost equally well preserved Han bodies, will debut on the US National Geographic Channel, September 6, 2004, as part of the kick-off of the National Geographic Channel's "Most Amazing Discoveries" series.

The complex painting inside [special to chinadaily.com.cn]
The film is a co-production between Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ) and View Point Communications, a production company that is affiliated with the China International Communications Center (CICC), the National Geographic Channel and Arte.

China has always fascinated the world with its rich culture, and numerous mysteries and treasures buried deep under the earth and the sea. The Diva Mummy invites viewers to ponder one of forensic archaeology's greatest mysteries: How several bodies buried in central China over 2,000 years ago came to be the best preserved ancient human remains ever found?

The producer of "Diva Mummy," Steve Talley [special to chinadaily.com.cn]
In 1971, at the height of the cold war, workers digging an air raid shelter near the city of Changsha uncovered an enormous Han Dynasty-era tomb. Inside it they found over 1,000 perfectly preserved artefacts, as well as what some claim is the most perfectly preserved corpse ever found.

The tomb belonged to Xin Zhui, the wife of the ruler of the Han imperial fiefdom of Dai. Xin Zhui, the Lady of Dai, died between 178 and 145 BC, at around 50 years of age. The objects inside her tomb indicted a woman of wealth and importance, and one who enjoyed the good things in life.

But it was not the exquisite lacquer dinnerware, the exotic foods or the fine fabrics that have paved her way to the immortality that is bought by fame, but the extraordinarily well-preserved state of her remains. Lady Dai is a mummy more famous than all other mummies as the legend and mystery of how ancient Chinese morticians preserved her remains for so long has baffled and amazed scientists for many years."

The body is so well preserved that it can be autopsied by pathologists as if it were only recently dead.

When Lady Dai was found her skin was supple and her limbs could be manipulated; her hair was intact; her type A blood still ran red in her veins, and her internal organs were all intact.

The mystery of Lady of Dai has not yet been solved. Archaeologists and pathologists are still pondering the possible reasons behind her state of preservation. Was it the elaborate tomb construction that protected the body? Or, more controversially, it could have been the mysterious liquid that the body was immersed in. Is this strange substance an elixir of immortality?

To intensify the mystery, two other tombs containing bodies in a similar state of preservation have been found within a few hundred miles of Xin Zhui. One was a magistrate by the name of Sui, the other was Ling Huiping, the wife of a powerful Han Dynasty lord.

The three corpses have provided archaeologists with much information not only about their deaths, but also about their lives. Xin Zhui's medical profile may be the most complete ever compiled of an ancient human being. It has been revealed that she suffered from a series of parasites, had lower back pain and was overweight at the time of her death.

Her body also reveals clogged arteries and a massively damaged heart, a clear indication that heart disease brought on by obesity, lack of exercise and an overlyrich diet were as much a health problem in ancient times as they are today.

According to the National Geographic film, the discovery of Lady Dai was something that left Egyptian mummies for dead. Using news footage, it tells the dramatic story of how workers in the early 1970s accidentally found her body and another beautifully preserved Han Dynasty body.

With highly elaborate re-enactments, it dramatizes Lady of Dai's splendid world and her equally splendid afterlife as well as the mysterious process that made her so well preserved. It also shows the first video images of the autopsy of another amazingly well preserved Han Dynasty body found in Lianyungang in 2002.

The film features state of the art computer graphics developed by some of the same group working for the Lord of the Rings. Into the intriguing archaeological story is interwoven some interesting snapshots of modern day China as the economic juggernaut of the new millennium. As the bulldozers set about digging up more of China's past to build its future, scientists are sure that we will be making more startling discoveries.

NHNZ Managing Director Michael Stedman said the production builds on the already strong relationship the company has with Chinese companies.

"Through the Diva Mummy we have forged excellent relationships with both Chinese scientists and TV producers. I know we will be working with many of the same people on future projects which promise to reveal more about the rich culture and complex history of China.

"We have brought 5 films about China to the world market in the past two years. Among them, Panda Nursery has been screened in all the major markets in the world, as will Diva Mummy before the end of this year. Our co-production with Xinjiang TV Wild Horse - Return to China, will be shown on Animal Planet pretty soon. We believe that documentary is a strong vehicle for promoting the understanding of real China in the rest of the world and we plan to bring more wonderful stories about China into the living rooms of the world TV audience.

Ms. Zhang Dongxia, chairperson of View Point Communications said the experience of working with NHNZ on the film has been great. "We are extremely excited about the success of the film. We look forward to working with more international companies in the future and learn from their experience of film making and marketing"

News Corporation's NHNZ is the world's second largest producer of factual programming, creating over 70 hours of documentary films every year.

In May 2002, NHNZ set up a production arm in China to co-produce films with local partners for the international market. This innovative move was warmly welcomed by both local filmmakers and authorities, who hailed it as an opportunity to learn from industry leaders and access the international TV market.

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