The Magic of Bad Chinese Taxidermy

Imagine you are in a museum perusing the exhibits when you suddenly feel something is a bit off. Unable to put your finger on it, you glance carefully around the glass cases and do a double take. With dawning horror, you realize the animal in front of you was stitched together with the wrong body parts!

Looking around, you further notice there is something wrong with the other animals. Some appear to have eyes that are looking in opposite directions. You see mouths sewn upwards into unnatural smiles. Limbs are positioned in ways they were never meant to bend. Before your very eyes, the exhibit has morphed into a nightmarish fun house of the comical and the grotesque!

Now this may sound like a farfetched story, but it is close to what I have experienced in quite a few museums in China through the years. After my initial observation of a strange chipmunk in the tiny town of Lishui, I began noticing more bad taxidermy in other Chinese museums. In fact, the more I traveled around the country, the more I discerned that this might be a nation-wide issue rather than a small town quirk.

In this post, I share a few of my photos of preserved animals that I have found particularly fascinating – animals that appear so far removed from normality that they would fit right in with the likes of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie or Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery!

The Lishui Museum

Honestly, I thought this was a fluke at first. I remember visiting the flora and fauna section of the Lishui Museum and having my eyes drawn to an unusual-looking chipmunk. I stared at it thinking, “Wow, that’s weird. Whoever runs this show must have bought their taxidermy on discount.”

Poor unfortunate soul

Lishui, being a small rural town in Zhejiang Province, did not have the best reputation for being on top of things. It was entirely possible that the curators of this museum did not understand how animal anatomy worked, or if they did, they might have just assumed the public would not care. I shrugged this chipmunk off as an anomaly. I would later learn that I was greatly mistaken.

The Shanghai Natural History Museum

Many are familiar with the Shanghai Natural History Museum’s extensive collection of dinosaur bones and gasp-inducing preserved human fetuses, but this museum has so much more to offer with its historic collection of bad taxidermy. This is because The Shanghai Natural History Museum is where the art of preserving specimens in China first started!

A pangolin walking with its front feet curved inward.
This tortoise has had better days.
Frozen forever in a silent scream.

The establishment of Shanghai Natural History Museum by the British and American expat-led North-China branch of the Royal Asiatic Society was the catalyst that would eventually lead to the animals shown in this post. The first Chinese taxidermists began training around 1874 under the guidance of the Royal Asiatic Society. Many of their descendants continue the trade to this day, although the numbers are small.

As of 2018, the Global Times China reported that there were about 100 taxidermists in China, most of them in their 40s. This number does not account for the dubious government sponsored licensing of businesses that trade in exotic animal pelts, the selling of rare animal carcasses from zoos and circuses for private collectors, or citizens who pay to have their pets preserved by amateur taxidermists.  

This happy (?) lion from the Shanghai Natural History Museum pops up once in a while on Reddit! PC: MannyLaMancha

The Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base

One would assume with Chengdu, Sichuan Province being the panda capital of the world and the location of the largest panda sanctuaries, they would have their panda taxidermy down flat. Nope! Here are some truly unique specimens of China’s national treasure:

Normal Panda
Abnormal Pandas

Additionally, it is enthralling how many of the non-panda taxidermy presented at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Base have elongated, pointy faces:

Do deer have snouts?
Don’t judge a deer by its nose.
A tranquil scene between predator and prey.
A close-up of said predator.
Deer hanging out with a panda as they do.
He’s seen some things.

I’m definitely not the only one who has noticed these strange creatures at the Chengdu Panda Base. The two pictures below of a flying squirrel and a fox were taken by neverendingpiethrowingrobot and shared on Imgur on August 2014.

Check out their link in my list of sources at the end of this post for more of their humorous pictures!

The Heilongjiang Museum

Harbin, Heilongjiang Province may be famous for its Snow and Ice Festival, its history with the Russians, it’s painful Siberian Tiger Park, and Japan’s WW2 biological warfare experiments on its locals, BUT for my husband and me, we will forever remember it for the moose with the wrong antlers!

Thank you Harbin for this treasured memory.

Why someone decided to disrespect this moose by gluing deer antlers to its head is beyond me.

Located directly across from the hybrid moose was a herd of deer with this sad sight of a mother deer and her fawn. Apparently someone had just left the fawn leaning against its mother.

There were also more exhibits of animals seemingly shoved together without rhyme or reason – for example this beautiful picture below of a jaguar with wild boars, bears, and birds:

There is a lot going on here.
Some animals in the museum were hanging off trees.
This Asiatic Black Bear, probably long forgotten, also seemed to have been tipped over.
This face peeking out was my favorite!

And oh, don’t get me started on the tigers!

Once You See It, You Can’t Unsee It

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the truly creative art of bad Chinese taxidermy! It is a gift that keeps on giving, and for that, I am grateful. No matter the size of a Chinese city, if it has a museum, chances are high that one is sure to find some funky-looking dead animals there!

Until next time,

Steph ❤

For making it this far, here is one last delightful tiger from the Heilongjiang Museum for your appreciation.

Like this post? Pin it for later!

Sources:

MannyLaMancha. (2020). Went to the Shanghai Natural History Museum Today. I Think the Taxidermist Was Out Sick on Lion Day. Reddit. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/i5i2e9/went_to_the_shanghai_natural_history_museum_today/

Minghe, Lü. (2013, September 16). China’s profitable trade in stuffed rare animals. China Dialogue. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://chinadialogue.net/en/business/6359-china-s-profitable-trade-in-stuffed-rare-animals

Neverendingpiethrowingrobot. (2014, August 29). Taxidermy at the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, China. Imgur. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://imgur.com/gallery/mqcgS/comment/275941128/1?nc=1

Tai, Li-chuan (2021). The Shanghai Museum and the introduction of taxidermy and habitat dioramas into China, 1874–1952. Archives of Natural History, 48(1), 111-130. doi:10.3366/anh.2021.0691. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.3366/anh.2021.0691?journalCode=anh

Xie, Wenting (2018, March 11). Morbid or memorial? New trend in China sees dead pets stuffed and mounted. Global Times. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1092713.shtml

Yang, Meiping. (2018, July 02). Taxidermy is a dying skill in a remarkable family of animal preservers. Shine. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.shine.cn/news/metro/1807027762

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Sydney says:

    These are too funny, I’m a little sad I didn’t visit any of these museums when I was in China!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hopefully on a return trip you can visit some of these awkward specimens!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kate Toll says:

    Wow oh my goodness, bad taxidermy is so scary!! Actually, in a way all taxidermy is kind of scary. This was such an interesting post and definitely made me laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I agree – all taxidermy are frightening in their own way . Glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Intan says:

    That “happy” lion picture cracked me up. Taxidermy is incredibly scary to me… things that are dead should organically return to the ground.. not stuffed. Great read nonetheless!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand that – they are pretty creepy!

      Liked by 1 person

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