Jing He: J


The noise of the pharmaceutical printer lasted for barely a minute before it was done, and the team doctor passed over the completed sticker. J rolled up their sleeve to expose their left forearm and placed the small transparent sticker on the vein. Just as their hand left the spot, the device they wore on their wrist vibrated to notify them that they had a message. The team doctor said, “This is the latest version of the supplement confidentiality agreement. Sign it and you can go.” J held up the device on their wrist to their eye, signed, and quietly left the room.

The door had just closed behind J when they encountered M coming from the gene repair area. J wanted to pretend that they had not seen M, but it was too late. While they were still a few meters apart, J heard M’s voice: “J! Do you want to come eat with me at the restaurant on the top floor? I heard that everyone else is going to a bar.” They were the only two people on the entire national team who could not metabolize alcohol, so M naturally seemed to see J as their dinner buddy. J had always been uncomfortable about this enthusiasm, but they still agreed. They thought that eating might be able to help regulate the sustained sadness brought about by low serotonin levels. In J’s mind, M sought to form a bond with J because of a vision of their collective ancestors. Take the inability to metabolize alcohol, for example. M was a genetically modified person, but purposely did not change this trait because they thought that this was the mark of their ancestors.

Aside from invisible commonalities like drinking, J and M shared some external expressions of dominant genes. In the terminology of half a century before, they belonged to the same race, but this classification method based on biological traits had already been replaced by a mountain of data.


M came over, playfully pinched J’s arm, and said, “This adorable little arm,” making an intentionally cute face. J vigilantly pulled down their sleeve, not wanting anyone to see the round sticker on their left arm. It was transparent and J detested these kinds of physical jokes, but after enduring this Olympic evaluation, they wouldn’t have to see M again for the rest of their lives. In fact, the ways in which the two differed were more obvious; M was an athlete in the high testosterone group in the genetically modified competitions, so their body was stronger than J’s in all respects. Thin-armed J was from the low testosterone and low serotonin group in the non-genetically modified competitions. In the nearly twenty years since the Olympics had begun dividing the competitions more finely, the names of the groups had become more complex. This morning, J had been late to practice because they had read an abbreviation incorrectly outside of the venues and had gone down the wrong corridor.

The phrase “low serotonin group” had become widely used ten years before, after the beginning of the Global Cure Depression Movement. This was the first time that this group had a separate entry into the Tokyo Olympics. When J was young, they were diagnosed with depression during the peak of global depression diagnoses. Many countries joined together to develop a complete food supply chain containing various antidepressants, but the condition had not been completely eradicated. Amidst endless debate between experts and groups about whether this phenomenon was a genetic, medical, economic, social, or psychological issue, the movement found a global response and support. J thought that the success of the movement was primarily attributable to the maturation of genetic modification and human-machine interface technologies; it wasn’t just the efforts of the global depression sufferers’ advocacy groups—it only seemed that way. The medical systems of some countries announced that they would no longer pay to treat depression and began to subsidize embryonic gene optimization as part of national health insurance plans. Rather than expending a lot of effort to treat existing patients, it would be better to manufacture stronger people. They conveniently announced that the existing patients no longer had a condition, so everyone was happy.

The carbon-silicon hybrid and genetically edited competitions had attracted the most attention at the last two Olympics and would certainly be broadcast worldwide. They had the most economic value, and they were also the competitions in which countries invested a lot of money and talent. J’s competition was more like a retirement home, intended to add a bit of humanistic spirit to the more intense contests. “Broader and more equal participation for more participants” was the Olympic motto of the time. Slogans like “Everyone is an athlete!” were everywhere in the Olympic Village.


On the way to the restaurant, M was eager to tell J about their day. “Today I really wanted to crush that idiot Snow White.” M was talking about Q, who had low serotonin like J. M always called Q “Snow White,” mocking them with the name of a gendered cartoon character from the previous century. Behind their back, Q would say that M was a “source of genetic pollution.” Surprisingly, they detested each other for the same reason: They were both proud to be born as citizens of Nation N, and they both wanted to win glory for their nation at the Olympics. J wanted to know why they couldn’t both exist in the country they loved so much. Since childhood, J had taken great pains to avoid these feelings, even to the point of accidentally becoming a member of another country’s national team.

“It’s really absurd…” Every time they thought about all this, J’s mood would drop through the floor and the monitor on their wrist would vibrate, reminding them that their serotonin was at risk of dropping below competition standards.

For Q, J was obviously a source of genetic pollution in the country they loved, so even though they were teammates, they didn’t speak outside of practice. Compared to M, the data on the bodies of Q and J were more similar; they both had “all-natural” bodies, and their parents were also all-natural, so they were born with the snow-white skin of which they were so proud. However, the reasons they had remained all-natural were totally different. J’s family was poor, and their parents had, on more than one occasion, said guiltily, “Because of us, you had lost before you got to the starting line.” Q’s parents were members of Nation N’s famed radical anti-genetic modification, anti-carbon-silicon hybridization group—Q may not have even had a vaccine as a child. J was shocked the first time they saw Q brimming with a sense of superiority because of their all-natural body. When J was growing up, their body was simply synonymous with hopelessness.

Covering for themselves, J said, “I’ve always thought that Q doesn’t seem like someone with low serotonin; they always seem to have so much energy, like the ‘normal people’ in a propaganda poster from last century.”

M interjected, “I’ll find a chance later to mess with them.” J suddenly thought that they had said something wrong, and subconsciously rubbed their arm. The round sticker had already been absorbed without leaving a mark. It was very likely that the team doctor gave Q different supplements. This was a game of body data and monitoring devices and methods; the battle behind the scheduled visits to the team doctor to obtain the latest supplements and sign the new confidentiality agreement was a hundred times more intense than the competition itself.


In the warm light of the restaurant, M picked up their chopsticks in their left hand. “I think that my body prefers white rice. It gives me energy!” On hearing this, disdain flickered through J’s mind; M was once again using white rice as a way of connecting with some mysterious ancestors. J wanted to make fun of M, but they were also still loyal to their distant ancestors and real homeland. “Very few people in Nation N eat white rice. Your ancestors never set foot in Nation N. Why are you taking a risk for it?”

Putting down their chopsticks, M said, “You’re on the national team; you don’t want to contribute to our country?”

Expressionless, J said, “I’m here by accident.”

M forced a polite smile and said, “But you immigrated, wasn’t that what you wanted? My great-grandfather and great-grandmother narrowly escaped to Nation N with my grandfather.”

J said mockingly, “Oh, be quiet. That was the peak of the world population, no one wanted immigrants. It’s only now that bodies like mine, which have never been genetically modified and don’t have a bunch of chips and parts stuck in them, have become hot commodities.”

M leaned forward, as if they were gossiping about a teammate. “I guess you were fleeing that country’s compulsory cyberbrain modification?” Seeing the complex emotions flash across J’s face and their silence, M said in a pacifying tone, “Relax, you’re absolutely safe in Nation N; we won’t let that happen. If they want to grab you, I’ll rescue you! I can pick you up with one hand and run away.” M started laughing and stretched two huge hands across the table, grabbing J by the outsides of their arms as if to pick them up.

J stood up angrily, threw off M’s hands, and walked straight out of the restaurant.


M was not entirely wrong; J did have some worries about returning to their birthplace in the future, where their thoughts were surveilled at all times. However, J didn’t know why they had been shamed into anger; in the past, all of M’s offensive jokes hadn’t inspired such adrenaline. Maybe it was the sense of ownership M showed, mixed with the faces of Q and their companions, and the latest news about chip implantations in their home country that made J feel as if they were always fleeing.

J returned to the dormitory and watched the news. Three interviewees spoke in succession. “If you have nothing to hide, why would you think this was a problem?” “I’m willing to give the most precious part of my body to the state to protect; it’s a good way to ensure security.” “Integrated management saves time and effort; the cost of the private maintenance of cyberbrains is not worth the great expense.”

J had never fully described their motivation for immigrating to Nation N; they had only seen that Nation N had announced a new immigration policy several years ago, in which people who had all-natural bodies and low serotonin levels could apply. At the time, they didn’t know that Nation N was making plans for the new Olympic program. Nation N consistently saw tolerance and diversity as hallmarks of the country. The non-genetically modified competitions were unpopular at the Olympics, but there could be no empty seats at this new event that embodied tolerance. The proportion of embryo modifications among the citizenry was already rather high, so the plan relied on immigrants. In Nation N, progressive groups, religious groups, far-right nationalist groups, and body diversity advocacy groups who all opposed body modification latched onto this new Olympic program, trying to find a way to turn it to their advantage. Even though they bickered endlessly about this immigration issue, special immigration policies were still put in place.

Every day, statements like these appeared in the media: “Nation N has never respected non-genetically modified people; they’re bringing in immigrants under the cover of ‘tolerance.’” “Beware of this new form of exploitation!” “Nation N has been implementing an internal all-natural person extermination plan for a decade, but it still wants an external image of openness and tolerance.” “It’s time to respect the bodies humans originally had.” “This might be the Olympics that best matches the spirit of Athens.” “The Olympics are just a competition between nations enacted with bodies.” “For ten years, Nation N has spent massive amounts of money upgrading embryos; why is it still bringing in bad genes?” “Rare HD pictures of all-natural bodies!” “Is it reasonable to participate in competitive activities after the Cure Depression Movement?”

J was completely unaware of this chaos; they simply never thought that one day the condition of their body would become an advantage. They had never had the feeling of having an advantage before; they simply wanted to try. Eventually they were invited to submit additional body data;  six months later, they arrived in Nation N.


After the last practice before the preliminaries, J sat to the side aimlessly looking at the athletes wander by, and the device on their wrist occasionally vibrated, showing a string of data. M sat next to J. J looked at them, and said, “What’s up?”

M looked straight ahead and said, “If I do well this time, I plan to transfer to the carbon-silicon hybrid competitions for the next four years.”

J indicated with their chin several cubic and conical shapes moving quickly in a distant field. “You want to become like them?” Their surfaces were smooth, their forms were considered, and every detail of their bodies had been designed.

M nodded, “I would be better than them.”

J said, “Yeah, you would win.”

Translated from the Chinese by Bridget Noetzel.

Born in 1984, in Kunming, China, Jing He received her Master degree from Design Academy Eindhoven. She now teaches at Gerrit Rietveld Academie and Design Academy Eindhoven. Jing He refers to herself as a cultural hybrid. The same seems to be true for her works. They are hybrids between different creative disciplines, cultures, co-creators, materials and mediums. While her works are rich in the details of daily life, Jing He’s compassion for social phenomena comes from both where she has been raised and where she currently lives. Jing He’s works have been included in the collection of The Art of Institute of Chicago and Françoise van den Bosch Foundation collection, which is held by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. She was nominated in the final list of Hublot Design Prize 2018, The Best of Dutch Design Week 2016. She is the winner of Gijs Bakker Award 2016.

Bridget Noetzel is a translator, editor, and art consultant based in Hong Kong. She received a BA in both Chinese Language and the History of Art from Yale University. Since 2009, she has worked with galleries and artists in Beijing and Hong Kong, and she has translated and edited for major publications, institutions, and auction houses. In 2017, she co-founded the Asia Photography Project. She was the translator for Yi Ying’s history of modern Chinese art, entitled Art and Artists in China 1949-Present (Cambridge University Press, 2018).


平行奥运 Olympic Reveries

In tandem with the Tokyo Olympics, Heichi Magazine is hosting a parallel assembly of artist essays. Olympic Reveries emphasizes the cultural spaces opened up by sports and the illusion of spatiotemporal unity created by live broadcasts. We invited artists to extend the ideas of athleticism and national culture into their practices and speculate on real or imagined games that present values different from those of mainstream sporting events.

Picture/Jing He

Published: 2021.07.31