[FOUNTAIN]Making one’s skin crawl

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[FOUNTAIN]Making one’s skin crawl

In China, the expression, “clear as ice and pure as jade,” is used to describe the beauty of fair complexion. Chinese have long considered clear skin the most important quality of beauty. However, the skin is a measure of beauty only when it is intact on the human body. Once peeled off, human skin turns into a symbol of madness. Skinning is a form of punishment, and the peeled skin is often used in place of leather.
The first mention of skinning can be found in Greek mythology. Marsyas, the originator of the flute, challenged Apollo to a musical duel. Apollo defeated Marsyas and flayed him alive.
It is unclear when the punishment of skinning criminals started in China.
According to “Hanshu,” or “The History of the Han Dynasty,” Liu Ju had a person pulled apart alive and skinned. Such a punishment was rampant during the Ming Dynasty. The Zhengde Emperor skinned 60 traitors and made saddles from their skins.
Qu Dajun described the method of human skinning used by a rebel leader in the late Ming Dynasty. In his book, he explained in step-by-step detail how to skin a person.
Records of making goods from human skin can also be found. An admiral from the Ming Dynasty made cushions of human skin. Facial features such as the ears, mouth and nose were left intact, so when you sat with the cushion at your back, your back would rest on the face. Commander Tang Ke-kuan made drums from the skins of captured Japanese pirates. The drums did not sound as good as those made of cow hide, but were effective in destroying the morale of Tang’s enemies.
The origin of human-skin books remains unknown, but they were very popular during the French Revolution. French astronomer Camille Flammarion bound a book with skin from a countess.
British critic Holbrook Jackson’s “The Anatomy of Bibliomania” tells of a bibliomaniac, who was also an erotomaniac, who bound a book with skin from a woman’s breasts, with the nipples adorning the cover.
On August 8, the Seoul National University library publicly displayed human skin books for the first time in Korea as part of a rare books exhibition commemorating the 60th anniversary of the school’s foundation.
A geography book published in 1670 was bound with skin taken from a Caucasian European.
It gives me chills thinking about the madness of mankind to make a book, the symbol of intellectualism, of human skin, a symbol of frenzy.


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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