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“Breathing” sculpture of Confucius currently on exhibit at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, China (Rockbund Art Museum)

On the day his controversial show on the philosopher opened, Zhang Huan’s caged, robotic Confucius was joined by nine live monkeys, intended as living metaphors for our base instincts. Confucius himself, who thrashes like a big scary undead fish out of water, is intended to “provoke public debate about societal issues in China, including rapid economic growth, unbalanced values, and environmental challenges.”

While most roboticists are striving to make robots more accessible, Huan seems to have recognized that what humanoid robots in the trough of the uncanny valley do best is freak us out.

His exhibit also included a gigantic, “breathing” bust of Confucius, who is seen as a symbol of 4,000 years of China’s rich achievements and history, says Chris Livaccari of Asia Society.

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