Wed June 5, 2013
China's Conjoined Twins Still Fascinate, Two Centuries Later
Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 4:05 pm
Born to Chinese parents in what is now Thailand, Eng and Chang Bunker became famous throughout the world as "Siamese twins." The brothers were joined at the base of their chests. After years of being displayed at exhibitions, they settled in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1830s. They married two local North Carolina sisters and had a total of 21 children.
Adelaide "Alex" Sink is the great-granddaughter of Chang Bunker. Sink was the chief financial officer of Florida from 2007 to 2011. She also ran for governor of Florida in 2010. She grew up in the Mount Airy, N.C., home built by her great-grandparents Chang and Adelaide Bunker.
Sink joined host Michel Martin to talk about the remarkable story of the Bunker brothers.
On what Sink knew about the Bunker brothers as she grew up
"We knew that they had been in the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus. ... They were the original entrepreneurs. They realized that they could leave Barnum & Bailey and go touring on their own, which they did for several years as they accumulated enough money to be able to go. And they wanted just to settle down and have a somewhat normal life, and they chose to live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. And Michel, how in the world they were ever accepted into these communities in the backwoods of North Carolina is still absolutely amazing to me."
On why some family members felt shame or unease
"I think it has had everything to do with sex. The idea that these two conjoined brothers were married to sisters, and trying to conjure up images of how they were able to procreate and eventually raise — have these children between them, and raise them very successfully.
"You might've picked up in this story that the sisters weren't getting along, so they built two separate houses — one for each family. And the twins then had a pact. And for decades, every three days, they would move to the other house. And that actually precipitated their eventual death when my great-grandfather Chang was quite ill, and it became time to move to the other house in the middle of the winter. And he insisted that they go ahead and go, and he got very ill in the middle of the night and expired."
On what Sink tells her own kids about the Bunker brothers
"They know about it because we're fortunate enough, of course, to go back and visit their grandfather. My mother, who was the inheritor of the home place, passed away a number of years ago. But they're right there on that farm, seeing and thinking about the life of the Siamese twins. And there's now a museum in town; my cousin Tanya Jones runs the Surry Arts Council and put together some nice exhibits in the town of Mount Airy about the life of the twins. And it's something we're proud about: that they can be so different and we can be different."