Corpse specimens of Von Hagens’ Body Worlds may come from China’s death row, netizens say

August 18, 2012Jing Gao2 Comments, , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, Chinese netizens started to relay in large quantities an exposé of a company in Dalian called “Von Hagens Plastination,” which  may have illegally used human cadavers. Bo Xilai, a former high-ranking Chinese official deposed in disgrace after his wife was incriminated in a high-profile murder case involving a British national, was said to have approved of the relocation of the German-owned company in Dalian when he was the city’s mayor. Netizens were mostly put off by the idea that bodies of the condemned prisoners were processed and sold for commercial purposes and call for a public inquiry into the mysterious source of the corpses displayed in the controversial body exhibition that has been presented to audiences around the globe.


Von Hagens Plastination is a company owned by Gunther von Hagens, a German anatomist. It is said that he has invented a processing method, called plastination, to preserve human bodies and display them in a series of poses. A full human body can be sold for as much as a million US dollars after being treated with this method.

The favorable policy enforced since China’s economic reform and the optimized environment for attracting foreign investment worked up von Hagens’ interest. In 1999, after people with influences pulled the strings, von Hagens moved his corpse-processing factory to the Hi-tech Industrial Park in Dalian and invested 15 million US dollars into the new company he founded here.  The Dalian-based factory has so far produced tens of thousands of body specimens since it was OK’d by Bo Xilai.



A plastinate of a couple having sex unveiled at von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibition

In Hagens’ entire exhibition, the most controversial display item is a full body specimen of a young Chinese pregnant woman with a 8-month-old fetus in her uterus. According to the Chinese law,pregnant women cannot be executed. And even if they died from a fatal accident, there is no way that their family would agree to donate bodies of both of them. In fact, all specimens included into the exhibition have only basic descriptions. No consent form signed by the individual or his family bequeathing the body, or any information regarding the identity of the individual, can be found.

Even though the foreign media suggested the possible link between specimens displayed in Body Worlds and China’s death row before, Chinese netizens seem to have never heard of such a story until it was recently spilt out on Sina Weibo, a vibrant Chinese social media site. Netizens were especially enraged at a disclaimer statement made by Bodies the Exhibition, a show similar to but not affiliated with Hagens’ Body Worlds:

This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents which were originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons…Premier relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.

The disclaimer helps little to kill all speculations about sources of the bodies. On the contrary, most netizens, having mistaken Primer Exhibition for Von Hagens’ plastination factory, think that it only makes Von Hagens more suspicious, and the mere fact that bodies displayed belong to Chinese citizens is itself disturbing enough, even if they are legally acquired. “I don’t know why in China there can be a business like this that totally runs afoul of basic moral ethics. Dalian, as a city, for the sake of its own interests, would go so far as to let this inhuman company profit? Don’t people in Dalian think the money is dirty? I just can’t take it,” one commentator wrote on Weibo. “Such a defilement of human remains, for what ever high-sounding reason, is a devil’s act!” another Weibo user commented.

Chen Lan, an author, wrote in her Weibo, “Donation of full body has a series of procedure to be followed strictly both in China and abroad, and the prerequisite is the consent of the deceased. China has an extremely low body-donation rate, so low that all medical schools are in dire need of cadavers. Even using human bodies for medical purposes without consent from the deceased or the next-of-kin is illegal, much less the commercial display. The deceased also have dignity and would not have wanted to be pinned to stands with their bodies gutted and laid bare. Disrespect for the deceased is a form of contempt for life.”

Photos of workers at the Dalian-based Von Hagens plastination factory processing corpses, taken by Canadian photographer Ryan Pyle:

(WARNING: The images below are extremely graphic. If you feel you are not prepared to view totally uncensored explicit images of death, DO NOT continue viewing this page.)


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2 comments to “Corpse specimens of Von Hagens’ Body Worlds may come from China’s death row, netizens say”

  1. Alex | August 19, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    As far back as 2004/5, Von Haagen’s was taking over 1,000,000 Euros per month in net income.

  2. KopyKatKiller | August 20, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    I’ve been to this exhibition in Seoul. Amazing. A bit put off that the cadavers may come from China’s death row though.

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