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Another plastinated body exhibition opened in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province on December 30, 2014, despite strong opposition from the public during its previous run in 2007. A pregnant mummy with a fetus, in particular, raised a lot of questions in the community.
An exhibition staff member said the plastinated bodies or body parts were from real people. When asked where these corpses were from, he said they were donated but wouldn’t provide any further details.
The response of the staff member casts a shadow of doubt over the origins of the exhibit.
Mysterious Body Source
The source of these bodies is unclear, but most of them, if not all, are Chinese. In China, people are reluctant to donate their organs, let alone put their bodies on display after the skin is removed.
Similar to BODIES… The Exhibition, these bodies were plastinated by Sui Hongjin from Dalian Medical University. Once a student of Gunther von Hagens, inventor of the plastination technique, Sui split from his mentor and partnered with Premier Exhibitions to hold these kinds of exhibitions in many countries.
Neither Sui or von Hagens, owner of the Body Worlds exhibition, could provide documents to show these bodies were from voluntary donors. A report from NPR found no clear paper trail from a deceased donor to a plastinated body. “Dr. von Hagens … says that he obtains them all only through trusted sources, but no outsider has verified that they might not be, in a worst-case scenario, dissidents killed in a Chinese prison, then sold through a body broker to a medical school, and then displayed to the public.”
When von Hagens expanded his business to China in the 1990s, he met with strong resistance, due to cultural and legal reasons. But he finally established his company in August 1999 in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, after receiving approval from Bo Xilai, the then-mayor of Dalian.
According to von Hagens, when he started von Hagens Plastination in 1999, Sui told him that only unclaimed bodies would be used.
However, based on the “Regulations on Dissection of Corpses” issued by the Ministry of Health in February 1979, only after a human corpse remains unclaimed for at least one month could it be deemed “unclaimed” and be used for anatomical studies by medical schools. Such corpses are not suitable for the plastination process that requires fresh, preservative-free cadavers due to the fluid exchange.
Nonetheless, the plastination plant grew rapidly. With the support of Dalian Medical University, Sui Hongjin established his own business in June 2002 while serving as the general manager in von Hagens’ company. When von Hagens found out, he fired Sui.
Sui’s company, Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique, then collaborated with U.S.-based Premier Exhibitions and opened the “BODIES-The Exhibition” in the U.S. in 2005. Spokesperson for BODIES… The Exhibition, said its cadavers, all of which were from China, did not come from willing donors, but were unclaimed. Given the political system in China, many believe they were from prisoners or political detainees.
A New York Times report found that “Here in China, determining who is in the body business and where the bodies come from is not easy. Museums that hold body exhibitions in China say they have suddenly ‘forgotten’ who supplied their bodies, police officials have regularly changed their stories about what they have done with bodies, and even universities have confirmed and then denied the existence of body preservation operations on their campuses.”
In May 2008, a settlement with the attorney general of New York obliged Premier Exhibitions, Sui’s exhibition partner, to publish a disclaimer on its website and at the exhibition hall, stating that the origin of Dalian Hoffen’s cadavers was from “the Chinese Bureau of Police.”
Close Ties with the Persecution of Falun Gong
A report from the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) confirmed that, instead of “donations” or “unclaimed bodies”,many of the bodies were from Falun Gong practitioners who were killed by the Communist regime.
Von Hagens once told reporters that he chose to open a branch in Dalian, not only because of the cheap labor, but also because of the active support from officials and bountiful body supplies. This coincided well with the persecution of Falun Gong, which was started by Jiang Zemin in July 1999.
Due to the peaceful nature of Falun Gong, Jiang faced strong opposition to the suppression even within the Politburo. To advocate his persecution policy, Jiang visited Dalian City in August 1999, where he told then-mayor Bo Xilai, “Be tough with Falun Gong, and you will have a great future.” Following his order, Bo directed the arrests of practitioners in person, expanded prisons to hold practitioners, and instructed police officials: “You can mistreat Falun Gong practitioners as bad as you want, even if they die.”
Two months later, in October 1999, Bo became the Party secretary of Dalian. This further fueled his efforts to suppress Falun Gong. Between 2000 and 2004, more prisons and labor camps were built or renovated with funds from Beijing. Among them, the notorious Masanjia Prison and Masanjia Labor Camp, which cost about 500 million yuan. They were used to house practitioners arrested in both Liaoning and other provinces. By 2012, Bo became the governor of Liaoning Province.
Meanwhile, Falun Gong practitioners flooded to Beijing since the suppression started in 1999, seeking to tell Communist Party leaders to stop the persecution. The prisons and labor camps in Beijing and the surrounding areas overflowed. They, especially those practitioners who refused to reveal their names, were quickly transferred to the prisons and labor camps in Dalian.
Sui once claimed that some “cadavers” were from the Public Security Bureau. He said it was support from government officials that made the plant the largest human body plastination factory in the world. One officer from the Tianjin 610 Office confirmed that some of the organs and bodies were from Falun Gong practitioners.
Sui, former general manager of von Hagens Plastination, told Oriental Outlook in 2003, “Hagens did not intend to hold exhibitions in China because there would not be as much profit. He only intended to make China his production base because the cost of labor and raw material are a lot lower in China.”
Following von Hagens and Sui, several more body plastination factories have opened in Dalian, making China the world’s No. 1 exporter of corpses. According to Radio Free Asia, a single plastinated body can be sold for a million dollars. It is estimated that Sui has sold nearly 1,000 specimens to other countries since 2004.
A report from the New York Times found that by 2006, von Hagens’s Body Worlds had already attracted 20 million people worldwide and has taken in over $200 million. At least 10 other Chinese body factories have opened to fill exhibition orders, shipping preserved cadavers to Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
A Dark Secret
Von Hagens admitted that in the beginning he had difficulty showing plastinated bodies in Europe, “…where he was called Dr. Death and Dr. Frankenstein. The European press even compared him to Josef Mengele, the Nazi death camp doctor.” He then went to China where he worked with Sui due to “cheap labor, eager students, few government restrictions and easy access to Chinese bodies.”
But his expansion in China, fueled by loose legal restrictions, poor human rights protections, and the severe persecution of Falun Gong, reshaped the plastinated body exhibition business. With joint efforts from Sui and other followers, the brutality of a totalitarian regime is disguised and transformed into a lucrative business.
In February 2008, the California Assembly passed legislation requiring Body shows to have proof that each body had been donated with “informed consent.” Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, the initiator of the legislation, told ABC’s 20/20 that “As a person of Chinese descent, I just don’t believe any family would consent to have their kin shown this way.”
According to information obtained by the Epoch Times, Gu Kailai, Bo’s Xilai’s wife, played a key role in turning detained Falun Gong practitioners into plastination victims. More specifically, Gu discovered there were two ways to turn detained practitioners into cash. Their organs could be removed and used by hospitals in Liaoning Province for transplantation, and the bodies could be sold to plastination factories.
Many suspected that Gu and her aide Neil Heywood supplied factories with the bodies of Falun Gong practitioners, which make up the bulk of the corpses supplied from Chinese sources to Dalian’s plastination factories. “Gu was the mastermind in financial management, international and domestic online advertisement, and the opening up of export channels for organ and human body trafficking, according to the source.”
After Heywood was murdered in China in 2011, Gu was convicted of his murder in August 2012 and was given a suspended death sentence. Bo was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption in 2013. But their connection to the persecution of innocent Falun Gong practitioners, especially forced organ harvesting and body plastination, remains to be uncovered.