Chinese Internet Abuzz About Origin of Plastinated Bodies

By Stephen Gregory
Stephen Gregory
Stephen Gregory
Stephen Gregory was the publisher of the U.S. editions of The Epoch Times from May 2014 to January 2022.
August 17, 2012Updated: September 19, 2018
Von Hagens stands next to one of his plastinated bodies
Professor Gunther von Hagens stands next to one of his plastinated bodies prior to the launch of an exhibition, on Feb. 21, 2008, in Manchester, England. Chinese netizens and press are curious about where exhibitions such as this one obtained their genuine human bodies. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Chinese Internet is buzzing with speculation over the source of bodies used to make plastinated corpses that have been touring in exhibitions around the world. The intense discussion on microblogs, major Chinese news portals, and in the mainland press, was set off by a series of articles in the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times.

Netizens have grieved over what these revelations mean for China, but they and the Chinese press have steered clear of the political dynamite contained in The Epoch Times reports.

The articles linked Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai, with the provision of the corpses of Falun Gong practitioners to factories set up in Dalian City for plastination—the replacement of bodily fluids with polymers for the purpose of turning a corpse into an object of exhibition.

The conversation on the Chinese Internet began about one week after The Epoch Times first published on this story on Aug. 10 (The Epoch Times website is censored in China and no print version can be distributed in the mainland. Print versions of The Epoch Times in Chinese and English are published in Hong Kong), and the volume has become heavy.

A search for “Hagens”—the pioneer in the plastination business—on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Aug. 16 at 10 a.m. New York time produced more than 218,000 results; an hour later, there were 17,000 more posts.

Netizens made heavy reference to a disclaimer posted on the website of one of the plastination companies, Premier Exhibitions, as part of a settlement between the company and the New York State Attorney’s Office in May, 2008.

The disclaimer reads: “This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents, which were originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. … With respect to the human parts, organs, fetuses and embryos you are viewing, Premier relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons.”

A netizen named “Fangarr” referred to this disclaimer in asking over the past 13 years how many corpses and how many crimes have contributed to these exhibitions.

Fangarr then asked what this meant for China: “What kind of role have we played? Does anyone have the guts to think about it?”

A netizen named “Brilliant Career” said that women had to be killed for the sake of these exhibitions. “In China, pregnant women are never given the death penalty. In addition, how is it possible coincidentally that so many pregnant women have died in prison? Even the structure of the fetus is complete?!!! This is simply scary.”

Another netizen wrote, “When it comes to selling their own people’s corpses for money, even fascists have never done it before.”

disclaimer posted on the website of one of the plastination
Screen shot of disclaimer posted on the website of one of the plastination companies, Premier Exhibitions. (The Epoch Times)

The netizens mostly were silent about the Falun Gong origin of the bodies, except for the use of slang words for Falun Gong. “Falun Gong” and related words are heavily censored on China’s Internet.

Major Internet news portals, where most Chinese get their daily news fix, including NetEase, Sina, and Sohu, also picked up the story, reporting primarily on the recent hubbub and asking questions about the source of the bodies, along with grim pictures of human bodies splayed open.

One of the leading plastination companies, Body Worlds, has never issued a disclaimer like Premier. Body Worlds’ says on its website that bodies put on display are donated by “people who declared during their lifetime that their bodies should be made available after their deaths for the qualification of physicians and the instruction of laypersons.”

That did not stop netizens or the press from questioning Body Worlds’ founder, Gunther von Hagens, about the origin of the bodies he used for plastination.

In the introduction to a four-page investigative report on Aug. 16, China Finance Online asked, “Where on earth did von Hagens’s genuine corpses come from? Why did Dalian authorize this as a new, high-tech enterprise? What terrible chain of profit and interest lie behind this exhibition of corpses?”

In interviews, von Hagens has made a distinction between bodies used by his firm for exhibitions and bodies used for research. For the latter, he has in the past admitted to using unclaimed Chinese bodies—which under Chinese law, the police are free to dispose of at their discretion.

The Epoch Times has reported that Chinese police can easily declare the corpses of prisoners, in particular Falun Gong practitioners, as “unclaimed” and then provide them to factories to inject them full of plastic.

China Finance, after raising the question of the interests behind the body business in Dalian, did not mention what The Epoch Times had uncovered: the roles of Gu Kailai and Bo Xilai.

Bo, as Communist Party chief in Dalian City then governor of Liaoning Province, greatly expanded the prisons and labor camps in Dalian City and Liaoning Province, and filled them with Falun Gong practitioners who had gone to Beijing to protest the regime’s persecution. He personally approved the building of von Hagens’s groundbreaking plastination factory in Dalian.

Gu, working with the Briton Neil Heywood as a trusted aide, saw the potential for making a profit off the incarcerated practitioners, according to a source familiar with the matter.

After the persecution of Falun Gong began in July 1999, Gu began providing Falun Gong practitioners as subjects for forced organ harvesting to help feed the rapid expansion of the Chinese transplantation industry, according to the source, and she provided the corpses of practitioners to plastination factories.

As a media company operating in a highly censored industry that answers to the Communist Party’s propaganda department, China Finance could not delve into this background.

Heng He, a commentator on China, says the Chinese people understand more than the press can say.

“Most people believe that Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai are capable of doing such a thing in Dalian. And many of them now realize it can only happen in China under communist rule. But no newspaper can print that,” says He.

With research by Ariel Tian.

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Stephen Gregory
Stephen Gregory was the publisher of the U.S. editions of The Epoch Times from May 2014 to January 2022.