An exhibition of real plastinated human corpses and hundreds of body parts has opened in Sydney despite ongoing concerns that the remains may be those of unwilling Chinese citizens.
Plastination is the process of skinning human bodies and injecting liquid silicone into the flesh in order to preserve it.
On Wednesday, April 18, concerned locals gathered outside Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter to voice their outrage at the display of real human corpses at the exhibition ‘Real Bodies,’ organised by Imagine Exhibitions.
At the press conference, speakers said there is substantial evidence to believe that the corpses on display have come from non-consenting Chinese citizens, any number of whom could have been political prisoners or prisoners of conscience of the Chinese regime.
Dr. Sophia Bryskine from Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) said, “We believe China’s unethical transplantation industry is sourcing bodies for plastination and should be scrutinized by the international community,” referring to the admitted practise of forced organ harvesting from live bodies by the Chinese state.
Tom Zaller, president of Imagine Exhibitions, told AAP that he is aware that people have ethical concerns about the bodies on display, but in Sydney, Zaller told Newscorp that the corpses have been “inspected by health departments in countless countries” and “there’s no foul play.”
Similar exhibits showing plastinated human bodies have been barred in France, Israel, the United States, and most recently in Prague, reported the New York Times. Given the public outcry, the Czech Republic has since amended its laws to prevent any future body exhibits from proceeding without proper consent from the deceased or their family.
Who Are They?
Although the silicone-preserved bodies and body parts have been declared clear of disease and “safe” by the NSW Department of Health, the absence of consent has left critics of the exhibit very concerned, particularly after Zaller told news.com.au that Imagine Exhibitions had “no documentation” to confirm the identities or consent of the individuals on display.
In another interview, Zaller told AAP that the exhibition used “unclaimed” bodies supplied by his business partner Dr. Sui Hongjin from Dalian, China. Sui is the director of the department of anatomy at Dalian Medical University and general manager of Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique Co. Ltd.
Sui at one time admitted, in a recorded conversation with undercover investigators, that dozens of his corpses had come from China’s Public Security Bureau. Staff at the bureau have previously been tied to illegal detention facilities that the Chinese regime uses to torture and persecute political prisoners.
Zaller revealed to TimeOut Sydney that the bodies on display were processed in China between 2000-2004 and are not recent corpses. This was around the time when the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners was at its peak, and before any regulations in China had made it more difficult to import or export plastinated bodies.
‘No Consent, No Exhibition’
In 2008, a lawsuit in New York forced an exhibit called “Bodies… The Exhibition” to provide documentation regarding the source of the bodies on display. The bodies in that exhibition were supplied by Sui, while Zaller was the vice-president of the exhibition company, Premier Exhibitions, at the time, before leaving in 2009 to form a rival company Imagine Exhibitions.
Then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that Premiere Exhibitions had “profited from displaying the remains of individuals who may have been tortured and executed in China.”
Cuomo concluded that: “Despite repeated denials, we now know that Premier itself cannot demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals. Nor is Premier able to establish that these people consented to their remains being used in this manner.”
In a court settlement, Premiere Exhibitions was forced to publish the following disclaimer on all their exhibits in New York: “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 cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.”
The disclaimer remains on Premiere Exhibition’s website to this day.
‘Real Bodies: The Exhibition’ in Sydney has not displayed such a disclaimer.
In Zaller’s view, the lack of documentation shouldn’t be a concern. “This person did not know he would be here,” Zaller told AAP.
“Just as if you went to the museum and saw the King Tut exhibition or a mummy exhibition, those mummies on display, they didn’t know they were going to be on display.”
But Bryskine does not agree. “If this is OK in a country like China, where human rights are atrocious, it is certainly not OK here,” she said.
“To compare this exhibition to the display of mummies like King Tut is simply outrageous,” she said. “These are real people who were alive not so long ago,” referring to the bodies on display that would have been skinned, dissected, distorted, and then plastinated.
“We can’t in good conscience expose our children and our community to such a commercial display of the deceased where human bodies have become a commodity, sold, or leased for profit,” she said. “NSW schools are taking children on excursions to see this display.”
Since the exhibit opened on April 14, crowds of people have been gathering daily to demand that the exhibit is shut down.
“This is not [just] about Chinese people. This is about the dignity of every Australian,” Trevor Grace, a school teacher from Adelaide, said. Grace has since helped start a Change.org petition that now has over 1,600 signatures.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said, “We all believe in the dignity of human beings, and treating people with dignity and respect both in life and in death. This exhibition grossly breaches that principle … grossly indignifies people who cannot prove … [that they] gave their pre-informed consent to this.”
Shoebridge said, “I am referring this matter to the NSW Police Commissioner asking for an urgent investigation of a breach of Section 81c of the NSW crimes act … No consent, no exhibition.”