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The Amazing (freak show) human body exhibition

Simon Willace | 11.05.2006 07:33 | Culture | Health | World

It is hard these days to get upset about any one subject, because there are so many things happening both locally and overseas that just should not be happening. Prioritising or ignoring has become an individual choice. The list is quite endless, but for everyone crime against humanity must come close to the top of the list.

Human body exhibition?
Human body exhibition?

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind?

“I’d like to slice a gaping hole in my arm just to look at what’s inside and I would like to see what I would look like if I was skinned alive.”

If the idea appeals to you but you would rather see the insides of someone else, coming to town soon is a exhibition that will excite you.

Billed as ‘The Amazing Human body’ a touring freak show from China that has already been seen in Sydney and in South Australia with out the slightest negative media., it will, I promise you , turn stomachs and raise more than just a few eyebrows.

Shows like it have been touring the world for many years with names like Body Works, bodies or The inside Story each have much the same promotion. The advertisement has a happy smiling skinless stiff on the cover with words to the effect that the show is educational.

The voyeurs attracted by the advertisements selling ‘The Amazing human body’ will be after guts gore and entrails and will not be disappointed.

On display are 18 intact and perfectly preserved human remains, which are quite approachable, they are not encased in glass or behind barriers or guarded by over zealous security guards. Assorted plasticised body parts in plastic cases are also on table displays while human bodies in various states are in the centre of the room, all in an art gallery like setting.

The show is easy to navigate as the ticket price comes with a portable audio guide, which explains to the individual each sculpture in gory detail as you pass by the scenes.

There’s, a bicycle, a chess set, a bow and arrows and a tennis racket, used as props to make the attractions look more pleasing. As I said, it is a freak show, with each body in a macabre masquerade, posed to make them seem just a bit more life like.

There are mutilated human remains playing tennis, ridding a bike and posed in allsorts of amusing positions with swinging genitals and toothy grins to give punters value for dollars.

All 18 bodies on display were living and breathing only two years ago.

The process of plastication takes months once the victim stops wriggling, factory workers replace bodily fluids with polymers useing pumps and vacuums before catalysing the resin with hardener as the body transforms into its plasticized form. Colours and glass eyes are added to give the impression of personality and the exhibit is posed and ready for the show.

The process sometimes traps fatty residues inside the exhibit that later leak. So you are advised not to stand too close while viewing the stiff as it may harm your health to do so. ( that is, if your not sick enough to begin with)

The exhibition is more than just a freak show, as some find pornography educational. This industry however exploits the system that has allowed medical science to obtain human specimens for research.

The buying and selling of donated corpses and body parts, from private donations or medical collections, is legal in many countries. However, leading medical bodies in Britain said Von Hagen’s activities raised ethical questions. 'We feel uncomfortable with the money aspect of it,' said a representative for the British Medical Association.

In Britain, it is hard to obtain even a real bone skeleton today and many medical institutes make do with plastic replicas. Dr Graham Peddie makes it clear that people are no longer donating their bodies to science “these days” he says, they donate body parts, a cornea here or a Kidneys if your lucky, people die waiting for transplants as few seem willing to leave the whole body to science anymore. I’m surprised that Von Hagan has no problem with his supplys”

A representative for the Nuffield Foundation said: 'Human tissue should not be bought and sold in international trades between wholesalers. traditionally whole bodies are exchanged for a nominal cost as they become available.. Body parts, anatomical specimens or preserved bodies should not be displayed in connection with public entertainment amusement or art.'

Despite the macabre nature of the attraction, millions have flocked to see Von Hagen’s exhibition. In Japan, where it was on display from 1996 to 1998, it attracted more than 2.5 million visitors. In Berlin last year, 1.4 million people saw it in seven months.

Overseas the exhibition has attracted demonstration from women’s groups who streaked through exhibition centres in protest, outraged that the exhibit had examples of men only. After which a female specimen was hastily acquired and the exhibition now boasts one woman amongst 18 men to appease the equality hardliners.

The exhibition encountered the wrath of the Falun Gong.. Its members allege that the Chinese government is responsible for the ‘disappearance’ of anywhere between 500 000 and 2 million of Falun Gong followers and wanted assurances that the bodies displayed in world wide exhibits were not dead Falun Gong members.

Unfortunately no records matrialized identifying the corpses used in the exhibition or can identify corpses sold by the Chinese government so no assurances could be verified, nevertheless the organiser assured all concerned that the bodies used were unclaimed or donated and were not executed prisoners.

In China it is not illegal to use the bodies of political or criminal prisoners for commercial purposes. This is how a government backed trade has developed into an body parts industry, which might now included Hagan’s Horror show.

In the transplant, industry body parts are exported and in allied medical services westerners are enticed with guarantees of available hearts kidneys and lungs and travel to china where transplants are received in Chinese hospitals. Amnesty International estimates that China now executs at least 3,400 people annualy.

In an effort to improve cost-efficiency, Chinese provincial authorities are beginning to introduce so-called mobile execution vans. These are intended to replace the traditional method of execution by firing squad in which prisoners are taken to an execution ground and made to kneel with hands cuffed before being shot in the head.

Officials in Yunnan province explained that only four people are required to carry out the execution in the mobile vans: the executioner, one member of the court, one official from the procuratorate and one forensic doctor.

Eighteen mobile executions vans, converted 24-seater buses, are being distributed to all intermediate courts and one high court in Yunnan province. The windowless execution chamber at the back contains a metal bed on which the prisoner is strapped down.

In this way a prisoner sentence to death can be executed in transit between court hearing and trasplant hospitals ensuring that the corpse is fresh, a surplus could be delivered to one of of Dr Gunther Von Hagan’s two Plastination factory’s in the coastal city of Dalian .

‘Body works’, ‘Body World’ and ‘The Amazing human body’ Exhibitions now touring in Australia are trading names owned or associated with Dr. Gunther von Hagen’. An East German whose chequered career has included long terms spent behind bars himself.

The company uses many names throughout the world and issues licences to so called copycat operators but all exhibits are created in Von Hagan’s Chinese factories and are exhibited under licences offered only through him.

Hagan now living in China is the inventor of the plastication process Registered trademark all rights reserved and holds copyright, he retains sole control over the process. He has always vigorously denied using executed prisoners for his touring freak shows and has insisted that each one has been donated.

In 2004 he was accused of using the bodies of political prisoners in a similar exhibition, ‘Body Worlds’ - charges which were later denied. Body worlds did, however, return bodies from their exhibition to China after the 7 were found to have bullet holes in the back of their heads.

The fact that his body shop factories are now located in the Chinese coastal city of Dalian tells a different story to the one Hagan likes to spin. Usually manufacturers like to situate their factories near to a source of raw materials and it seems Hagan’s industry is no different.

Thousands of processed human bodies have already been treated in Hagan’s body shops since his business developed the concept of human exhibits and now hundreds of finished works in many exhibitions tour the world.

'The bodies in all exhibitions are disproportionately young males. In China, the most likely source for large numbers of young male bodies would be prisons or labour camps. The unproven allegation that the bodies are executed prisoners is made stronger when the single child policy is taken into account.

In force for many years, the one child policy puts the bereaved parents in the picture as the potential suppliers of Hagan’s industry. if Hagan is to be believed and we are to accept that the bodies are not executed prisoners then parents of the dead must have been involved in the contractual agreements.

This arrangement suggest that the bereaved parents of an only child would willingly say goodbye to their son as he is skinned and filled with plastic and sent on a world tour to make Hagan some money.

In other interviews, Hagan’s representatives have said that the bodies are all the unclaimed corpses of the destitute or from insane asylums in china, but if true this would mean the source has limitless supplies competing with the Chinese prison system.

While touring America last year Hagan had to defend allegations that he was acting like the Nazis, who in their day tried several ways to make money out of Human remains. Hagan fell back on previous assertions that people were cueing up to become part of the educational show saying that thousands of American had already signed contracts to donate their bodies for future exhibitions, and indicated that he did not need executed Chinese prisoners because he was already inundated with a surplus .

However no verification of the claims were ever given. Hagan also makes the claim that his freak shows feature Europeans although the exhibits in the Australian show are obviously from Chinese extraction.

Hagan’s specimens now numbering in their thousands have been sourced from many nations over the years. Russian prisons and many eastern European countries supplied Hagan with bodies but more recently he relies only only on China.

To date Hagan is under investigation in several nations who would like proof that the bodies he uses are legitimately and ethically acquired. The Chinese culture is not known for disrespecting the dead although there is a known market that exist for organs and body parts obtained from executed prisoners however as a crime against humanity the body part scandal does not compare with the freak show that is currently entertaining Australians.

I would like to think that the Australian government would have a duty of care in this matter and inquiries follow to ascertain how Dr Hagan secures bodies for his plasticised freak show. The public deserves to be assured that the claims made by the show are correct and should be protected from unknowingly aiding and abetting crime.

China has a well-documented history of human right abuse, which was once widely reported before any mention of China’s recent past put at risk various recent trade agreements shared between our nations.

As the Chinese government supports this export and hosts Hagan’s human display industry, our government should seek assurance and speak directly with the Chinese government to address the concern.

Surely, there is some decency left in our society that would put an end to what the Nazis would call the greatest show on earth?. If the perpetrators were German and the exploited victims were Jewish I’m sure there would be an outcry. Should Von Hagan be allowed to profit from the exploitation of executed Chinese prisoners?

I would hope not. Will the australian government demand an inquiry?

So far no investigation has been able to find out if Hagan’s bodies are Falun Gong members or relatives of your local Chinese community but I think its time someone found out.

Thankyou for your time

the other point of view
by Simon Thursday May 11, 2006 at 04:33 PM

Wow I am speechless
by Dumbstruck Thursday May 11, 2006 at 05:43 PM

According to this website there have been 6000 living people who have opted to donate their bodies for this macabbre exercise(and 300 dead ones). There is something that makes one doubt these figures.... Interesting too that von Hagens set up shop in China; it is mentioned in the brochure that he needs the specimens fresh. I am sure the subjects of this bizarre practice had no idea what fate lay ahead for them.

Any nation cruel like China
by Ziggy Thursday May 11, 2006 at 07:12 PM

Any nation cruel like China who take beating hearts from anyone don't deserve any show without proof of the identity of those they seek to display.

Beating, beating, beating beating,


A timely look at china's human rights!
by Incomprehensible

UK transplant patients go to China for organs

by Sarah Boseley

The British Transplantation Society said that "an accumulating body of evidence suggests that the organs of executed prisoners are being removed for transplantation without the prior consent of either the prisoner or their family".

Thousands of organs are thought to be involved in the lucrative trade, it said. Transplant centres, patients, and the Chinese authorities and judiciary could all be implicated in a breach of human rights.

"The British Transplantation Society condemns unreservedly any activity that transgresses an individual's human rights or involves the coercion of an individual to become an organ donor," said Stephen Wigmore, chairman of its ethics committee. "The alleged use of organs from executed prisoners without consent is considered a breach of human rights and is an unacceptable practice. A reported close relationship between transplant units and the authorities regulating executions and the availability of organs is unethical."

Tracking Down the Mysterious Organ Sources of China's Shenyang City's Multi-Organ Transplant Center

At present, we know the following cruel facts: most organs for transplants in China come from prisoners, and a large number of them have been removed from prisoners when their hearts were still beating. Organs taken this way may be called "live organs." Referring back to our previous question: In Shenyang City, especially Shenyang Multi-Organ Transplant Center, are there organs belonging to this kind of "live organs"? Take kidney transplant as an example. In China, patients usually have to wait for six months to a year for a kidney transplant, but in CITNAC of the Multi-Organ Transplant Center, patients only have to wait for a week to a month for kidney transplant, and the kidneys are not any inferior than those live ones sold by the poor people.

Simon Willace


Display the following 5 comments

  1. You have a point — You can keep your corpse porn, thanks
  2. Thanks to who ever reposted this — Simon Willace
  3. Moved to action! — Carol Dickinson
  4. Moved to tears... moved to action! — Carol Dickinson
  5. I liked the exhibit.... — Mitch