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Corpse show stages to provoke, to educate?
Updated: 2004-04-09 10:28

China's first public corpse exhibition opened Thursday in Beijing, drawing both curiosity and criticism.

The Body Worlds exhibition, in London after having toured Japan, Germany, Belgium and Austria, consists of around 30 corpses displayed on stands in various poses its organisers say are designed to provoke, educate or shock. Gunther Von Hagens says he invented the "plastination" technique in 1977. [file photo]
Staged at the China Architectural Culture Center, the Body Worlds exhibition is the Chinese version of the preserved human corpse show launched by the German anatomist Gunther Von Hagens in 1997. Von Hagens' exhibition has drawn nearly 14 million visitors around the world, as well as widespread criticism.

Biography of Von Hagens

1945 Born Poznan, now part of Poland. Grew up near Leipzig, in the former East Germany.
1965 Medical student at the University of Jena.
1968 Jailed for protests over Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
1970 Freed, and moved to West Germany.
1973 Graduated in medicine from the University of LĘ╣beck, near Hamburg, and began his career as a doctor.
1975 Married. Went on to have a son and two daughters.
1995 Invented plastination technique for preserving body parts.
2002 Brought Body Worlds exhibition to London.

Dalian Medical Institute supplied all the 17 whole bodies and more than 160 body parts on display, which were all processed by Sui and his colleagues.

Sui Hongjin, deputy director of the anatomy laboratory of Dalian Medical Institute, said the bodies were used for study at the institute and all died naturally.

"The bodies were used for study at our institute, which was approved by the local government, and they all died naturally," claimed Sui Hongjin, deputy director of the institute's anatomy laboratory.

Sui is the former business manager at Von Hagens' production site in Dalian, northeastern Liaoning Province. He left the German company and set up the Biological Plastination Co Ltd of the Dalian Medical Institute in 2000. All the 17 bodies and over 160 healthy and diseased body parts on display are the works of Sui and his colleagues.

The plasticized bodies and body parts were processed to replace fluids and fat in bodies with special plastic materials, making the bodies durable for exhibition and study, said Sui.

Three women look at a female corpse at the show. [cns]
The process serves not only to better conserve bodies but to make specimens more lifelike and colorful, compared with the specimens that used to be preserved in formaldehyde. "Plastination does not destroy the bodies, and we do respect the dead, who are making a contribution to scientific study," said Chen of the anatomical association.

The show has received little attention among the public in China, but there has been widespread criticism of similar exhibitions overseas. Organizers have relaxed restrictions to allow visitors to touch specimens if they are willing to, and, in order to attract more young people, students can buy half-price tickets, for 25 yuan (US$3) each.

"I don't understand how could they plan to show a corpse as art in public. In Chinese tradition, people should respect the dead," said 56-year-old Wang Xiaolin, a retired teacher.

However, Wang's 23-year-old daughter said she would like to go to the exhibition because it was "cool." "It would be an eye-opener, though I might have nightmares afterwards," she said.

A visitor examines closely a male corpse from the back. [cns]
Among all objectors women contend more strongly. "I'm sick at those corpse," said Miss Huang aged 26 "I wonder why the distasteful and gruesome show is allowed and no education significance involved can be seen at all. It just causes vomit."

"We may overreact at the first sight of those corpses in various poses. That's quite natural for a body-admired nation that shows awful respect to the deceased." refuted a male visitor surnamed Wang "We live in a very body-minded age. We have the cult of body-piercing. More and more people go to body-building clubs. Anxiety before death used to be of the day of judgement, but when society is more civilized, and medical knowledge is growing, we understand more and more that we have to fear our body deaths. But there is still this great mystery about the body to reveal. So comes the corpse exhibition, which can not be more reasonable."

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