‘Real Bodies’ Exhibition Again Condemned, This Time in the UK

A photo of a plastinated body. Similar bodies being exhibited in Birmingham have drawn concern over their sourcing. (Image: Jean-Pierre Lavoie via flickr /CC BY 2.0)
A photo of a plastinated body. Similar bodies being exhibited in Birmingham have drawn concern over their sourcing. (Image: Jean-Pierre Lavoie via flickr /CC BY 2.0)

“Real Bodies: The Exhibition” has again attracted controversy, this time in the UK where a doctor has questioned the source of the plastinated corpses put on show.

Dr. David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at a Birmingham hospital, told The Guardian (in an article now only online via the South China Morning Post) that the plastinated bodies of 20 people in the exhibit in his city could be those of executed Chinese prisoners.

“I have huge questions about why all these unclaimed bodies come from Dalian in sizeable numbers and how many bodies Imagine Exhibitions have actually got,” Dr. Nicholl told The Guardian.

The bodies on display in an exhibition hall at a Birmingham venue are provided by the Dalian Medical University in Northeast China via an operation run by Dr. Hongjin Sui. The U.S.-based Imagine Exhibitions uses such bodies from Dalian in its “Real Bodies” exhibitions that tour the world.

“My own registrar went to this exhibition. I asked him to note down the gender and age of the bodies,” said Dr. Nicholl. “They are all young men — none of them are elderly, which I have to say is pretty suspicious given that there are a number of labor camps within a matter of hours’ drive of Dalian,” he said.

“If you look at these exhibitions, they are never gender balanced — it’s always largely men. Most people who die, die when they’re older, so to have an exhibition like this is really suspicious.”

Dr. Nicholl questioned why such exhibits are even allowed to be shown in England if the organizers were unable to prove that the dead, when they were alive, had given consent to have their bodies put on display.

In a letter to the editor of The Times, Dr. Nicholl wrote: “Donation requires consent, ethically and morally. The U.S. organizer, Imagination Exhibitions, has been unable to provide any evidence for consent for its commercial exhibition of cadavers. The organizer merely states that they are ‘unclaimed bodies’ obtained legally from Dalian, China.”

American investigative reporter and China expert Ethan Gutmann said the bodies used in the exhibition could be killed Chinese people who once practiced the spiritual practice of Falun Gong, which has been persecuted in China since 1999.

Gutmann told The Guardian that the bodies of Falun Gong practitioners who have been persecuted to death could have been given to Dalian Medical University, which is not far from the Masanjia labor camp which imprisoned large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners.

“It’s a crime against humanity,” he said.

“Several hundred thousand people were executed purely for being Falun Gong, and you have a company which is potentially sending evidence all over the world.”

Gutmann told The Guardian that he hoped the specimens will be DNA tested.

“The DNA can be extracted and used to prove relations,” he said. “If we make some matches, we can identify family lines and you could ask them, do you have a missing person?

“People in England have a right to know what they are seeing and people in China have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.”

Imagine Exhibitions also has a Real Bodies show currently begin held in Sydney, Australia, where it has also attracted controversy and calls for it to be shut down.

Members of the Australian Committee of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC) sent an open letter to Australia’s Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and other political leaders in April outlining their “grave concerns” over the exhibition.

“We request, as a matter of urgency, that you take immediate action to close it down,” read the ETAC letter, which includes among its 12 signatories Madeleine Bridgett, an international human rights barrister, clinical ethics Professor Wendy Rogers from Macquarie University, and ethicist Dr. Sarah Winch from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Queensland.

Dr. Nicholl and Gutmann are a part of a UK effort to close down the Birmingham exhibition. They and others have sent a letter to British leader Theresa May and other political leaders.

Gutmann also co-authored Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: An Update with former Canadian MP David Kilgour and Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas. The 600-plus page report was released June 22, 2016.

Information linking the killing of Falun Gong meditators and plastination takes up 6 pages of the report, which principally focuses on large-scale organ harvesting in China. The report’s authors say the same collection of evidence that exposes forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners is relevant to their claims about plastination.

“Trafficking in human cadavers has become a business. Plastinated specimens are publicly priced and traded. The government of China calls for bids on such trades,” says the report, which also offered examples of plastinated cadaver providers based in Dalian.

The report focused on Sui Hongjin, the Dalian connection who supplied the plastinated bodies and body parts for the Imagine Exhibitions shows in Birmingham, Sydney, and elsewhere.

Both Imagine Exhibitions and the Dalian Medical University have denied the claims.

Watch this Rebel Media video about when a similar exhibition drew opposition in Canada.

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