Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on January 25, 2008
One of the strangest phenomena to hit museums over the past few years has been the bizarre exhibtions of human cadavers preserved in plastic. (Be patient - I’ll get to the China angle on this in a bit.) The pioneer of “plastination” is Gunther von Hagens, a German inventor and pioneer who figured out how to preserve dead bodies and has in the years since put together “Body Worlds,” exhibitions of skinless bodies positioned in strange poses. Just thinking about dead, skinless bodies in ballet poses gives me the creeps but apparently many people have stronger stomachs than I do, since Body Worlds shows have been big hits in many American museums.
Lawmakers in California have just approved legislation that would require exhibitors to get people to give permission for their bodies to be treated this way. The problem, according the L.A. Times, is that the bodies come from China, and who knows what the procedure is for Chinese to give their consent. That seems pretty reasonable.
The Times quotes a docent at a Body Worlds exhibition in California saying that bodies come from China. But according to the Times, the company denies that it uses Chinese cadavers. Body Worlds “does not use bodies from China,” the paper reported, citing company spokeswoman Georgina Gomez. Why, then, does von Hagens have an operation in China? Here’s what I found from a quick look at the Body Worlds website bio on von Hagens: “In 2001, he founded a private company, the Von Hagens Dalian Plastination Ltd., in Dalian, China, which currently employs a staff of 250.” According to Body Worlds, there’s no connection between the bodies that Body Worlds shows in American museums and the Chinese bodies that the 250 workers in Dalian are helping to preserve with plastic. What then do the Dalian workers do? And where are the bodies from?
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.