Iron stomach needed for exhibition of Chinese bodies

Skinned and dissected, muscles, tendons and organs in full view, 22 bodies provided by a Chinese university have become one of the most controversial exhibitions seen in New York in recent years.

The bodies have been placed in normal poses inside glass cases for people to gaze upon since Saturday.

Many people are questioning who these bodies belong to and why they have been turned into a show.

But the three United States firms who are backing The Inner You: Bodies, the Exhibition, say they want the event to help people understand “what lies beneath” and “see their own bodies in a fascinating way they never have before”.

“We know surprisingly little about ourselves”, said Roy Glover, professor emeritus of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Michigan and the exhibition’s chief medical director.

“For centuries, this world has been off-limits to the public—open only to doctors and medical professionals. Now, for the first time, we are pulling back the curtain and allowing the public to see it for themselves, up-close and personal,” he added.

At the Exhibition Centre, the 22 bodies and 260 body parts, form a bizarre parade.

One body is in the position of a baseball pitcher, his arm coiled back ready to release the ball. Another is sitting down, ruminating as in Rodin’s The Thinker.
Yet another looks like he is directing an orchestra.

Their muscles are tense, the nervous system seems to be tingling. Everything is there except the skin.

Further down the aisle there is a group of foetuses, a body heavily covered in body fat, a healthy lung sits alongside another one blackened by years of smoking.

The organisers say the exhibition will help people of all ages learn about health: “The exhibition will change the way people see themselves. It is designed to enlighten, empower, fascinate, and inspire.”

But even in New York, where provocation is no surprise, the exhibition raises eyebrows and an avalanche of comments.

“You’ll need a strong stomach and a stout heart to see a bizarre new show opening at the South Street Seaport,” said the New York Daily News in a report on the “macabre exhibit”.

But beside its visual shock, Bodies poses questions about the origin of the exhibits themselves. The bodies come from the Dalian Medical school in northern China, where human rights advocates in China have voiced concern.

Harry Wu said that during the 19 years he was detained in a work camp in China, he frequently watched medical students help themselves to bodies from the prison cemetery.

“These are real things not commodities. We have to know who are they,” the executive director of the LaoGai Research Foundation told Agence France Presse (AFP).

“Are they male or females? How old are they? Are they caucasian, blacks, Asian, Mongolians? I think it’s reasonable to ask,” said Wu, who has become a US citizen.

Arnie Geller, president of Premier Exhibitions, one of the organisers of Bodies, said he did not know the identities of the exhibits, but answered some of the criticism.

“We’ve heard those stories before,” he said, adding that his company spent a great deal of time in China researching how the bodies were collected. He said they all were found by police and that nobody claimed them before they were donated to the medical school.

“With the results of our investigations we feel 100% satisfied that these bodies were legally obtained; we’re 100% satisfied that these people who worked on these specimens are the finest dissectors in the world,” said Geller.

The tissues have been preserved by a silicone treatment that, after a year, makes muscles, nerves, bones, blood vessels and organs take on a plastic appearance that never decomposes and facilitates dissection.

Bodies was first put on display this year in Florida where there was an equally heated controversy but huge numbers flocked to see how their insides work. - AFP

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