Corpses on display


By Shayna Han

What do you think of when you hear the word “corpse?”

I’ll tell you what I think. I see the passage of physical to spiritual. I see memories, thoughts and emotions locked away by death. I see something that will return to the earth, its final journey complete. Functionless, lifeless, voiceless.

Many people have heard about “Bodies: The Exhibition,” in New York City.  In this exhibition, dead people are preserved, dissected and put on display in various, everyday poses, stripped to the muscles or the bone to give the world a view of the body’s functions from the inside. There are men, women and even a human fetus on display.

The Exhibition claims its bodies come from Dalian Medical University in China, but the University adamantly denies any involvement. Since 2006, China has outlawed the exportation of human bodies or body parts. ABC’s 20/20 aired a special program in February 2008, dedicated to finding out where the bodies came from.

Going undercover, reporters discovered that the bodies traced back to a warehouse in China. Apparently, a black market has formed in China for preserved bodies. Some pictures of recently executed prisoners were given to 20/20 by a black-market bodies worker in China. (Please note the pictures of the corpses given to 20/20 may or may not be of those in the Exhibition.) The bodies were sold for about $200 each, then sent to laboratories to be “plastinated.” The plastinated human bodies are shipped to the U.S. as “plastic model[s] for medical teaching”.

Apparently, some of these people were robust and in the prime of their lives. China’s human rights record leaves room for the horrible possibility that the bodies were once those of political prisoners who were jailed, tortured and killed, then shipped off to Europe and the U.S. to be marketed and exhibited for profit.

Isn’t there something wrong here? That we, Americans, the glorious defenders of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, are paying to see not a plastic model but the body of a human being, who, from the looks of 20/20’s sleuthing, was probably a victim, not a volunteer?

In my opinion, the only people on the planet with the right to examine a dead body are those who are legitimately involved in medical research or criminal investigation. In my eyes, this whole Exhibition is capitalistic rape. People are making money by stripping away the dignity and humanity of the dead.

If your mother, father, brother or sister were being purposefully stripped down for money, how would you feel?

Imagine: you’re standing there in the Exhibition, when you look up from the text you’re reading into the frozen eyes of your mother. She stands there naked, alone, and as your eye passes over her abdomen, you see your unborn baby brother. People around you look at her, ogling her body and her baby, and she stands immobile, unable to cover herself. What do you feel?

All corpses are voiceless, and because of this, it’s the duty of the living to protect them. Give these bodies their voice back. Voice their story.



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