Volume 75, Number 27 | November 23 - 29, 2005

Lively debate on use of Chinese cadavers in exhibit

By Daniel Wallace

Three weeks after Halloween costumes have been stashed away, New Yorkers once again have the opportunity to see some grotesquery: only this time it’s real.

On Nov. 19, Premier Exhibitions Inc. opened its new public exhibit, “Bodies, the Exhibition,” at 11 Fulton St. at the South Street Seaport, where human cadavers, filleted limbs and dissected organs are on display.

Not everyone is happy about the exhibit of human remains, which come from China.

Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, a Chinatown-based housing and services group, issued a statement saying that the New York Asian-American community was “outraged by the very idea of this display,” which he described as exploitative of the Chinese people and of the whole human race.

“There is no justification for it,” Kui said.

Dr. Roy Glover, a retired anatomy professor working with the exhibit, said he is sensitive toward Kui’s view but believes it is misguided.

“People think that if a body comes from China it has to be a prisoner,” Glover said. “It has to be someone who was shot in the night, thrown on a cart and wheeled in surreptitiously. It’s not true. We work with people who follow all the rules of international and domestic law.”

According to a press release, the cadavers are on loan from the Dalian Medical University in China.

Glover said China currently has the best dissectors and anatomical doctors in the world and that is why the exhibit’s cadavers are from China. He said there is no difference between a Chinese liver and a Caucasian liver and that this display is in no way racist.

“The body is a wonderful thing,” he said. “And it’s important for us to understand. Medical students study and learn from specimens like these. I don’t think they are grotesque at all.”

The for-profit exhibit, for which tickets cost $24.50 for adults, includes 22 whole bodies and more than 260 organs. Visitors in the first room are initially confronted with nothing more frightening than a normal skeleton and a brightly lit display case in which a few bones are laid out. But immediately to the left, those visitors — unless they are currently or have ever been medical students — are faced with something they’ve likely never seen before: a skeleton with deep muscle tissue still intact and eyeballs still in their sockets that is standing upright and giving a thumbs-up signal.

In the next room cadavers complete with muscles, lips, eyeballs, tendons, intestines and genitalia are frozen in athletic poses, one holding a football and one shooting a basketball. They are minutely realistic; veins are visible in the skin over their skulls.

In the circulatory section of the exhibit, the room is darkened around display cases in which float red, glowing webs of veins, blood vessels and arteries. And in the fetal-development section one can see full fetuses in various poses. In one display a fetus lies on top of another, their stomachs molded together: they are conjoined twins. There is a fetus with spina bifida and a fetus the size of a mouse with a visceral hernia, which lies on its side, coils of its digestive system dangling outside its little body. Tiny fetuses that are only weeks old float in cylinders of water, their translucent bodies glowing, so that each miniscule bone is visible.

Those who could stomach the exhibit and, at the end, signed the guest book had mostly good things to say. One page, however, captured the conflict sparked by the exhibition. A comment dated Nov. 20 said: “What a great learning experience!” Immediately beside this comment was written: “China is certainly on the verge of moral decline…it’s hard to believe human beings are sold for carnival shows in this day and age.”

Villager photos by Ramin Talaie

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