Did Chinese Body Plastination Companies Use Prisoners of Conscience?

Created: 2012-09-02 20:07 EST

Category: China > China Focus

You may have heard about those exhibits of real human bodies put on display around the world... Well today, we ask, could some of them be political prisoners who were executed in China?

Now if you watched our previous video, you saw evidence that strongly suggests two things:
1. Executed Chinese prisoners are likely being used in at least some of the exhibits that display these plastinated human bodies.
2. Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai - the fallen political power couple that used to rule over the city of Dalian in Liaoning province - allowed plastination companies to obtain those bodies.
That much we know.

And now: part two of our investigation. How many of those executed prisoners were not actually criminals?

Evidence suggests that some of them were prisoners of conscience - including people who practiced Falun Gong.

Let's go now to Dalian, in China's Liaoning province.

That's where German doctor Gunther von Hagens set up a plastination company in August of 1999 - while Bo Xilai was mayor there. Initially, von Hagens worked with this guy, Sui Hongjin. A few years later, Sui split off to form his own competing plastination company.

Where did Gunther von Hagens and Sui Hongjin get the hundreds of bodies they needed?

This feature story in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, published in '04, says that by 2001, “Around von Hagens’ corpse factory in Dalian, there were already three labor camps and prisons. Among them were the ‘No. 3 Provincial Prison’ and the ‘[Dalian City] Reeducation Through Labor Camp.’ In the notorious ‘[Dalian] Yaojia Detention Center,’ political prisoners are detained, among them adherents of the spiritual movement Falun Gong.”

For the record, after that was published, von Hagens won an injunction against Der Spiegel. Von Hagens refuted its claims that he used corpses from executed prisoners.

But two years later, he did reveal to the New York Times that in general he found it easy to get bodies in Dalian. Von Hagens said:
“When I came here, [Sui Hongjin] said we’ll have no problem with Chinese bodies... He said we can use unclaimed bodies. Now it's difficult, but then it was no problem at all.”

But regardless of where von Hagens got his unclaimed bodies, Sui Hongjin - after splitting off from von Hagens in or around 2002 - most likely did get his from prisons. This disclaimer from the website of "Bodies: The Exhibition" in New York, where many of Sui's cadavers are on display, makes that pretty clear.

And what was the prison population like in and around Dalian? This kind of information is not made officially available. And Chinese authorities don't just allow independent monitors to go have a look. Still, research by human rights groups, plus announcements from officials and media reports, can paint some kind of picture.

One thing is clear: A lot of the prisoners were not really criminals. They were prisoners of conscience, adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual group. Bo Xilai sent huge numbers of them to prisons and labor camps starting in 1999.

That Der Spiegel article mentions that Falun Gong practitioners were held at Dalian's Yaojia Detention Center. In addition, these three labor camps - three of China's most notorious in terms of persecuting Falun Gong - were in the city of Shenyang, just a few hours' drive away.

The US State Department's 2009 Human Rights report says some observers estimate that Falun Gong practitioners make up at least half of officially recorded inmates in China's labor camps.

And that's just the recorded inmates. These two Canadian investigators say many more Falun Gong practitioners were never properly recorded because they refused to give their names; many were imprisoned without a trial.

In their book about China's state-run forced organ harvesting program, former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia Pacific) David Kilgour and Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas wrote this:

“To protect their families and avoid the hostility of the people in their locality, many detained Falun Gong declined to identify themselves. The result was a large Falun Gong prison population whose identities the authorities did not know... Though this refusal to identify themselves was done for protection purposes, it may have had the opposite effect. It is easier to victimize a person whose whereabouts is unknown to family members than a person whose location the family knows.”

In addition, former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin made it clear that police and prison guards would not be held responsible for killing Falun Gong practitioners. According to The Epoch Times, Jiang issued a directive in 1999 that, “If a Falun Gong practitioner is beaten to death, it is counted as a suicide.”

So if there's no record of who these people are, and no one is held responsible if they are killed, that makes it especially easy for the police to do whatever they want with the bodies. Like label them as "unclaimed bodies" and sell them to plastination companies.

Bo Xilai was apparently a big proponent of this kind of prison system.

In this March 2001 notice from the People's Court Daily (人民法院報), the Shenyang Intermediate Court in Liaoning Province had issued a notice on January 31, 2001 asking police to, “Go deep into the struggle of exposing and criticizing” Falun Gong. Read: throwing them in prison. The court system was under Bo Xilai's jurisdiction at the time.

Then, in November 2002, the Legal Daily published this report about Liaoning's government embarking on the largest and most expensive expansion of the province's prisons. As governor, Bo Xilai spearheaded this 112 million dollar (930 million RMB) expansion to hold an additional 10,000 inmates.

Now some people might think that perhaps Bo Xilai had legitimate reasons for expanding the prison system. After all, he made a name for himself later in Chongqing for cracking down on organized crime, right? Well, since the scandal involving his former police chief Wang Lijun broke, we found out that this pair really used their so-called “beat the black” campaign primarily as a way to take down political rivals and collect money.

Jiang Weiping, who was a reporter in Dalian when Bo Xilai was mayor there, wrote an article in June 2009, published earlier this year, about how Bo Xilai personally directed the persecution of Falun Gong so he could show Chinese leader Jiang Zemin that he was worthy of being promoted through the ranks of the Communist Party. Years later, Bo Xilai was sued on charges like torture and genocide by Falun Gong practitioners in more than ten countries.

So let's go over what we know:
Bo Xilai was heavily involved in persecuting Falun Gong in Liaoning province, including the city of Dalian where the plastination plants were located.
Bo Xilai spent more than 100 million dollars to expand prisons and labor camps while he was governor of Liaoning.
Falun Gong practitioners made up a big portion of the people in labor camps - by some estimates, as much as half.
Many Falun Gong practitioners don't give their names - so they remain unidentified in the system - and that means police can do whatever they like with their bodies if they die in detention.
Police are not even held responsible if they end up killing Falun Gong practitioners - whether they gave their name or not.
And of course, we know that Sui Hongjin likely obtained bodies from Chinese prisons to use for plastination - bodies that are now shown in exhibits around the world.

It's hard to find a definitive paper trail to prove for certain that any of these bodies on display belonged to Falun Gong practitioners or other prisoners of conscience. That's in part because records may have intentionally not been kept. But for the same reason, there's also no paper trail proving that 100% of the bodies are not from prisoners of conscience.

After NTD began reporting on the issue recently in English and Chinese, many people in China have started to launch their own investigations into what really happened in Dalian. We encourage that. And we hope that you continue to watch NTD and follow our continuing coverage.