- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

DALIAN, China — Hidden in a maze of factories in the heart of this northeastern Chinese port city is the house Gunther von Hagens built — and, for many, a place where nightmares are created.

Inside Mr. von Hagens’ sprawling, well-guarded compound, behind a leaning metal fence pocked with holes, are more than 800 human beings — 200 of his staffers and 645 dead bodies in steel cases from almost a dozen nations.

The anatomist, whose exhibits of preserved human corpses have riled religious leaders in Europe and attracted the curious and the outraged across the world, set up shop here three years ago to process bodies for his shows.

Last month, news reports from Mr. von Hagens’ native Germany asserted that at least two of the corpses, both Chinese, had bullet holes in their skulls — the method China uses for execution. It’s a charge that Mr. von Hagens rejects vehemently, saying all his specimens were donated by people who signed releases.

“I absolutely prohibit and do not accept death penalty bodies,” Mr. von Hagens, a tall, thin man in a fedora, said this week during a rare tour of his Dalian facility.

But, he added, “Many things can happen. … I cannot exclude that [possibility].”

Mr. von Hagens, 59, introduced his “Body Worlds” exhibits in 1997 and has shown them to nearly 14 million people from Japan and Korea to Britain and Germany. Shows are running now in Frankfurt, Germany, and Singapore.

The displays feature healthy and diseased body parts as well as skinned, whole corpses in assorted poses — a rider atop a horse, a pregnant woman reclining — that show off the preservation technique Mr. von Hagens developed in 1977.

Dubbed “plastination,” the process replaces bodily fluids and fat with epoxy and silicone, making the bodies durable for exhibition and study.

Prosecutors in Heidelberg, Germany, are studying whether Mr. von Hagens committed human rights violations by using the corpse of a person without obtaining consent while the person was living, spokeswoman Elke O’Donoghue said.

Mr. von Hagens said his staff searched their cache of bodies after an article in the German magazine Der Spiegel and found seven with “different kinds of head injuries.” He said he planned to incinerate those to be certain execution victims are not used.

“There is no case opened against me,” he said. “Nobody accuses me … of doing anything criminal, anything against the law.”

In Frankfurt, authorities have warned parents not to allow children younger than 14 to view the exhibit, which they said could “shock and frighten.”

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