NYC 'Bodies' Exhibit Must Refund Tickets For Using Undocumented Corpses

If you’ve seen the “Bodies” exhibit at the South Street Seaport in New York City, you’re entitled to a refund (click here for info) according to a new agreement between New York’s Attorney General’s office and Premier Exhibitions, Inc. When “Bodies” first opened here over two years ago, some opponents questioned whether the Chinese cadavers were legally obtained—or whether they were Chinese political prisoners who hadn’t consented to being plastinated, flayed, and displayed by a private for-profit company. At the time, Premier Exhibitions’ president said all the bodies were documented: “Although he said he was not allowed to keep copies of documents, officials at Dalian University in northern China showed him papers attesting to the origin of the remains,” wrote the New York Times in 2005. Then ABC’s news show “20/20” aired an investigative report this past February that showed otherwise.

From ABC News:

Premier Exhibitions says that the “unclaimed” bodies on display were legally obtained from Dalian Medical University.

ABC News’ “20/20” reported earlier this year that the bodies did not come from the university but instead from a private, for-profit lab about 30 miles away. “20/20” interviewed someone who said he was a former participant in the black market, in which, he said, bodies were sold to that lab for $200 to $300 each. Dalian Medical University told ABC News that it severed its ties to the plastination lab several years ago.

Premier’s former CEO Arnie Geller, who is still on the company’s Board of Directors disputed the allegations on “20/20.” He said that his suppliers assured him that “these are all legitimate, unclaimed bodies that have gone through Dalian Medical University.”

“20/20” also reported that the inventor of plastination, Dr. Gunther von Hagens (who has touring body shows that are not related to Premier Exhibitions or their exhibits), claimed he stopped using Chinese-sourced bodies entirely because of his suspicions that they were unethically obtained:

Von Hagens says he had to cremate several bodies he received in China after detecting injuries that led him to suspect they had been executed prisoners. He says those bodies were given to him by a medical school in China to plastinate for teaching models. He said he only used Chinese bodies, all of which he received from the Chinese university, for teaching models, but has never put Chinese bodies on public display.

“There is now no way for me any more to work with specimens in China,” said von Hagens, who says his company in China now only deals with animal specimens.

Oddly, there are no customs restrictions in the U.S. with plastinated corpses at the present, writes ABC News:

U.S. Customs has said that since the plastination process changes the nature of the human remains, plastinated body parts can be imported as plastic objects, not as human bodies.

This is why 21 members of Congress have sponsored a bill that would prohibit the importation of plastinated cadavers entirely.

WNYC reports that as part of the agreement, Premier Exhibitions will have to post a warning now that some of the bodies may be those of executed Chinese prisoners, which we imagine would put a damper on any future visits.

We can’t find any details yet on how to request the refund, so if someone finds out, please send us a tip. Thanks to Brian and Melt for the refund contact info!

“‘Bodies’ exhibit avoids a stiff penalty” [Daily News] (Thanks to Alex!)

“Cadaver Exhibition Raises Questions Beyond Taste” [New York Times]
“Exclusive: Secret Trade in Chinese Bodies” [ABC News]
“Lawmakers Call for Crackdown on Bodies Exhibits” [ABC News]
H.R. 5677 []
“State Reaches Settlement with Bodies Exhibit” []
(Photo: jemsweb)


Edit Your Comment

  1. loganmo says:

    does this mean speed plastination won’t be offered at the summer olympics after all ??

  2. BalknChain says:

    I am now very concerned about the life size Ken and Barbie I just purchased.

  3. ExecutorElassus says:

    @loganmo: And here I was hoping that – if I couldn’t at least get dolls of the winning athletes – I could take home the actual losing ones. That would add some nice Mayan-style stakes to the competition, too.

  4. crescentia says:

    This is what happens when for profit companies try to make a buck by copying something original and cool. I hope they get haunted by some vengeful spirits or something.

  5. muffinpan says:

    Lead in toys, Counterfeit designer goods, tainted protien for dog food, phony heprin. Finally dead POW’s. Wow China’s on a roll.

  6. donkeyjote says:

    @ExecutorElassus: If you want to get all indian about it, the self-sacrificed bodies of the winners will be on sale at Sala-Aztec after the medal ceremony.

  7. Haess says:

    @ExecutorElassus: Ahhh.. then The Games wouldn’t be so… routine.. I applaud and support this idea… LOL

  8. donkeyjote says:

    And also, this is a bad way of building up bad karma real fast. I bet a hundred dollars that president’s body will become some necro’s play thing.

  9. Parting says:

    Who is creepy enough to come and watch this exhibition?

  10. csdiego says:

    I figured as much.

  11. dragonfire81 says:

    @Victo: Apparently thousands of people, these exhibits have been highly successful in many places around the globe.

  12. @dragonfire81: “Bodies” is quite possibly one of the most fascinating exhibits I have ever seen. My husband knows so much stuff about the human body, (he’s an NMT) so it was like I had my own personal docent! I learned so much about the human body.

  13. lukobe says:

    @Victo: Me, for one. It’s fascinating. Too bad about where they came from, though. If they could get these bodies from volunteers–it’s a wonderful educational experience.

  14. humphrmi says:

    The kicker is, there are probably plenty of volunteers too. Some would understandably not want to do this for religious reasons. Others might think it’s too creepy. Weed those out and you’ve still got over 90% of the world population. The world is brimming with dead bodies; how is it that they couldn’t manage to find a couple hundred that weren’t killed by torture?

  15. Jubilance22 says:

    I worked for this company when the exhibit was in Atlanta, and they were adamant that the bodies were all donated. Everyday a group of folks would picket outside, protesting about the use of executed prisoners.

  16. DoktorGoku says:

    @Victo: Who’s “creepy” enough to come and see it?

    Hmm… how about my entire group of medical students, residents, and doctors?

    Hey… we dissected cadavers in our first year of medical school! Then we preserved certain parts of them (yes, we had permission) and used them for further study. I guess that means we’re “creepy.”

  17. that’s creepy, though I doubt the bodies came from any strange sources.

  18. bohemian says:

    Is there any relation to the company in this news article or have they changed their business name? Otherwise there are two touring this.

    I have seen the sliced body exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It is really interesting yet enough to make you a bit woozy when you realize they cut this old woman into layers like a frozen chuck steak.

    I won’t be going to either of the traveling exhibits. No matter how cool, the potential of contributing to human rights abuses just isn’t something I am willing to do.

  19. mgy says:

    @bohemian: At least they cut her into a chuck steak after she died….presumably.

  20. DrCrippen says:

    Seriously, the people who are making these claims about “executed Chinese prisoners” are stretching the bounds of belivability. Do they really think that the Chinese goverment would dispose of its dead prisoners by plasticizing them, mounting them as museum specimens and shipping them all over the world? I think they probably just put a bullet into their heads and drop the corpse in a big hole.

    I’m no fan of the Chinese government, but come on! They’re not Supervillans.

  21. crescentia says:


    They execute people and then sell the bodies. The Chinese government has a very bad record when it comes to human rights.

  22. Concerned_Citizen says:

    Aren’t executed prisoners allowed to donate their bodies to science? Isn’t their a 3d software model of a human body made from a U.S. prisoner? I do not understand how the body being from a prisoner makes it any different.

  23. donkeyjote says:

    @Concerned_Citizen: The whole idea that the permission was forced, coerced, or forged. The government has already taken them away for life, and its cheaper/more profitable to kill them and sell the bodies then to feed and clothes for life.

  24. wring says:

    @Victo: I went to the one in Sacramento and didn’t know they were real until I reached the end. eeek! i had a craving for ham afterwards.

  25. Snaptastic says:

    Finally! A country that treats their criminals like the animals they are…I was getting tired of reading articles about how prisoners here seem to have more rights than a law-abiding citizen.

    (I’m halfway kidding, I know China doesn’t have a justice system like ours–but every time I hear a news story on a repeat criminal committing the same crimes he was in jail for before or worse, it makes me ache for justice that actually strives to protect the populace rather than giving the criminals more privileges)

  26. synergy says:

    1. I saw the exhibit last month here in San Antonio. Any chance of getting refund down here??

    2. Who took that pic?? We were warned no pics should be taken. Man. I wish now I had snapped some pics of the circulatory system. That work is AMAZING.

  27. donkeyjote says:

    @synergy: Photos or pics? Difference is Flash. But most do just say no cameras as a blanket policy :(

  28. donkeyjote says:

    @wring: Hamibal Lector!

  29. P_Smith says:

    @DrCrippen: Seriously, the people who are making these claims about “executed Chinese prisoners” are stretching the bounds of belivability. Do they really think that the Chinese goverment would dispose of its dead prisoners by plasticizing them, mounting them as museum specimens and shipping them all over the world? I think they probably just put a bullet into their heads and drop the corpse in a big hole.

    I’m no fan of the Chinese government, but come on! They’re not Supervillans.

    Obviously you don’t watch anything but FAUX Noise. The Chinese government are monsters, or to quote the film “Runaway Train”, they’re worse – human.

    China is one of the worst countries when it comes to “transplant tourism”. Killing political prisoners and criminals on spec for foreigners to have the victim’s organs is a common business practice of the government.



    To find they are doing it to their own citizens does not stretch credibility, especially given their track record on how they treat farmers.

    Chinese farmers are being brutally attacked and murdered by gangs of thugs, some are police and soldiers organized by the government, when the farmers won’t move off their land because the government, corporations and developers want the land. The land is stolen with no compensation and no legal recourse.

    The link below is only one of many such incidents.


  30. Melt says:

    You can find refund information here:


    This is the site of Premier Exhibitions, the company behind the exhibit.

  31. csdiego says:

    @Concerned_Citizen: No, I think executed prisoners by definition aren’t free to consent for their bodies to be used for science.

  32. ExecutorElassus says:

    @Concerned_Citizen: You refer to one Joseph Paul Jernigan, whose body was frozen and photographed at 1mm intervals. Since he was a violent criminal executed by lethal injection in Texas in 1993, there are some ethical questions about the propriety of using his cadaver as the reference cadaver in medical texts. There is some uncertainty regarding exactly how informed his consent was.
    Besides, his cranium is somewhat thick and misshapen. Phrenologists may make of that what they will.

  33. alexiso says:

    The same thing happened here in Pittsburgh.

  34. Angryrider says:

    I somehow had this strange feeling about the bodies when I saw them in an ad. I eventually found out that most of the bodies came from China, and so I put two and two together. Chinese Government= notorious for what they do to their citizens despite being close to a world superpower. Bodies look kinda Asian. Dear god, the Chinese Government is using the bodies of dead people for display. How sacrilegious.

  35. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @alexiso: They execute political prisoners in Pittsburgh?

    Seriously, this ‘refund’ thing is going to be abused, because that is how people in this country are. I’m continually offended by a lot of things, but I don’t feel I’m entitled to any compensation.

  36. cmdrscampers says:

    I think there’s a confusion here.. there’s “Bodies… the exhibition” and “Body Worlds”. Not the same thing. []

  37. Narockstar says:

    Ha! I used to work for Bodies on the weekends. This is really funny because it was Premier’s policy not to refund for ANYTHING. Your kid freaks out? No refunds. You thought you were seeing Body Worlds? Sorry, should have googled it. You didn’t eat and passed out because the AC wasn’t working…again? Here’s a voucher, but no refunds.

    On another note, as horrible as you might think it is that the bodies are of questionable origin and how terrible Premier must be for making money off them, I don’t think that’s half as bad as how the American tourists eventually treated them. It was disgusting. I’m so glad that I don’t spend my time yelling at adults for acting like 12-yr-olds anymore. “Quick, take a picture of me touching this dead guy’s penis.” Actually the 12-yr-olds probably had more respect.

  38. Trai_Dep says:

    “You’ve got your preserved Mao in my plastinated Bodies exhibit!”

  39. luz says:

    @Snaptastic: Paris Match ran an article several years ago about some Beijing kids who were marched into a forest, forced to beg for rice along the way and shot in the head. They were seventeen or so and had stolen gum and candy from a corner shop. Their families were billed for the bullets.

    Brilliant exhibit though!

  40. RayDelMundo says:

    I saw this in Columbus last year and it was fantastic. Especially the circulatory system. Amazing.
    We even joked at the time about how the bodies were probably convicts. Little did we know.

  41. handalanda says:

    The exhibit is now over in Redding, CA (not sure if there is more then one exhibit that travels around). Haven’t seen it yet, but heard that it is a great exhibit.

  42. TheRealAbsurdist says:

    @Narockstar: I handled this show prior to Premier getting their hands on it. Even then there were questions as to the origins of the bodies. Von Hagens may be (in my humble opinion) a loon and an egotist, but at least he’s one with scruples and ethics.

    And if you worked with Premier I’m sure you had the supreme pleasure of working with T.Z. (shudder)

  43. DrCrippen says:


    Wouldn’t Fox news be ANTI-china? Regardless, I don’t watch any of the cable news networks.

    I KNOW that China is rife with human rights abuses. Dur-hey. I just don’t it buy that they would use such a grandiose method of body disposal. Just because they DO do horrible things to people doesn’t mean that they do every horrible thing possible.

  44. dazzlezak says:

    Insert Sharon Stone quote about Karma here…

  45. akalish says:

    @lukobe: Ditto. It was a great exhibit. Horrible to know about how it came about, though. I’m not going to bother to get my money back, but I definitely wouldn’t have gone if I had known.

  46. Skiffer says:

    A note to those applying for the refund:

    The disclosure is that Premier Exhibitions cannot independently verify that the cadavers were not from executed prisoners – not that they WERE executed prisoners.

    You have to acknowledge this in your letter – so make sure you word it properly…

    I could see them denying refunds to those who do not make the proper distinction. (When in doubt, just refer to the “disclosure” and no specifics.)

    Also, credit card transactions provide great proof of attendance.

  47. Dick.Blake says:

    I saw this when it was in Atlanta… say, Fall of 06. I was immensely impressed for the educational value of the exhibit (especially the rooms devoted to the circulatory and nervous system, like others have previously mentioned).

    In speaking with some of the other visitors, it was pretty obvious to us that some of the cadavers were of the Asian persuasion and a girl I was dating at the time told me the rumor about using Chinese prisoners…. oddly it made me even more intrigued after hearing that and I would have still gone if I had known it beforehand. I can appreciate the scientific nature of the exhibit… I mean, how many times in my life will I get to see a plasticized human cadaver? The process is incredible.

    I won’t seek a refund from them, even if I do hate the idea of supporting those militant Chinese loons.

  48. RvLeshrac says:


    Oh my god. That’s simply horrible.

    Good thing that’s never happened to anyone in the good ol’ USA.

    Seriously, though, the people responsible should be brought to justice for their actions – but I don’t see the same numbers of people and politicians crying out for justice in *all* of the other cases where these things have happened to indigenous peoples. Which is to say, in the US.

    Its OK to rag on China, apparently, but few care about Native Americans. (The real native americans, of course, not the jokers who own casinos.)

  49. RvLeshrac says:


    It is more disturbing to not use the cadavers for anything useful, not advance anyone’s understanding of the human body, and allow them to simply rot away in the ground.

    If I was a political prisoner slated to be executed regardless of whether or not I agreed to anything like this, I think I’d take some solace in the fact that my death would actually mean something to all of humanity.

    The ends here don’t justify the means by any stretch of the imagination – but it seems to me that we shouldn’t be directing ire at the exhibitor here.

    A corpse is just a corpse. A slab of meat. You can be upset that the Chinese government violated the rights of the living, breathing human being, but making an issue out of the display of a corpse is akin to protesting the production of notebooks or writing legislation criminalizing the scratching of an end-table.

  50. IrisMR says:

    You know, an anatomy book does the same job. No need to go see corpses.

    Your body’s made to be fertilizer.

  51. Saboth says:

    Somehow if I were to donate my body to science…being strung up in an art gallery as a grotesque display isn’t what I had in mind. Still debating on the old organ donation thing on my driver’s license at this point…now that we have NYC creating organ harvesting vans. I tell ya, once you are worth more dead than alive, it isn’t a good thing.

  52. maddypilar says:

    I went a couple years ago. There were signs at the entrance and exit saying that the bodies were treated with “respect.” The exhibit has bodies staged to look like they are playing tennis and basketball. There was a comment book and I wanted to write “Saying you treated the bodies with respect doesn’t make it so,” but every pen was out of ink. Every one.

  53. SharkD says:

    @DrCrippen: There’s at least two bodies that were on display in one of the traveling European exhibits (I can’t recall which one) that had what appeared to be obvious bullet wounds. Body Worlds has publicly stated that “donated” bodies received from China had gunshot wounds to the skull.

    Furthermore, there’s been more than a few reports that the traveling shows that followed the original “Body Worlds” exhibit have featured corpses that were evidently preserved too quickly and were oozing unidentified liquids.

  54. zgori says:

    I saw this exhibit. Fascinating. I knew about the controversy over the bodies and went anyway. Guess I can’t file for a refund. It was way overpriced, though — can I file for a refund for that reason???

  55. washanddry says:

    Body Worlds > Bodies the Exhibition

    This is just another example.

  56. washanddry says:

    @ sharkd

    If that’s the case, disregard my last statement.

  57. LUV2CattleCall says:

    The Gunther guy seemed legit…. the guy from Premier exhibitions, who looked like Lewis Black..definitely a slimeball! All he kept doing was repeating the phrase “Dalian medical university…”. Turns out the place the bodies are from is a crock shop that conveniently named itself “Dalian medical university institute of plastination” Also, I read on the ABC site that the investigation started shen some random house in Grand Rapids got a crate of the bodies…. How messed up with that be? You open up the box expecting the new widget you ordered from…..and look what you got instead?


    No kidding! The catch is that you have to pay to ship your own body to them…but still..


    And you can be sure no more kids in the area will steal gum ever again…


    While I somewhat agree with you…the problem here is that there’s a chance that the demand is actually causing more people to be shot than would be otherwise..


    I take it you also believe that a kid who knows how to build Legos can built the same quality of house as a contractor with a ton of hands-on experience?


    You’re the reason I propose an “Organ Donor A-List” program: If you’re willing to donate your organs and actively donate blood, or unable due to MEDICAL reasons (i.e. AIDS, etc… not religious reasons), you get first dibs on transplants should you ever require one. The selfish people out there can go to hell.

    Best quote from the ABC Video:

    “Calling is a plastic model? That means I can take Grandma Betty…put a lampshade on her, and put her in my living room!”

    I suppose you could put the lightbulb above her head, so it looks like she just had a good idea?

  58. LUV2CattleCall says:

    Also, I can’t believe how many of the Premier exhibitions ones look Chinese compared to the Body Worlds ones…

  59. RvLeshrac says:


    That’s actually why I stated “the ends do not justify the means here.” There’s nothing wrong with using the corpses of the executed, since a corpse is just a corpse – but since money is involved, everything goes immediately to hell.

  60. Parting says:

    @DoktorGoku: That’s not the same ;) Professional interest is one thing, Outright morbid curiosity is another.