Von Hagens, father of plastination and of the exhibition Body Worlds, has come under fire in China amid speculation the bodies were from executed people and he had ties to Bo Xilai. His son sets the record straight.
Rurik von Hagens is son of the creator of the plastination technique, Günther von Hagens, and commercial director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg and CEO of the company Gubener Plastinate.
DW: In a report by Radio Free Asia on August 15 speaks about the discussion that is currently raging in China about allegations about connections between your father and the Chinese star politician Bo Xilai, who is currently embroiled in scandal.
Rurik von Hagens: I read it for the first time in an Epoch Times article … this is the first time I am hearing anything about the story - the first time I've heard my father's and Bo Xilai's names mentioned in the same sentence. It is like this, my father, back then, when he went to Dalian, he received a Dalian friendship medal. And he did actually receive that from Bo Xilai, who, at the time, was governor of Dalian.
I think the relations discussed in the media were more of business nature?
Aside from receiving the friendship award, either right before the award ceremony or right after, they met. But aside from that, we only knew Bo Xilai from the newspapers.
As far as I could tell, your father founded his plastination company in Dalian in 2001. Would it have been possible for him to do that without the blessing of the governor or from someone else high up?
Well, it was a normal establishment of a company - I think it was before 2001 even. He was at the university in Dalian. And there he founded and opened an institute for plastination. And then he opened his own company a few years later. It might have been 1999, but I'd have to look it up to be sure. Back then, we mostly had to do with people from the Dalian High Tech Zone. And as a foreigner, I can't really say anything about internal Chinese approval procedures. Aside from that, it is the kind of company of which there are many; we are not the only ones who do plastination.
Was it not important to have political connections back then?
Well, we were definitely welcome. That was my impression at least - especially from the High Tech Zone. And of course it is important to be welcome. But how high up that went, I really can't say because I don't know.
Well the Zone was under the jurisdiction of Governor Bo …
Well I don't know. I think you know that better than I do. All I know is, we were at the Dalian High Tech Industrial Zone, and that was organized by the state. And it is probable that the governor had the final say over it all.
Is the company still active?
Body Worlds uses bodies from donors
No. It exists still. But only on paper. In 2006, there was a decree from Beijing that plastinates could no longer be imported or exported for commercial purposes. So since 2006, we have not prepared any human bodies. For around three years, up until around last year, we still worked with the bodies of animals. We had, for example, an elephant in our exhibition that was from Dalian … but now there are no longer any production facilities there.
In Tianya, a Chinese forum, I came across an alleged statement from your father's company. It is in English and it was about an exhibition in New York that was said to have had something to do with the Chinese police …
The one in New York is not ours. That one is called "Bodies" and it has nothing to do with Gunther von Hagens. My father created the plastination process. We were the first ones to do such an exhibition. And when it became so popular, there were a lot of others who copied us or put on similar exhibitions.
Since 2006, we no longer do any plastination in China. But there are still plastination laboratories there. But not ours. But there are enough other laboratories in China that do it and even export their models, even though it is not allowed …
Because my father created the process of plastination, other exhibitions are thus inspired by my father and people often confuse us with other similar exhibitions. But I would like to make it clear that we are in no way connected with the one in New York.
That's good because artists and activists in China are now demanding to know where the bodies used in the exhibitions are coming from.
We are the only ones who put on exhibitions and have our own body donation program. The headquarters is in Heidelberg. My father created the program at the University of Heidelberg sometime around the early 1980s. Later on, he took it over in his private institute. Today, we have 13,000 body donors. We receive about two to three bodies per week. They are all from people who wish their bodies to be plastinated explicitly for exhibitions.
In China we tried to establish a body donor program. There were some people who were interested. But we only ended up getting one actual donor.
People are talking on the internet about thousands of bodies possibly from people who were executed. So there's nothing to that?
No. But people misconstrue information sometimes when they don't quite understand. Let me explain. There are exhibitions that use "ownerless" bodies from China. Whatever that means. That is what the exhibition in New York use, or there is also one in Las Vegas and there are other ones that travel around the world. And in most cases, it is said that the bodies used there are "ownerless" bodies from China. But they have nothing to do with our exhibitions. The only bodies used in our exhibitions are ones that people donate while they are still alive. We have only ever used donated bodies … even when we prepare bodies for universities - the bodies used for that are also ones that have been donated to us.
Interview: Xiegong Fischer / sb
Editor: John Blau