Back Stories » Saigon » Saigon Suspends Popular Anatomy Exhibition, Citing Numerous 'Dishonest' Practices

Citing “dishonest” practices by the show’s promoter, the city suspended the display of plastinated body parts.

The HCMC Department of Culture and Sports claimed that “The Mystery of Human Body” was displaying real body parts while their letter of permission stated they would be displaying only plastic samples of body parts.

The department also said that MegaVina, the show’s promoter, had stated the exhibition at the Ho Chi Minh City Youth Cultural House would run from November 1, 2018, to September 1, 2018, but it instead opened on June 21 with a scheduled end date of December 21, 2018. Authorities have demanded that MegaVina provide documentation certifying the origin of the specimens claimed to be from South Korea by July 10.

The exhibition was aimed at educating the public about the workings of the human body. It included 140 real human body specimens turned into plastic by removing water and fat using an advanced technology known as Plastination, created by Dr. Gunther Von Hagens, a German plastinator.

“Our mission is to bring the highest values in culture and science to Vietnamese people,” said Chung Won Ho, project director of the “Mystery of the Human Body” exhibition. “We hope that Vietnamese people will take on a healthy lifestyle for themselves and the community after visiting the exhibition. They will also better understand the structure and biological activity of the human body and see the harmful effects of bad habits. The exhibition will also motivate people to learn more about life sciences.”

“The Mystery of Human Body” attracted over 6,000 people in its first weeks, each of whom paid paid VND200,000 (US$9). The exhibition planned to contribute 1% of revenue from ticket sales to the Operation Smile Organization, which provides free surgeries to children with hare-lips and cleft palates. Organizers also gave away a thousand free tickets to children.

Before its suspension, the event had sparked criticism. Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibitions under the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said: "The exhibition is not suitable for Vietnamese culture. The specimens exhibited lack humane values, some would even make many people feel uncomfortable." That view caused Hanoi to refuse a license to the show for the capital city.

There was also concern surrounding the origin of the bodies being displayed. “We don’t know the story of the donors, whether or not they consented for their bodies (and body parts) to be exhibited,” said Thanh. Former Deputy Head of the Department of Children Protection Nguyen Trong An suggested that the display is "a kind of business which was covered under an event for art or scientific purposes," and no husband could reasonably be assumed to have consented to the display of his deceased wife and child.

Some visitors, however, have greatly enjoyed the event. People in attendance expressed both amazement at the complexity of the human body as well as the belief it wasn’t as frightening as they had expected. VnExpress polled readers about the event and 63% of over 5,500 respondents thought that the exhibition was “beneficial and scientific,” while 37% called it “gruesome and distasteful.”

Plastinated bodies like those on display at “The Mystery of the Human Body” have been very popular around the world, and viewed by more than 50 million people worldwide. Nonetheless, there has been great controversies however surrounding the sourcing of the bodies, including pervading beliefs that similar promoters rely on illegally obtained bodies of Chinese prisoners. The exhibition are banned in France and Israel.

[Photo via Tin Tay Nguyen]

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