A plastinated body on display at a Body Worlds exhibition in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo/Xinhua)
The controversial exhibition Body Worlds has strongly refuted speculation that one of its shows features the plastinated body of Zhang Weijie, the missing Dalian newswoman rumored to have been a mistress of the disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai. The allegation was first made by Boxun, a US-based Chinese-language citizen journalism site sourced by anonymous users which frequently makes claims that are dificult to prove, and was covered by Want China Times in a report on Boxun's claims.
According to an email from the attorneys of Plastination Company Inc and Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of the process which has allowed the inner workings of human cadavers to be displayed around the world, the Aug. 19 article titled "Bo Xilai's former mistress on display in Body Worlds: Boxun" published on the Want China Times website is "false and defamatory."
Without identifying any offending passages or statements, the Aug. 29 email accuses generally that the article "states or implies" that the Body Worlds exhibition "included the plastinated body of Zhang Weijie, the former mistress of Chinese politician Bo Xilai."
"That statement is completely false. The statement also defames and causes serious injury to Dr von Hagens and Plastination Company, Inc," the email added.
The article in question was a report on a piece uploaded by Boxun, which has closely followed allegations related to the former Chongqing Communist party chief Bo Xilai since February, when the chain of events that brought about his downfall began. The focus of the Aug. 19 article was Boxun's observation that Chinese netizens have speculated that the plastinated body of a pregnant woman displayed at Body Worlds may belong to the missing anchorwoman.
The article also cited Boxun's allegation that Zhang was Bo's mistress in 1998 and disappeared after his wife Gu Kailai discovered that the TV presenter was pregnant with Bo's child. It also reported that netizens have speculated that Bo, as the then-mayor of Dalian, may have been the person who approved the registration of Von Hagen's plastination company in the city in 1999, around the time of Zhang's disappearance.
While the Want China Times article highlights one of the many widely circulated internet rumors relating to the Bo Xilai scandal, it at no time suggests or implies that the rumors are true or that Dr Von Hagens or Plastination Company were ever involved in any wrongdoing.
Various news outlets and blogs have also picked up on the Boxun piece, including Taiwan's Apple Daily and ETtoday, the US-based World Journal, as well as the English magazine site Goldsea.
According to Goldsea, which also received a similar letter from lawyers, Von Hagens admitted during a 2010 interview that his exhibitions had once used bodies from China but stopped after learning that they were "probably executed prisoners." He was subsequently sued by Arnie Geller, the former head of rival Premier Exhibitions, who claimed that van Hagen's comments implied that Premier had used prisoners. Geller said all the bodies used his exhibitions had died from natural causes.
Goldsea also reported that Von Hagens had denied allegations that he paid a former plastination technician to lie about rival practices or fabricate petitions to prevent competitors from opening their own exhibits.
The speculation of Chinese netizens arising out of the Bo Xilai scandal stems largely from their fascination with Communist Party officials and the party's tendency to deal with political controversies behind closed doors. Bo's situation is regarded as particularly sensitive as he was a rising political star destined for the upper echelons of power until his former police chief Wang Lijun fled to the US consulate in Chengdu in February with apparent evidence that Bo's wife had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood. Gu was handed a suspended death sentence earlier this month after confessing to the murder, while Bo reportedly remains under house arrest pending the outcome of his investigation for unspecified "serious discipline violations."
Zhang Weijie 張偉杰
Bo Xilai 薄熙來
Gu Kailai 谷開來
Wang Lijun 王立軍