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History of Cannibalism in China


Descriptions of cannibalism appear repeatedly in Chinese history, in numerous historical writings and literature, and most recently during the Cultural Revolution in the testimony of Cheng I, the Chinese film producer and writer who fled to Hong Kong in the spring of 1992 and sought asylum in the United States in 1993.

In his book Shokujin Enseki - Massatsu sareta Chugoku Gendaishi (Cannibal Banquet - Modern Chinese History Erased) (Tokyo: Kodansha Kappa Books, 1993), Cheng I describes in detail how, as a young Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in south China, he witnessed hundreds of children, women and men classified as Counter-revolutionaries killed and eaten by the perpetrators, with such comments as "human meat tastes better when broiled than boiled."

In the recently published collection of studies Chugoku Igaishi, historian Okada Hidehiro quotes passages from the classic Ming dynasty (1368-1644) novel Water Margin, also known as All Men Are Created Equal, describing a group of villains who sell human meat as beef, as well as other characters who eat human flesh.

According to Okada, King Chu of the Ying dynasty (11th century BC) is alleged to have made salted meat and dried meat out of two feudal lords, as well as soup out of son of King Wen of Zhou, which he made King Wen eat.

During times of severe famine, a frequent occurence in China, cannibalism became marked.

The Great Historian Sima Qian records that in 594BC people ate each other's children and the dead in the walled city of Song, when it was beseiged by the Chu army.

In the 9th century, towards the end of the Tang dynasty (618-906) a Persian trader reported that human flesh was being sold openly in markets.

During the 12th century, it was said that 15 jin (1 jin = 1.323lbs) of dried meat was obtained from one human being.

Towards the turbulent close of Yuan dynasty (1276-1368), it was said that children's meat was best, then women's, and the least were men's.

Cannibalism was practiced not merely for sheer survival, but also as a means of revenge. Lu Xun (1881-1936) recounts such a case in his work ...., in which a revolutionary was killed in 1907 and his heart eaten by an enemy. This incident may have also inspired Lu Xun to write his celebrated novel Diary of a Madman (1918), in which cannibalism sevres as an analogy for the decrepit state of modern China.

The Chinese also believed medicinal benefits could be obtained from eating human flesh, and the benefits are described in their 16th century medicinal book Bencao Ganmu.


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Source: Okada Hidehiro. Chugoku Igaishi. (Tokyo: Shinshokan, 1997) pp.130-143.