“… one lives a super-normal life, like the Chinese. That is to say, one is unnaturally gay, unnaturally healthy, unnaturally indifferent. The tragic sense is gone; one lives like a flower, a rock, a tree, one with Nature and against Nature at the same time. If your best friend dies you don’t even bother to go to the funeral; if a man is run down by a street car right before your eyes you keep on walking just as though nothing had happened; if a war breaks out you let your friends go to the front but you yourself take no interest in the slaughter. So on and so on.”
~ Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
It is said that there is something inherent in the nature of the Chinese, the cold, pathological indifference to the suffering of their fellow human beings, their own compatriots, even their own neighbors as long as whatever is happening does not concern themselves or their immediate family members. Western observers only get glimpses of it and mention it in passing, sporadically in their writings, but it is the Chinese themselves who are the most virulent critics of their own salient national trait. Xu Lun, the leading figure of modern Chinese thought, famously described this sociopathic apathy of the Chinese as the tradition of cannibalism, a result of rigid, deep-rooted and cannibalistic Confucianism.
Whatever the merits of Xu Lun’s remark might be, there are indeed many instances of cannibalism throughout Chinese history, and many on such large scale that it’s difficult for a westerner to fathom its scale.
During the period of five dynasties and ten nations (五代十国), it is said that one particular nation state in north-east China captured 10,000 concubines from the Sima royalty’s palace to be sold as sex slaves, and as the victorious army marched back to its northern capital, food shortage became a serious problem, and the soldiers began eating those concubines. Once the army had returned to its capital, only 5,000 concubines were still alive. The rest were all eaten by soldiers.
In north-western region of China during the same period, a nation state famously kept “two-legged sheep” for its army. “Two-legged sheep” were human females captured during war. When there was no battle to be fought, the soldiers ravished those females for pleasure to boost their morale, and when they became hungry, they cooked them for food.
During the interregnum between Ming and Qing dynasty, several warlords ruled China, and one particular man, by the name of Zhang Xianzhong, was legendary for his level of cruelty, even by Chinese standards. He kept thousands of concubines in his palace. They were not allowed to wear anything to cover their genitals and walked around in his palace half-naked, with beautiful clothing on the upper half of their bodies, and completely naked below the waist. This was to ensure that whenever Zhang was in the mood, he would have unimpeded access to their vagina. After he had sex with one of his many concubines, he sliced off her breasts and vagina, cooked and ate them.
As I lay on my bed and listened to countless stories of cruelty beyond the limits of human imagination narrated coldly, objectively by historians, I felt my limbs numb and I was unable to move, partially paralyzed by fear, partially stunned by those incredulous historical records. Surely, even if those things were made up, who would have the imagination to make those stuffs up? So they must have been real!
There were many, many more: such as how, after capturing a city, Zhang would gather all the females in the city, cut off their breasts, vagina, and feet, and pile them into different piles, so there would be several small mounds made of human parts. Then he would bring his favorite concubine over and let her observe with him. When she said, “it was so pretty, specially those women’s dainty feet.” Zhang said, “but your feet are the prettiest,” and proceeded to cut off her own feet and placed them on top of the mound made of human feet. Those human parts all became Zhang’s troops’ food ration.
Speaking of cannibalism, one cannot possibly omit the story from Chinese classic literature Outlaws of the Marsh, a story known to all ethnic Chinese, in China, within the greater China region, and in overseas Chinese communities. A restaurant hotel uses human flesh to make dumplings for travelers. Wusong, the main protagonist of the story, finds a human nail inside the dumpling.
As always, fiction is merely an imitation of real life. There has been at least ten reported cases of restaurants using human flesh in modern China since 1960. The problem is, CCP (the Chinese Communist Party) refuses to release details on any of the cases, so what we are left with are merely urban legends, rumors, hearsays, and no real accountable sources to back up any of the stories.
One account of cannibalism verified and reported in the western hemisphere that I know of is by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. According to a Japanese soldier stationed in Manchuria during World War II, there was a Chinese street peddler who sold human flesh as pork. “I brought some pork from this Chinese street peddler and ate it. Then someone told me it was actually human flesh. I vomited nonstop for an entire day,” according to Nicholas Kristof’s recount of the Japanese soldier’s recount of the event.
For what is worth, according to stories posted on the internet, allegedly a dumpling restaurant in Beijing served human flesh in 1982.
The story goes as follows:
A customer has an argument with the restaurant owner. The owner accidentally kills the man. Without any place to hide the corpse, the owner decides to butcher the remains, slices all the flesh off its bones, mixes them in with pork to use as fillings for his dumplings. The taste of human flesh turns out to be so delicious that the restaurant business is booming. Many customers especially likes the taste of those fresh, sweet-tasting meat inside the dumplings. “Not as greasy as the other pork.” “More tender than regular pork.” “I don’t know what kind of meat you are putting in those dumplings, but it’s so damn good!” The customers allegedly tells the restaurant owner. Because the taste of human flesh is apparently so delicious the owner of the restaurant goes on to kill several more people to make his human-fleshed dumplings, including a husband and wife from Xian, and a factory worker from the outskirt of Beijing. Eventually a medically doctor eats his dumplings and felt something odd. “Why does it smell like dead people?” The medical doctor allegedly says to a neighbor. According to the story, because the doctor deals with corpses all the time, he is able to detect the distinct smell of human corpse that no other people is able to detect. The doctor calls the police, and the police raids the restaurants and finds a human leg in the freezer.
Another restaurant that used human flesh for dumpling fillings allegedly took place in Chifeng, inner Mongolia, 1988. A couple’s daughter died and was about to be cremated. Before cremation, the mother accidentally touched her daughter’s remains inside the body bag, and felt it was empty. She felt weird and asked the staff to open the bag for her to see her daughter’s remains one more time and was shocked to find out that someone had sawed off her daughter’s legs. She called the police. After investigation, the police discovered that the staff in the funeral home had sold her daughter’s legs to a local restaurant. The restaurant, one of the oldest and most well-known in all of Chifeng, coincidentally, also sells dumplings, and was famous especially for its dumplings. Further investigation revealed that the restaurant owner had been buying human flesh from the staff of the funeral home and using them as dumpling fillings for over seven years.
1960, Tianjin: A local restaurant was famous for its dumplings. The owner was Mr. Wang, a middle-aged bachelor. A perpetual loner, he came to Tianjin and lived in a single apartment by myself, without any relatives in the city. According to Mr. Wang, he had a wife before but his wife ran off with another man but “I feel content living by myself now.”
Everyday he started to made dumplings at four in the morning, begun to sell his dumplings by six, and by eight o’clock, all his dumplings would be sold out. People would fight over one another to buy his dumplings. Everyday he only made 500 dumplings, never hired any helper, and never had any apprentice. People thought his secret recipe was handed to him by his ancestors and he had no intention to let anyone else outside to know.
One day a woman came to the police station, complaining that after eating Mr. Wang’s dumplings, her son nearly choked to death with a small fragment of a bone inside the dumplings. The police dismissed the woman, merely said that the staff from the sanitation department would give Mr. Wang a warning. An elderly police officer took over the bone and said the bone looked weird. “It doesn’t look like an animal bone.” At his insistence, the bone was taken for forensic examination and when the result came back, the whole police department dropped its jaw to the flower.
The bone turned out to be the fragment of a human toe bone.
At Mr. Wang’s place, the police unearthed a basement filled with the remains belonging to seven different people. According to confession, Mr. Wang killed beggars who came to his house begging for food, then dismembered their bodies and used their flesh to make dumplings. He said he has also eaten his own dumplings made of human flesh, and he didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. “Besides, nobody ever got sick from eating my dumplings, and I’ve been using human flesh to make my dumplings for over two years.”