At first I thought it would be absolutely ridiculous to deign the rumours about the Chinese eating aborted foetuses with a comment, but as the rumours spread as far as my Facebook friends’ page…
To start off, let me introduce you to the concept of blood libel. Blood libel means that a bunch of really parochial racist evil people can’t cope with living in a world that is no longer quite as parochial as they think it should be. This means that they have to invent fun and exciting stuff about it that will be more compatible with their expectations, such as, the ‘people of (insert nationality) eat babies ZOMG OUTRAGE’ meme.
So, the meme about the Chinese eating babies? Let’s attempt to find the Ur-source, or, at least, go as far back as possible.
1. The most recent widely quoted article is from Seoul Times (20-09-2008). You can find it here. It says:
An Email report received by The Seoul Times confirmed that news with several vivid and appalling pictures of human embryos fetuses being made into a soup for human consumption.
This suggests that the article is very reliable: clearly, all major news outlets get their information from anonymous, unverifiable, and ultimately unverified e-mails.
2. However, a quick googling provides us with a link to an almost identical article, from this blog. The article was written two years earlier than the ST article. The photos are also mostly the same.
Sadly, the links to the sources given in the article appear to be broken.
3. More googling proves that whenever there’s a headline along the lines of “Chinese eat babies”, the same article as above or its variations are quoted.
4. Finally, snopes.com has an article on this exact meme, which explains that the photo of a cannibalistic Chinese man is in fact a photo of an artist eating a duck with a doll’s head as a part of an artistic performance.
5. And a Taipei Times article from 2001 relates a sad story of prejudice and Malaysian tabloids.
The pictures were in fact part of a performance by Shanghai-based artist Zhu Yu (朱昱), entitled Man-eater (食人).
However, Perdana‘s news story claimed that the photos were of a Taiwanese restaurant in which human fetuses are served to customers.
Yeah, brilliant thinking!
(Please note that according to this article Zhu Yu also said he really had eaten those foetuses, but that he’d stolen them from a medical school. He might have just been doing it to get more publicity, though. Anyway, he’s a guy who thought eating foetuses was artistically a brilliant plan. With a message. Let’s just ignore him.)
6. The oldest article I could find is from 2000 and describes how the Chinese blood libel meme was gradually constructed and spread by (who else?) Xian fundamentalists throughout the 1990.
The most despicable person in the entire story is in my opinion Bruce Gilley:
I had less luck getting a reply from Bruce Gilley, the author of the Eastern Express article. Now a “reputable” contributor to Far Eastern Economic Review, and author of Tiger on the Brink: Jiang Zemin and China’s New Elite it’s understandable that Gilley may want to distance himself from the fabrication that helped launch his career. That Bruce Gilley could pen such puerile nonsense, playing off the blatantly racist notion that “the Chinese will eat anything”, has to cast serious doubt on both his journalistic integrity and his relationship with the Chinese among whom he lives and earns his daily bread.
5. Debunking at AboutCom is actually the first hit if you google “Chinese eat foetuses”. Some people are really gullible and lazy not to get as far as at least there. Some part of it must be the confirmation bias, too.
6. This is how what you end up doing when 1) you’re racist, 2) your google-fu sucks.
7. Sinofoetophagophilia “East Eats Fetus Meat” Meets Defeat is an extremely informative post about everything that makes this entire meme improbable, and about racist assumptions some people tend to make about people they perceive to be less civilised than they perceive to be themselves.
8. The film Dumplings could also have provided some useful imagery and added some gory visuals to the already crowded memosphere.
(There are several different memes here, actually. The locations seem to be moving between Taiwan and Guangdong, sometimes it’s about “a Chinese restaurant”, sometimes about “traditional Chinese remedy”. Because they are about the same thing – blood libel – I just lumped them all together in one sparkly link pile)
Thanks to the guys from #ttdkn for providing some of the links!