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Cannibalism in China


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#1 Guest_GuanYu_*

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 01:51 AM

I haven't been to AF in a long time due to the pointless bickering but today I lurked around and there are claims that ancient China was very much a cannibal culture. So much so that it was learned. However according to wikipedia, it says that outside of literary references, there are no strong evidences of cannibalism being sanctioned in ancient nor modern China. I am absolutely clueless on this issue and was hoping some of you could shed more light on it.

#2 Grigori

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 05:27 AM

This reminds me of the novel "Water Margins" where there were multiple references to travellers being drugged and turned into meatbun stuffings by the innskeepers during the Song Dynasty.

But everything I've read suggest canniblism was a phenomenon on the fringes of society and usually used in literature for shock value.

There was a short story I believe written by Lu Xun of the Qing Dynasty where he describes a revolutionary preparing to be executed only to find the peasants who he is dying for, waiting to collect his blood to use as a dip for their steamed buns to treat their illnesses.

Since the story was meant to convey a sense of irony as well as condem the backwardness of the peasants, I cannot take that as historical fact. But I think it's believable as Europeans were also consuming the blood of the executed for medicinal purposes during the 17th Century.

#3 hansioux

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 06:40 AM

There are many recordings on cannibalism during starvation. Such as parents trading children to eat. But I guess that's understandable.

Then there are recordings of people like to drink out of other's skulls. But that's not really cannibalism. On recording of that is from Shi Ji in U-Rang's story.
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#4 lobster

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 10:59 AM

There were a number of cannibalist emperors/nobles in the Age of Fragmentation... on all sides! <_<

#5 elerosse

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 11:01 AM

During the Southern Northern Dynasties where the nomads invaded China, millions of Han Chinese were consumed by the nomads. The Chinese Han people were called 两脚羊,literally meaning "Sheep with to feet". Under the Shi Zhao dynasty, one of its emperor once said: 食之美者,宁过人肉呼?但他国有人,战何所惧? Translated means: "Is there anything more delicious than human flesh? As long as there are humans in other countries, I will not worry for supply for my invasions" . This emperors most favorable food is young Chinese virgin`s breast, saying it has the perfect amount of fat and muscle.

#6 Yang Zongbao

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 11:55 AM

During the Southern Northern Dynasties where the nomads invaded China, millions of Han Chinese were consumed by the nomads. The Chinese Han people were called 两脚羊,literally meaning "Sheep with to feet". Under the Shi Zhao dynasty, one of its emperor once said: 食之美者,宁过人肉呼?但他国有人,战何所惧? Translated means: "Is there anything more delicious than human flesh? As long as there are humans in other countries, I will not worry for supply for my invasions" . This emperors most favorable food is young Chinese virgin`s breast, saying it has the perfect amount of fat and muscle.


Please cite a source please; else this might be taken as simply demonization of a foreign invader.
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#7 polar_zen

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 12:01 PM

Weren't there accounts of cannibalism in Guangxi Province during the Cultural Revolution?
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#8 Yun

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 12:30 PM

During the Southern Northern Dynasties where the nomads invaded China, millions of Han Chinese were consumed by the nomads. The Chinese Han people were called 两脚羊,literally meaning "Sheep with to feet". Under the Shi Zhao dynasty, one of its emperor once said: 食之美者,宁过人肉呼?但他国有人,战何所惧? Translated means: "Is there anything more delicious than human flesh? As long as there are humans in other countries, I will not worry for supply for my invasions" . This emperors most favorable food is young Chinese virgin`s breast, saying it has the perfect amount of fat and muscle.


I know which online articles you got this from. All of them are fabrications made up by Han nationalists; I suggest you read either Shiliuguo Chunqiu or Jin Shu to see if there is any basis for them at all.

The line 食之美者,宁过人肉呼?was actually spoken by a rebel warlord named Zhu Can 朱粲 during the civil wars at the end of the Sui empire. According to a text named 《朝野僉載》, Zhu said this after feeding civilians to his troops during a famine in the Xiangyang region where they were rebelling.

There are only two examples from the Age of Fragmentation of a government feeding human flesh to its soldiers. The first was during the siege of Ye by the Murong Xianbi. The Ran-Wei government, which was being besieged in Ye, allowed its soldiers to kill and eat the thousands of concubines collected in the 340s by the Later Zhao emperor Shi Hu. Note that most of these concubines were 'Han', and so were the leaders of the Ran-Wei regime (Ran Min was already captured by the Murong by this point, so the regime was led by Jiang Gan and Ran Min's young son). Whereas Shi Hu is often condemned for collecting so many concubines, at least he never ate them. Some Han nationalist articles claim that Ran Min freed the concubines after taking power in 350. That is clearly untrue, otherwise why would they still be in Ye to be eaten by his soldiers in 352?

The second was during the war between Former Qin and Later Qin in the Longxi region between 386 and 394. Fu Deng, the Former Qin ruler, did not have enough food to feed his soldiers because the region was suffering from famine and drought. So he ordered his soldiers to eat the corpses of dead enemy soldiers after every battle, saying: "If you fight in the daytime, you get lots of meat to eat at night. Why would you need to fear going hungry?" His soldiers followed his order and got strong and healthy from eating dead Later Qin soldiers. It was perhaps due to this cannibalistic strategy that Fu Deng was able to fight on for eight years before finally being defeated and killed.

All other cases of cannibalism during famine in the Age of Fragmentation were individual acts of desperation, and not government-directed.
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#9 bjluke

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 10:51 PM

There is also the infamous scene from SGYY wherein the poor farmer, lacking food to offer Liu Bei who has taken shelter at his home, cooks up his wife and serves her to LB for dinner. Later, when learning the truth about the meal, rather than being disgusted, LB is touched by the mans loyalty and weeps. What is striking is the way in which this sacrifice, within the context of the novel, is not portrayed in a negative light, but rather as an acceptable and commendable act of devotion to one's superiors.
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#10 fireball

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 11:03 PM

In the book of the famous Qing dynasty scholar, Ji Xiao-lan, "Yue Wei Cao Tang Bi Ji" (The Notes of the Straw Hut of Yue Wei), Ji Xiao-lan recorded a lot of incidents of cannibalism during Qing dynasty during his time (the time of Emperor Qianlong). Most of the times, these incidents happened during great starvations, but sometimes he did record people who actually preferred human flesh -- children and young women were the favorite providers for the human flesh. Some of the ways these people were killed were very cruel -- Although there were a few actual stories about the women cattle and I don't think he gave the accounts for this particular killing method done to babies or men, I think some of the men might be killed the same way. And I have no intention to describe the ways here. The book have translations, and you can get the detailed info from my other posts under the Chinese literature to get the name and ISBN# for the translated version, and you can read it yourselves. It is about lunch time where I am, and I sort of want to have an appetite to enjoy my lunch.

#11 Non-Han Nan Ban

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 11:54 PM

First, I would like to say that it would be horrible to have to eat someone simply to avoid starving to death. Second, Guan Yu, as to your question about culture and cannibalism, Chinese culture really didn't sanction the practice as an acceptable norm, although premodern people in virtually all cultures would not be as shocked about it as we would be today. I remember a phrase from the Song Dynasty about "two-legged mutton" being people as described in one of Jacques Gernet's books, but my professor Dr. Chang says to take this with a grain of salt, and realize the author of the comment was attempting to denigrate a certain regional cooking that was representative in the restaurants of the capital city. Also, I believe Yun's response has been sufficient.

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#12 fcharton

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 12:56 AM

Whereas I would agree with previous posters that cannibalism was not an acceptable practice in ancient China, there are quite a few instances, throughout history, of "ritual cannibalism", basically eating bits and pieces (typically the heart and liver) of defeated enemies. This seems to be connected to some kind of "warrior ethic", as you'd see this happening, consistently, among brigands, sometimes generals, or other people who live by the sword.

Zhuangzi portrays Zhi the Brigand eating minced human liver for his lunch, a couple of former associates of Liu Bang get turned into minced meat, and similar references can be found in many Ming novels. I have read several sources which mention similar practices involving Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

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#13 Judge

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 05:23 AM

There is also the infamous scene from SGYY wherein the poor farmer, lacking food to offer Liu Bei who has taken shelter at his home, cooks up his wife and serves her to LB for dinner. Later, when learning the truth about the meal, rather than being disgusted, LB is touched by the mans loyalty and weeps. What is striking is the way in which this sacrifice, within the context of the novel, is not portrayed in a negative light, but rather as an acceptable and commendable act of devotion to one's superiors.


Actually, it is noted in the C.H. Brewitt Taylor translation that an editor muses in note that "no one would marry" the farmer after he committed such an act. His killing and serving of his own wife was certainly out of the ordinary.

Anyway, more to the point. Many historical novels (most infamously Water Margin and ROTK) make reference to cannibalism among soldiers and warriors. It definitely wasn't a staple of Chinese culture in general, though.

#14 bjluke

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 09:19 AM

Actually, it is noted in the C.H. Brewitt Taylor translation that an editor muses in note that "no one would marry" the farmer after he committed such an act. His killing and serving of his own wife was certainly out of the ordinary.

Anyway, more to the point. Many historical novels (most infamously Water Margin and ROTK) make reference to cannibalism among soldiers and warriors. It definitely wasn't a staple of Chinese culture in general, though.


I certainly don't think its a staple of Chinese society, I'm just saying that within the context of the novel this specific act of cannibalism was seen in a positive light. I think the portrayal of cannibalism in 'Water Margin' was intended to be very negative/shocking, not acceptable. It raises some interesting questions (at least within the fictional world of SGYY): If the farmer's wife had learned of her husband's intentions and fled/fought would she have been considered unpatriotic/disloyal? If Liu Bei had been aware of the source, would he still have eaten it (considering that he was famished at this point in the story)? Is Liu Bei to be considered a cannibal if he ate human flesh in ignorance, or does the term cannibal imply only the intentional devouring of same species flesh?

Edited by bjluke, 05 May 2008 - 09:27 AM.

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#15 Yun

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 01:30 AM

According to a text named 《朝野僉載》, Zhu said this after feeding civilians to his troops during a famine in the Xiangyang region where they were rebelling.


I should correct this after double-checking: Although《朝野僉載》does contain perhaps the earliest account of Zhu Can's cannibalism, the infamous line 食之美者,宁过于人肉呼?但令他国有人,我何所虑?does not appear there. Instead it is in his biography in Jiu Tangshu chapter 56.

That biography also states that his first act of cannibalism was steaming babies to feed his soldiers (who numbered about 200,000) during the famine caused by their raiding and looting; thereafter he ordered his men to cook and eat any women and children they caught, and also levied a tax in children (both male and female) from the cities and forts in the area of his control "to supplement his soldiers' grain". The people of the cities were so horrified by this tax that most of them fled to other areas. Eventually they banded together and defeated Zhu Can in a battle; he escaped with several thousand soldiers and sent an offer of surrender to the Tang regime (which was then also rebelling against the Sui government). Li Yuan sent Duan Que as an envoy to accept his surrender, but Duan got drunk at the banquet held in his honour and mocked Zhu Can, saying "I hear you eat people. How does it taste?" Zhu Can shot back saying "If you eat a drunkard he tastes just like pork cooked in wine dregs." Duan Que got angry and shouted, "You crazy rebel, now that you've surrendered you're no better than a slave. Let's see how you eat anyone now!" Zhu Can got scared and seized Duan Que and the other members of his diplomatic team, and took refuge with Wang Shichong (another rebel warlord and a major rival of the Tang regime) at Luoyang. The Tang regime later captured him when Wang Shichong surrendered Luoyang, and executed him on the bank of the Luo River. The people of Luoyang were so disgusted by Zhu Can's cruelty that they gathered and threw roof tiles and stones at his corpse, until it was buried under a mound of tiles and stones.
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