Manage episode 280847881 series 2659594
Famine, war, siege and political upheaval: Alix takes us on a tour of almost 2,500 years of survival cannibalism history in China.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
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Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Welcome to Episode Four: Chinese Cannibalism 101.
[Intro music continues]
A: It’s no secret that here at Casting Lots, we like a good survival cannibalism story.
C: Wait, what?
A: We’re on our second season and we’re here to talk about fun people-eating.
A: Well, that’s the idea. This is nothing like a good cannibalism story.
C: Are you just preparing me for this to be really boring and bad?
A: I’m just preparing you for this being quite depressing. Unlike our funs stories, which are caused by hubris or unexpected tragedy, this is more of a story of cannibalism caused by malice.
A: Yeah. Last season, we had Russia 101, and today I’m going I’m going to take you through a quick-fire history of survival cannibalism in China. Now, we’re not going to linger too long on any particular story – because they’re quite grim.
C: Thank you for the pre-warning.
A: It just feels different talking about when cannibalism is forced on people, rather than people being the agents of their own misery. This is why we’re probably never going to do an episode on the documented cannibalism of the holocaust, for example. We enjoy talking about survival cannibalism; we don’t enjoy talking about planned human cruelty.
C: That’s fair to say.
A: I have one more disclaimer before (I promise) we will get started: this has been an interesting episode to research, and I feel, Carmella, you’ve felt something similar when you were looking at the Pacific War. Sources can be a little problematic.
A: Racist, yes. For example, don’t get me wrong, I trust Bill Schutt as much as anyone in the cannibalism genre, but there was something that didn’t feel quite right about the quote, “cannibalism isn’t strange in China”.
A: With a bit of digging, I found some better explanations of why cannibalism often reads differently in Chinese literature. That the stigma against cannibalism is a moral or social concept as opposed to there being a ‘forbidden’ type of food. This is very roughly explained, but in the West the stigma about cannibalism is that you shouldn’t eat people because they’re people, while in China the moral element is that you shouldn’t eat people because society says you shouldn’t eat people.
C: I– That makes sense, I see a distinction there.
A: This means it can be difficult to unpack some of these sources, looking at cases of racially-motivated stories or mistranslated myths, when hate or political cannibalism gets mistranslated and misidentified as survival cannibalism. Basically, I’m taking full responsibility for not being able to read between the lines of some of these thousand-year-old sources. If any of our listeners have untranslated copies of the Zizhi Tongjian; the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government; any of the Official Dynastic Histories of China; the Old & New Tang Books; Ming History; or the multi-volume compendium Collection of Meteorological Records in China over the Past Three Thousand Years and doesn’t mind skim-reading just to check the cannibalism so we can clarify… you can see what my problem was while researching this episode. With that, shall we get started?
C: Yes please, I think.
A: Carmella, if we were to look at a period of 440 years of Chinese history, how many documented incidents of cannibalism do you think there would have been?
C: Phew, I’m gonna bat for… around a thousand?
A: Not bad! Between 1470 and 1911, there were 1,194 incidents in Northern China alone.
C: I was going quite high with that number. Okay!
A: Yeah, so this is why this episode is going to be quickfire. I got those numbers from one of those scientific studies that I get a bit excited over. This one was ‘Cannibalism in Northern China’ – obvious title, but it does what it says on the tin.
C: I like an honest title that tells you what you’re in for.
A: It’s one of those ‘water is wet’ conclusions, and it examines every instance of cannibalism in Northern China during this period, and scientifically, categorically states that drought causes famine and famine and war cause each other. And those are the main recipe for cannibalism.
C: Like you said, ‘water is wet’, but useful to have it down in a scientific context.
A: There’s lots of tables and graphs – but you need the scientists to write it down.
A: So there you go, “Drought and war play a significant role in causing cannibalism in history.” And when we’re looking at warfare and famine: these are the two major causes of survival cannibalism in Chinese history. They also coexist, especially looking at sieges. The earliest recorded instance of survival cannibalism in China takes place in 594 or 593 BCE, when the capital of Sung is under siege. An envoy is sent to make the plight of those trapped known to the enemy: “My master has sent me to inform you of our distress. In the city we are exchanging our children and eating them and splitting up their bones for fuel.”
C: Oh, could this be one of our earliest cases of survival cannibalism?
A: I think it probably is! Peace was reached soon afterwards, although whether this was because of the shock of the civilians resorting to cannibalism, who knows? The concept of “swapping” children between families so not to committee gastronomic incest is a theme that comes up time and again in China.
C: Oh! I mean, practical, but bizarre.
A: There are like five primary sources which use the exact words “people exchanging one another’s children for food”, making reference to this custom.
C: ‘I can excuse cannibalism, but I draw the line at gastronomic incest!’
A: There’s gotta be a line somewhere.
C: It’s true.
A: I’m going to ‘skim’ over a few hundred years here. As we fast-forward through time we’re still encountering dozens of survival cannibalism scenarios, including the Siege of Jinyang in 454 BCE, and again in 27 BCE; the forced famines of Luoyang in 109 CE, 155 CE and 311 CE; the siege of Yongqiu in 146 CE, where commander Zang Hong had his concubine – whose name is not recorded – killed to feed his men after resources had run out.
C: Oh yeah, that sounds like men.
A: You’re gonna notice a theme running through these sources.
A:In 386 CE, the Emperor Fu Deng ordered his soldiers fighting during times of famine and drought to eat their fallen enemies, with it being attributed to him that if you (quote) “Fight in the morning and you will have meat to eat in the evening. Why worry about hunger?”
C: That’s a good way to incentivise people.
A: Forward another hundred years or so, and we have the Nanjing Massacre in 548 CE, which reports soldiers having exhausted the stores of Nanjing, and Hou Jing allowing his men to (quote) “[steal] the people’s food, valuables, and kidnap women and children.”
A: The price of rice raised to 80,000 qian per 1.5 kilograms.
C: Do you have a conversion of that?
A: £900 for a kilo and a half of rice.
C: Bloody hell.
A: It was perhaps inevitable that under these conditions people resorted to cannibalism. Nanjing had a near 60% fatality rate. It’s unknown how many of those fatalities were due to natural famine, forced famine, or murder-cannibalism. Likewise it’s unknown how many people ate or were eaten.
C: I think when it’s that wide-spread, the exact numbers don’t really matter.
A: It’s fair to say that China, with a history of famine and siege, is no stranger to survival cannibalism. Next up, I would like to introduce you to Zhang Xun.
C: Hello, Zhang Xun, nice to meet you.
A: In the 8th century, he was quite a catch.
A: He was a (quote) “tall man” – more than six feet tall – and considering that he’s not writing this account, probably a bit of truth in that.
C: Dare I say, we have a fine Bills & Boon candidate right here!
A: Oh, just you wait. He also had (quote) “an imposing beard and moustache”–
A: “And a formidable memory.”
C: Oh, not just a pretty face?
A: Not just a pretty face. He was everything you wanted in a man. He had a strong sense of justice, morality, was generous to those in distress, and to quote, was “showing no mercy towards local bullies.”
C: What a guy!
A: Why yes, this account was written by a pro-Zhang Xun biographer. Ultimately, what we know about Zhang Xun was that he’s a good military leader, with experience defending towns and is fiercely loyal to the Tang dynasty. However, during the Lu-Shan Rebellion in 755-763, that’s not the best thing to be…
A: During the rebellion, Zhang Xun is obviously a loyalist, and he brings his garrison to assist the threatened city of Sui-yang. The governor immediately gives up control of the city to Xun, and at first the siege is going well.
C: And does he give up control because he’s struck by what an amazing, beautiful man this is?
A: He’s an amazing, beautiful man, but he’s also got military genius, he’s loyal. And to begin with, he’s actually really very good at defending the city.
C: He’s the kind of guy you can trust a city with.
A: You’re gonna regret that in approximately four sentences.
C: Oh no, betrayed!
A: At first, the loyalists are able to repel the rebels, but then it starts to go less well. By the time of his death, Zhang Xun had been defending Sui-Yang for ten months.
C: He dies?!
A: I hate to break it to you. He was taken alive to the enemy commander Yin Zigi, but Zhang Xun refused to join the enemy ranks.
C: Yeah, I bet he did! That’s my guy.
A: In the end, he was killed rather than be disloyal. He had held the city under siege for 112 days.
C: [Laughs] I thought for a second you were gonna say ‘years’ and I was like ‘Wow! What a guy!’ That’s still quite impressive.
A: A noble end for a noble hero.
C: Mmm yes, I liked that story very much, thank you Alix, that one was good.
A: It’s then revealed by the relief forces, who were only days too late to save Zhang Xun… well, can you guess what Xun had authorised?
C: Oh, he was just like ‘eat each other, it’s cool’?
A: A bit more than that.
C: Oh God, okay.
A: This is where things get a bit controversial for the dead Zhang Xun, because the cannibalism which had taken place within the sieged city wasn’t random or even desperate. It was a highly organised, systemic, logical operation, with first the grain rations being reduced, and then supplemented with paper and tea leaves. Next up were the soldiers’ horses, then rats and birds, and then, finally, the women and girls of the city.
C: I see, okay. Yep. Okay.
A: Only then the old men and young boys.
A: The majority of the accounts of the Siege of Sui-yang puts the death toll into the hundreds of thousands.
C: So he kept the city going under siege, but a large number of the population did get eaten in the process.
A: It was technically a win. But, yeah. You might recognise the next part of this story, and it serves as a good example of the struggles of dealing with ancient translated texts without a means of verification. Because, allegedly, when the city had no choice but to resort to eating the women and children – women and children who, by the way, (quote) “knew they were going to die but […] none rebelled”–
C: Hmmmmm. Okaaay.
A: Zhang Xun stood before his men with his beloved concubine and said, “You men have lacked for food for a long time, yet your loyalty has not faltered in the least. I regret that I can’t cut off my own flesh to feed you”–
C: Can’t you?
A: He doesn’t answer that. He goes on to say, “how could I watch the troops go hungry for the sake of a single concubine?”
C: Oh well, I mean, just some woman, right? ‘Bros before hoes’, as they say.
A: Oh dear. [Snorts]
C: Was that insensitive? I don’t know.
A: I feel we’re so far back in history.
C: It’s fitting for the situation.
A: Those who witnessed his speech and the subsequent murder of his concubine weep, but they still eat her.
C: Oh okay, you know, like ‘I’m sad, but I’m hungry as well, so…’
A: Hangry. That’s exactly the same story as Zang Hong and the siege of Yongqiu.
C: To the point that it’s uncertain whether it’s just a replication?
C: Ah, right.
A: We have similar stories of fortress famine in the 9th century, with Yangzhou Fortress witnessing soldiers (quote) “eating the flesh of civilians” in 887; Li Hanzhi’s troops who “captured civilians and served their flesh as food” in 888; and Sun Ru, who captured men, women and children in 891. Once we hit the 14th century, we have more documented records of famine. For example, between 1342 and 1362, there was a “terrible famine […] toward the end of the Yuan dynasty”, which resulted in cannibalism being practiced by the starving population.
C: Well, practice makes perfect!
C: Was that funny? [Laughs] No…
A: It wasn’t but I’m in charge, I’m keeping it in.
A: Funny you should mention that, actually. Because, to go back to that study from earlier, ‘Cannibalism in northern China between 1470 and 1911’, they conclude there are nine years of what they call “peak cannibalism”.
A: Where there are multiple cases of cannibalism across Chinese counties and provinces at once.
C: A trend striking the region.
A: Exactly. And we’re just starting to approach these now. For example, in 1484, 42 Chinese counties report cases of cannibalism. This is evidenced by the severe droughts in Shanxi. Similar waves of drought and famine can be seen documented in 1485, 1528 and into the 17th century. Things get quite bad in the 17th century, with a spike in cannibalism cases, with 36 afflicted counties in 1615, to 199 afflicted provinces in 1640.
C: Now, one has to wonder, is it that things have gotten substantially worse, or is it that record-keeping is better by this point, or that more records are likely to have survived this long?
A: There’s a good combination of the two. But we can see quite why things spike so badly in the 17th century. In 1641, Zuo Maodi, an official who’s in charge of monitoring water transportation, records that “I saw three people who died of hunger, three people who died of epidemic, and four people who stole. […] People ate dead body. Hope that our emperor would care about it.”
C: Hopefully he would!
A: One would like that to be the case. There are multiple reasons for this upwards trend in survival cannibalism in the mid-17th century. Approximately 25% of northern China was suffering from extreme starvation – it was the coldest period in Chinese history in 2000 years.
C: That’ll do it.
A: There are growing agricultural problems, causing further socio-economic decline, and all of this is exacerbated by the Manchu invasion. So this is highlighting the rapid cycling of the drought-war-cannibalism cycle.
A: Now, perhaps surprisingly, there haven’t been that many sources from our old friends: British imperialism.
A: But don’t worry, we’ve hit the 19th century now.
C: Phew! We’ve definitely got some British imperialism coming up, then.
A: Our first European source which mentions survival cannibalism in China – at least, the first source that I’ve been able to find that is actually reflecting first-hand on these instances – comes from Andrew Wilson, who wrote The Ever Victorious Army in 1868, where he writes on the fall of Anquing after the Taiping Rebellion, which took place in 1861. He writes that, “On entering, the people were found dead in the streets by [the] hundreds. They had been reduced to the last extremity; for human flesh had been sold as their food at 40 cash per catty, or one pound per penny… it is worthy of note that, almost at the same time, the Imperialists besieged in Hangchow were reduced to the same dreadful extremity.”
C: Who’s– Who are the Imperialists here?
A: The British are just there sight-seeing.
C: Okay, they’re not calling themselves Imperialists, even though they are.
A: No, this is the–
C: Imperial Army sort of thing?
A: Yeah. ‘It’s nothing to do with us, we’re just here’.
C: ‘We would never have an empire!’ [Laughs].
A: ‘East India Company, what do you mean? We’re– Opium Wars, who are they?’
A: This account is verified by Chinese accounts, which state that “those who remained inside” of Anquing “survived by eating human flesh.” Famine strikes again in 1832 in Ziyang, which results in cannibalism, but worse was yet to come. We’re now into the latter stages of the 19th century, so we have the tactful joy of newspaper reports.
C: Ah, yes, always so unbiased and un-sensationalist and just clean facts.
A: Without fail. The devastating famine between 1876 and 1879 was featured in Shanghai-based newspaper Shenbao on almost a daily basis, and there were woodblock illustrations of starvation and cannibalism.
C: Oh, tasteful! No pun intended.
A: Yeah, I assume you didn’t mean that. I’ve only been able to find these images in slightly unreliable sources, but I will see if I can rustle some up for the show notes. There were, however, relief efforts, which went beyond the traditional scope of just ‘move away from the barren soil’: there were philanthropic movements, which emphasised the human suffering, the gastronomic incest and the selling of women and children.
C: That’s bad, don’t do that.
A: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say don’t do most of the stuff that we talk about.
C: [Laughs} Yeah, sorry, you’re right. I should– All of it’s bad, including selling women and children.
A: Charity and disaster relief reached far beyond China, with graphic depictions of cannibalism making their way across the world, being reported on in British and American newspapers. This results in foreign aid missions in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the raising of funds and the further reporting on the devastating plight of China. The Boston Journal reported of “the sale of children and kindred for food [which] has been going on for some time, and cannibalism has been largely resorted to”, while Red Cross Engineer, Mr Jameson, wrote that, “the bark has been eaten from trees, roots have been dug and devoured, and even cannibalism is resorted to in the mad craze and unbearable gnawing.”
C: “Mad craze”, huh?
A: Yeah. [Sighs] I might sound a little snide about western relief programmes for China, and while the size and scope of foreign aid was unprecedented in Chinese history, there’s something about this quote from an American article advocating for famine relief in 1912 which just rubs me up the wrong way. You ready?
A: “Wages are paid in food only, and this reward is necessarily so limited as to offer inducements only to those truly deserving.”
C: Yeah, I’m gonna say that’s not a great model for relief efforts, is it?
A: The truly deserving. In a famine. Cool.
C: Those people who can’t work? Like, the babies? They don’t deserve food.
A: It’s a good demonstration of imperialist paternalism, shall we say? The death toll of the 1876-1878 famine in China was estimated to be between 9-13 million.
C: [Pause] My God. That’s a big number.
A: These numbers are just going to keep getting higher. But before we get there, we’re going to very briefly cross into true crime territory.
C: Oooh! Ooh, exciting.
A: 1928. Manhattan. A young girl by the name of Grace Budd goes missing in the company of a man called Frank Howard. Six years later, Grace’s mother receives an anonymous letter.
C: This is very true crime-y and a complete tangent, so I’m very curious to see how it lines up!
A: “My dear Mrs Budd, In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand […] They sailed from San Francisco to Hong Kong China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was a famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1 to 3 Dollars a pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold to the Butchers to be cut up and sold for food in order to keep others from starving.”
A: “A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak – chops – or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it.”
C: That… is a very unpleasant shopping experience. Sorry!
A: [Laughs] The letter went on to describe the fate of Grace Budd. I’m not going to read it, b ut it did lead to the arrest of notorious serial killer, rapist and cannibal Albert Fish. So how about that?
C: Mmm. Now, we have said that we don’t approve of serial killer cannibals on this podcast, so I don’t know why you’ve brought this into the conversation, Alix. But also, yeah, there’s a clear connection.
A: The authentication of this specific famine in Hong Kong and the sale of children for food was never specifically achieved, but we can see in Chinese history similar examples of people being bought and sold, and human flesh allegedly once openly available at markets in the 9th and 10th centuries. He uses the documented and publicly-known cannibalism in China as an excuse or a defence. I just found it was a very strange crossover.
C: Also odd that he didn’t wait to use this in court. This is like, ‘Just let me explain to you what happened, Madam.’ Bizarre.
A: Worse is yet to come, as ever. But before we get there, you’ve probably noticed that China seems particularly susceptible to famine.
C: I mean, it’s come up a bit in the course of this conversation.
A: Between 108 BCE and 1911 CE, there were 1,828 famines.
C: Are they individual famines at that point, or is it just one long famine?
A: It alters from province to province.
C: I see, okay.
A: In some provinces, it averages to one a year.
C: At which point I would just say that that is just a millennia-long famine.
A: Famines could strike so severely due to the predominant agricultural focus on crop yield. All there was was a successful harvest, limited stock to fall back on. But for the most part, these famines were natural in origin: a combination of poverty, poor communication, bad transport, mismanagement but no malice, irregular rainfall, or extreme flooding, which were then exacerbated by invasion and warfare.
C: That’ll do it.
A: This isn’t the case with the worst famine in human history, the Great Famine caused by the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962.
C: Oh, we’re getting recent. These recent ones always depress me a lot.
A: The scale of this famine is hard to believe. In 1928-1930, there’s another Chinese famine, where only – ‘only’ – ten million people die.
C: Christ, okay.
A: That’s in a two year period.
A: Between 1958 and 1962, it’s estimated that at least 36 million people die. To quote from Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone, “It is a tragedy unprecedented in world history of tens of millions of people to starve to death and resort to cannibalism during a period of normal climate patterns with no wars or epidemics.” In fact, during the Great Leap Forward, not only were people resorting to cannibalism to survive during fair-weather peacetime, but grain was still being exported out of China.
C: Yeah… That sounds about right.
A: The Great Leap Forward, to put it simply, was a political movement designed to quickly industrialise China – moving away from individual farms to the collective. And where have we heard that before?
C: Ah! Russia?
A: Russia. And emphasising steel production as opposed to farm work. Except grain is still being collected and exported. Attempts to alert authorities to the scale of the devastation backfired, with people reporting malnutrition or people starving to death being accused of being played by ‘rich peasants’ who were anti-communist.
C: Hmm yes, that sounds like that was definitely what happened.
A: And then further searches would be conducted to make sure that any hidden food or emergency stores of grain belonging to these ‘rich peasants’ were taken off their hands.
A: “When reporting a death we didn’t dare attribute it to lack of food […] a woman was found to have eaten a dead child and after it was reported [the woman was taken away] accused of sabotaging socialism.”
C: Yes! That was definitely why she did that.
A: Attempts to suppress (quote), “unlawful acts that sullied the governments image” – aka cannibalism–
C: Mmhmm, it will sully your image. It’s true.
A: These attempts weren’t always successful. For example, in Wanglou village, a woman was “taken with her illicit meal to a mass criticism”. A mass criticism is basically a village-wide telling off.
C: Like the circle of shame in What We Do in the Shadows?
C: “Shame, shame, shame.”
A: Pretty much.
C: I would not fare well. I would break under that kind of– under that kind of mass criticism.
A: Clue’s in the name. However in this particular instance, the mass criticism descended into desperate people grabbing at the cooked meat, including the wife of one of the officials, who grabs the food and says it’s delicious. And this means that the mass criticism had to be cancelled.
C: That does interrupt the programming.
A: Anything that could provide any sort of nourishment was eaten: bark, herbs, rats, cotton, clay, clams, rice stalks, bird droppings, corpses, those seeking sanctuary–
C: Oh, okay.
A: Even relatives.
C: It happens.
A: On average, the calorific intake of your average peasant during the Great Leap Forward was less than 1,200 calories a day – that is the bare minimum of survival and less food than was available to the inmates at Auschwitz.
C: And presumably all whilst having to continue with manual labour et cetera?
A: Exactly. Perhaps as the greatest example of the devastation caused by the Great Leap Forward – especially because China was no stranger to survival cannibalism be this stage – was maxim, “we are exchanging our children”. Because by 1958, people were no longer swapping their children. Mothers ate their children, wives ate their husbands, siblings were fed to siblings. There are lots of examples I could share – think Donner Party, think Holodomor, think cases of murder, orphans being seized, people stolen off the streets, people identified by their shoes alone. But I’ll share two specific cases. Both come from Tombstone.
A: The first is a villager from Zhangzhuang, who fed “congee with human flesh in it to an orphan named Zhang Cuiliang and saved his life.” Zhang Cuiliang was alive to give testimony to this act of brutal kindness at the age of 50. And in 1959, Ma Abudu implored his daughter Ma Hasufei that “there’s no meat left on my body but after I die cut out my heart and eat it”. She did.
A: Yu Dehong, the former secretary of Xingyang Commissioner Zhang Shufan, wrote in a memoir, “Among the corpses I saw on the road […] in December 1959, I saw flesh cut from the buttocks and thighs of some, possibly for others to eat.”
C: Possibly? I think very likely.
A: Most likely. “It made me extremely sad.”
C: Well, it would!
A: “There were cases of cannibalism in nearly every village.” Despite the death and cannibalism, Xingyang was reported as a successful province in 1959.
C: Ah. Would that be based on their output? Or just based on a lie.
A: Probably a combination of both. While survival cannibalism reached a peak in China by 1960, it didn’t abate until the end of the famine. Liang Zhiyuan, the vice-director of the People’s Congress of Bo county in Anhui, wrote that “the extensiveness of the practice, the number of incidents and the length of time that it continued is exceptional in human history.” The Great Leap Forward was a failure, millions of people had died and thousands of cases of survival cannibalism were recorded. Many more surely took place.
C: Yes, I would consider that a failure.
A: We’ve got one final stop on today’s episode before you can take a step back and join us for something perhaps a little less brutal next week. This is the final entry on today’s timeline of Chinese cannibalism, but it does have in all caps on my notes “NOT SURVIVAL CANNIBALISM”.
A: It’s more of an added extra, since it kept coming up in my notes. In 1968, during the Cultural Revolution, there came a turning point where class struggle, political unrest, and violent uprising in Wuxuan County in the remote region of Guangxi transformed into something else. You know the phrase “eat the rich?”
C: I love that phrase. Please continue?
A: Well, this gets taken to the logical and most brutal extreme. Human Flesh Banquets took place in Guangxi.
C: Oh, a whole banquet?
A: Sometimes at country-fairs. People would be publicly killed by the masses, then cooked and eaten by the community. Over six weeks, over 100,000 people were killed, and ritualised, organised political cannibalism was only a small part of this massacre. In principle, the action was undertaken against ‘class enemies’ – landlords, rich peasants, enemies of the state, teachers, children of disgraced party members–
C: Yeah, we’re getting a bit far there now, aren’t we?
A: You can see how this has descended into something else. In Guangxi, the cannibalising of enemies was not due to hunger: it was an act of dedication to a political ideology. It’s not enough to kill someone; they had to be completely destroyed.
C: And the only way to do that is through consuming them.
A: The cannibalism in Wuxuan was a public punishment, a display of power and politics. In Guangxi, there were 421 cases of cannibalism during this period.
A: Those who had partaken in the consumption of human flesh were set to be expelled from the Communist Party. Except they weren’t, because that would have publicised what had happened.
C: Yeah, that’s kind of a problem isn’t it?
A: The book Scarlet Memorial: Tales of Cannibalism In Modern China by Zheng Yi goes into this massacre in much more depth. Unsurprisingly, it is still banned in mainland China.
C: Yep. That doesn’t shock me.
A: Information for this episode has been hard to access, harder to decipher, and even more difficult to read. But I think it is important as we’re ending here to acknowledge the suppression of this information, especially regarding the suffering in the 20th century. I watched a video of Yang Jisheng talking about Tombstone, and when he was asked why he named his book on the Great Famine Tombstone, he replied that it was a marker for all of those who died during the famine, a tombstone for his father who had starved to death, and a tombstone for himself. Just in case. Because what he was writing was dangerous. I’m not saying that we’re a part of this, but we are part of the information age, the digital revolution. Social media is one of the areas that is helping to bring the truth to light, in China and around the world.
A: I’m (finally) going to end this episode on a quote, from a conversation between Liu Shaoqi and Chairman Mao in 1962. When asked by Mao, ‘Why can’t you keep things under control?’, Liu Shaoqi reported, “History will record the role you and I played in the starvation of so many people and the cannibalism will also be memorialised.” And so it has.
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on cannibalism in Chinese History. Zhang Xun: almost a perfect man.
A: Join us next time for murder on the Orient Express… It’ll make sense when you listen to it.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]