Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher February 10, 2020

Viral post uses art photos as evidence of false claim that Chinese eat 'human soup'

If Your Time is short

  • A post circulating on social media claims Chinese engage in cannabalism

  • Experts say it’s a common falsehood and photos with the post are from an art exhibit

With the world focused on a coronavirus outbreak that appears to have started in Wuhan, China, some social media posts are now spreading falsehoods about Chinese culture.
 
One viral post being shared on Facebook builds on xenophobic stereotypes:
 
"Chinese people eat human baby soup to improve health" reads the headline. The Jan. 30 post, which had been viewed on Facebook more than 46 million times as of Feb. 10, features images of a man seated at a table preparing to eat what appear to be parts of a baby. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

These pictures are from a 20-year-old controversial work of performance art.

The post links to an undated article on b4blaze.in, an India-based website that says its "aim is to promote creative thoughts, Ideas online which are yet to be discovered and deserves recognition."

The article carries essentially the same headline as the post as well as more gruesome images that include a hand grasping what appears to be an infant by its arms and legs. The article attributes the claim to "an email report received by The Seoul Times," and describes a town "in the southern province of Canton (Guangdong)" where "Chinese folks there are enjoying baby herbal soup to increase overall health and stamina and the power of sexual performance in particular" at a price tag of $4,000 U.S.

This article also appears on the website of The Seoul Times, an English-language newspaper, under the heading "Letters to the Editor."

But there is no evidence to back this claim.

The photos with the post are from Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu. He staged a performance called "Eating People" at a Shanghai arts festival in 2000. The photos showed Zhu Yu appearing to eat a stillborn or aborted child.

AFP Fact Check on Feb. 6 debunked another Facebook post that uses a photo from the exhibit. It also reported that images from the exhibit have been used in hoax reports about cannibalism in China. 

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What’s more, experts we spoke to described such cannibalism rumors as ridiculous and misguided.

"This sounds like complete bull----. And if it is true, I’ve certainly never heard of it," William Schutt wrote to us in an email. He is a professor of biology at Long Island University, research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and author of the 2017 book, "Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History." 

He Bian, a China historian at Princeton University, was more direct: "It’s misinformation at the most malign level," she said.

"Medical traditions in both Europe and China had records of consuming human body parts, ranging from hair, urine, to semi-magical use of human remains. It seems to me (the post) is a malicious manipulation of this fact to make a sweeping racist statement in the present tense, which is categorically false."

Fabio Lanza, a professor of modern Chinese history at the University of Arizona, agreed. "Blood libel has a long and sordid history in China, one that does not seem to ever end," he said.

Our ruling

A post circulating on social media said: "Chinese people eat human baby soup to improve health."

Photos with the post are from an art exhibit in 2000.

Experts say the claim is a false one that is commonly repeated.

We rate it Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Google.com, post, accessed Feb. 6, 2020
 

The Seoul Times, "Chinese Eat Baby Soup for Sex," accessed Feb. 6, 2020

Email, He Bian, a Princeton University historian of late imperial and early modern China, Feb. 6, 2020

Snopes, "Are Human Fetuses ‘Taiwan’s Hottest Dish’?" June 19, 2001

Email, William Schutt, professor of biology at Long Island University, research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and author of "Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History," Feb. 6, 2020

Email, Fabio Lanza, a professor of modern Chinese history at the University of Arizona, Feb. 6, 2020

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Viral post uses art photos as evidence of false claim that Chinese eat 'human soup'

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