Friday, January 03, 2003

Do they eat babies in China? The news is so mindblowingly horrifying that it can scarcely be believed. But is it true? The Weekly Standard's J. Bottum has a dispatch on the magazine's website today reporting that a Chinese performance artist named Zhu Yu has been photographed eating a stillborn baby. Bottum also recycles an old report from the London Daily Telegraph that a Chinese abortion clinic distributes human fetuses to be cooked up along with the ginger and scallions. Writes Bottum:

We need a word for things that are so wrong, it is wrong even to report them -- actions to which we somehow lend countenance just by entering into a discussion of why they are beyond all countenance.

Well, here's a word for it: "hoax." It's hard to tell whether Bottum believes what he's writing. He tells it straight, but the subhead's reference to "a modest proposal" suggests that his tongue may be somewhere in the vicinity of his cheek.

In any case, according to this site on "Urban Legends and Folklore," the stories about Zhu Yu and the abortion clinic have long since been discredited. There are photos (links are included, though I couldn't get them to work), but writer David Emery says that Zhu could easily have faked them with animal parts and dolls. Emery adds:

The claim that baby or fetus eating is an accepted practice in China (or Thailand, or Japan, or Korea, or Israel, as other variants of this same rumor claim) is more or less a modernized version of an ancient legend known as "Blood Libel." It has typically taken the form of one culture accusing another (or a subculture) of ritually sacrificing infants and in some cases eating them. The Greeks accused the Jews of it, the Romans accused the Christians, Christians accused the Jews again, and so on throughout history.

The respected urban-legends site also debunks the baby-eating story. Be careful when you follow the link, since it's accompanied by a color photo of Zhu in mid-bite. Snopes says Zhu is most likely nibbling on a duck's carcass to which a doll's head has been attached.

Whether Bottum is being disingenuous or is just plain gullible, the uses to which he puts his sensationalistic findings are sleazy, to say the least. He argues that baby-eating is just another step on a road whose signposts include abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research:

Once upon a time, we built hedge after hedge of protection around the deep things about life and death a culture must maintain. The hedges themselves are not all that important, but when they fall they weaken our defenses -- however much those people who knock them down insist they are only clearing away a single hedge.

Call it performance art, conservative-style: libeling an entire people in order to make a political point. Bottum, and the Standard, should apologize for this miserable piece of work.

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