A collection of photos of a Chinese man eating a dead baby's foetus has been in circulation for almost two decades on the Internet
According to a 2003 BBC report, rumours of cannibalism began to circulate over the Internet during the early months of 2001, typically accompanied by graphic photos of a Chinese man calmly chewing on what appears to be a dismembered human foetus, together with sensational commentary.
Fact-checking site Snopes stated that the sensational commentary was along the lines of:
"What u are going to witness here is a fact, don't get scared! It's Taiwan's hottest food. In Taiwan, dead babies or foetuses could be bought at USD50 to USD70 from hospitals to meet the high demand for grilled and barbecued babies. What a sad state of affairs!!"
These Internet rumours began to achieve a modicum of legitimacy when a small Malaysian tabloid Warta Perdana fed a growing international controversy in reporting that a certain Taiwanese restaurant was serving a dish consisting of the baked flesh of human foetuses.
The story eventually precipitated such an uproar that the CIA and Scotland Yard ultimately got involved to try to sort things out, according to a paper published by the University of Florida.
Who is the man? Why is he doing this? Are the photos real?
The photos were taken as part of a performance entitled "Eating People" (or "Man-Eater") performed on 17 October 2000 in Shanghai by avant-garde performance artist Zhu Yu, the man seen in the photos.
One widely publicised report quotes the artist saying that "to create Man-Eater", he had to cook the corpses of babies that had been stolen from a medical school.
Zhu admitted that the meat obtained from the bodies tasted bad, and said he had vomited several times while eating it. However, he said, he had to do it "for art's sake".
According to the University of Florida's paper, in public comments he made at the time of the performance, Zhu sought to address the significance of the scandalous nature of his act, while at the same time attempting to relativise the social and cultural assumptions which make it appear scandalous in the first place: One question that always stymies us - that is, "why cannot people eat people?"
In his performance art piece 'Eating People', Zhu photographed himself cooking and eating a human foetus that he divided into five parts.
The Beijing-based artist claimed that he used an actual foetus.
"I herewith announce my intention and my aim to eat people as a protest against mankind's moral idea that he/she cannot eat people," he had said at the time.
"Eating People" appeared in one of Malaysia's weekly paper without a caption and generated the question of whether eating babies was accepted in Asia on various myth-debunking websites.
In response to the public reaction, the artist stated that no religion forbids cannibalism.
"Nor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it," said Zhu, who was 30 at the time of the exhibition.
Contrary to Zhu's claims whose work was intended as "shock art", according to Snopes, the "foetus" used by the artist was most likely constructed from a duck's body and a doll head.
A video interview of the artist from a highly controversial documentary titled "Beijing Swings" sought answers about why he went ahead with it. The documentary was aired on Channel 4 back in December 2002.
Other images from another art exhibit were falsely circulated along with Zhu's exhibition and claimed to be evidence of foetus soup
The images from the artist's exhibition have been used in anti-Chinese propaganda. They are either fake or created to spread rumours among the gullible Internet user-base.
These images have been distributed by e-mail with a short text attached explaining how they show China's "hottest food" and dead foetuses can be bought for about USD100. Recipients are encouraged to forward the mail, and the explanatory text is written in both English and Korean script.
In 2016, the Turkistan Islamic Party claimed that "Muslim children in Turkistan" were eaten by the Chinese, showing the "artwork" by Zhu Yu and photos of fake foetuses from an art exhibit.
However, the Chinese foetus soup story that keeps circulating online is a hoax.
Other than the artist's photos from the exhibition, media reports in 2012 said that the Korea Customs Service confiscated pills containing powdered human flesh that had allegedly arrived from China