11 Aug

Korean Fan Death and Baby Soup

When we first started peer-see a few months ago, we didn't really expect anybody outside our little circle of friends and family to be reading it. In other words, we were thinking small. Very small. Out of curiosity, we just checked our access statistics for the first time, and we were a little surprised at the results. First things first: We'd like to send big shouts out to our homies in Moldova. Now that we have this global soapbox, we feel a responsibility to the international community to present the PRC as we see it. When deciding to come here, we had a lot of misconceptions about the Middle Kingdom. Thanks to the dedicated work of those fearless expats blogging China, our dated associations and groundless generalizations were brushed away like so many cobwebs. Besides, one of the advantages of being a foreign teacher is how much you can learn from your students. In the process of dispelling myths they have adopted regarding your culture, you come out with a more developed understanding of their culture, its social mores and the subtle differences in perspective toward everyday life. About a week ago, I learned that Americans like to eat cheese, drink champagne and perform. In correcting this image of an American that was decidely more Belmondo than Brando, I explained that our cheese isn't, our champagne is vinted by Miller High Life and most positively hate to perform. All-encompassingly. They dropped the cheese and champagne bit without much protest. After all, they've never been to the States, and both cheese and champagne are fictional to them anyway. But they absolutely refused to believe that Americans don't like to perform. Why? Because they've seen it. As foreign teachers, we're frequently asked to take the stage and put on a show. We try to be good sports about it, but we (Emily & I) REALLY don't like to perform. At the closing ceremony of camp, our boss asked us to dance. We did. That settles it; Americans like to perform. The problem comes when what your students want to teach you something about their culture that is just plain wrong. A case in point is the The Republic of Korea, where every electric fan is fitted with a timer. Ask why and you'll get plenty of different answers, but all of them will be clear on one thing: if you're Korean and you go to sleep in a closed room with a un-timered fan on, you'll die. This method of expiration is known as Korean Fan Death, and every single Korean I asked believes in it. And why wouldn't they? They can read about it in the newspaper. The manner of death differs depending on who you ask. Some people believe the spinning action of the fan cleaves oxygen molecules apart. Some people believe that the spinning action of the fan vacuums air out of one's lungs. Some people believe that as Koreans are naturally less hirsute than their western counterparts, they are susceptible to a kind of super-cooling action from the fan and they can easily suffer hypothermia. Every year, even in the English language newspapers, there are accounts of Koreans around the world dying in tragic un-timered fan accidents. I had students who were medical professionals. They believe it. Businessmen, mothers, students, politicians, professors...every Korean I have ever talked to about it believes it. I used to josh my classes by pretending to be groggy when entering class. When they commented on my dazed expression, I would explain that it was too hot in my room, so I rigged my fan to run without the timer... "OH NO, Zhou Shu A! Very dangerous!" It seems strange that a conviction, no matter how deeply held, that is so demonstrably false could possibly be so pervasive. It is. There is only one explanation I have encountered that explains both the deaths attributed to Korean Fan Death and how the myth might have been born. I shared that explanation with everybody I could. Nothing I said changed anybody's mind. So I quit trying. Thanks to Korean Fan Death, I'm confident that even the smartest people fall into ridiculous traps. And I'm just as susceptible to the same kind of lazy assumptions. I've been trying for a long time, but I'm just a little too close to pick most of them out. Here are a few I have caught.
  • I don't believe a walk in the rain will give you pneumonia.
  • I don't believe there are gangs of Satanists that abduct Christian children, deflower virgins or sacrifice livestock.
  • THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS COW TIPPING! I don't care if you've been. Cows sleep lying down.
Thanks to my Korean friends, I'm more careful when I speak to my Chinese friends about America. It only seems fair that I be careful writing about China to you folks... So, in light of recent events in the United States of America regarding stem-cell research, we'd like to pre-emptively assert, once and for all... Chinese people do not eat babies, no matter what they'll tell you themselves. That's right. A couple of weeks ago, my students told me that the rich of Guangdong province dine on human infants. It isn't the first time I've heard this. My classes at University of Northern Virginia consisted of mostly Korean and Chinese students. We often talked about foods and cultures, and my Korean students would try to shock me with dog eating. On one occasion, a student from Shenzhen one-upped them. "In China, people eat babies," she said. "You mean puppies?" asked another student. "No. Babies. Human babies. In soup." "Ermm. Oh, yes. Well, in Korea we...Wait....WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?!?!" It was a like a bomb had gone off. Suddenly, my friendly, though unusually devout, Korean students had been transformed into the Spanish Inquisition. They grilled the poor woman for most of the rest of class. The story that came out is basically the same as I was told a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, people believe that rich businessmen in Guangdong buy a very expensive soup made of aborted fetuses. The businessmen want the soup because it increases sexual potency. One of my students said that eating baby soup enables a man of 60 to get a young girl pregnant. Other reports say it is good for skin problems and can cure asthma. When I expressed disbelief, my students assured me they'd seen pictures. They told me these photos (or others like them) were circulated on the internet a year or two ago. Here is a website with some of the photos (or similar to the photos) they described. Warning: THESE MIGHT DISGUST YOU. However, they shouldn't. Why not? They're fake. It is all fake. Here's an interesting explanation of this blood libel against the Chinese (Hmm....James Dobson of Focus on the Family is implicated. Has he addressed the Left Behind video game yet?) Unfortunately, fact-checking this information is as difficult for me as fact-checking the original accusation. In the process of explaining to my impressionable youths how this rumour might have come about, I told them that American congressmen believed it to be true back in 1995. Once again, they didn't believe me. They couldn't. How could the American government know about it back in '95 if it was just reported on the internet last year? They said that just didn't make any sense. They're right. It doesn't. None of it. I need a drink. Some champagne would be nice. And some REAL cheese. It's what every REAL American eats, right?
[UPDATE 2007: We try again to debunk resurrected baby soup myth in Sinofoetophagophilia - "East Eats Fetus Meat" Meets Defeat.] [UPDATE 2008: Indisputable photo evidence of baby-eating in China discovered! Peer-see exclusive!]


  1. 1 August 11, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    I’d not, until now, been confronted by the Fan Death phenom, but I’ve heard much speculation about these damn baby eaters… thanks for the backgrounder. It’s on par with those creative bonsai kittens!

  2. 2
    August 12, 2006 at 12:14 am

    For the fan thingy, i think they should start watching “Myth Buster”. Or better still, have their own version. =)

  3. 3 August 14, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    I’ve heard about the dead baby soup from my students also. It serves as an excellent segue into an old american pasttime which I defenitely recommend teaching if you are serious about correcting misperceptions: dead baby jokes.

    By the way, I’ve heard the bathhouses in American are extremely luxurious, but I wouldn’t know cause I’ve never been to one.

    And here’s the one I like best “Are there people in America with skin as yellow as this?” (they say joking and pointing to there own skin)
    “yes” I answer straightfaced
    dismayed that i didn’t get it they ask again.
    Seeking to change the subject rather than attempt to redifine their concept of citizenship, which is not defenitely not within their attention span anyway, I laugh and say “of course not, your silly, there’s no yellow americans.”

  4. 4
    August 15, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    dead baby jokes totally take away from the serioiusness that comes with actually eating babies. mike, please refrain from telling your students, or any chinese, those kind of jokes.

    also, yellow people do exist in america.
    it’s called being tan…or as they say here ‘black’. someone needs to straighten these people out and i think that you ‘teachers’ have ample opportunity to do so.

  5. 5 August 16, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Mike – The American bathhouses I’ve seen don’t hold a candle to those of South Korea. I’ve heard that most of the good ones in America are in the Russian communities of Chicago and the Japanese and Korean communities of the New York/Jersey area. Either way, HeoShimChang in Busan, ROK in amazing. I’d say that it was my favorite single thing about living in South Korea. I haven’t been to one in China, yet. Maybe this winter.

    wTI? – Around 3rd grade, the punchline of the “what’s black and white and red all over?” joke is transmogrified from a newspaper into a nun falling down stairs. The shock/situational irony is what makes it a joke. Fortunately, nuns can fly, so that never happens. Likewise, you don’t need to worry about the baby thing. If people ever actually started eating babies, the joke wouldn’t be funny anymore, and people would stop telling it, thereby no longer detracting from the sense of decorum and propriety that a practice like that would require. Eating Ortolan would be like eating gravy fries in comparison.


    By the way, it looks like Bruce Gilley, who allegedly wrote the first article accusing Chinese of eating embryos, has been appointed to the Faculty of Queens College. He’s quoted in a recent Forbes article called “On the Road with Jiang Zemin.”

  6. 6 August 16, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Mmm… babies… taste of chicken.

  7. 7 August 19, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    ok whoThatIs, whoever you are, lets be serious about eating dead babies for a second. First, there is no way that this thing started with Bruce Gilley. Back in the day, there were no painless abortion clinics. When people (usually female) got pregnant, they would give birth to the baby and then drown it in the river. They obviously couldn’t raise the baby if they were starving already. Now, you are trying to tell me that with starving people and a drowning baby, Bruce Gilley was the first one to put two and two together and say “baby soup.” Of course not, those parents were trying to get a couple of kuai for their baby already and they were telling everyone about the life elongating benefits of baby soup when she was only 5 months along. My guess is, people were all about the baby soup thousands of years before Bruce Gilley’s little foetus could have been made into a decent batch. And my students would agree. But they would agree with anything that makes southerners look stupid.

  8. 8 August 20, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Some people commenting on this post seem unclear on its message. By all means, continue your discussion. But to restate the opinions of the author for purposes of clarification:

    1. The Chinese don’t eat human embryos. The Chinese don’t eat human fetuses. The Chinese don’t eat babies.

    2. Due to an widely circulated internet rumor with accompanying doctored photos, some people in China don’t believe #1.

    3. The accusation of baby-eating is an ancient slander.


    The author

  9. 9 August 21, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    4. Babies… taste of chicken…

    ;-) I’m not “some people” Josh. Great post.

  10. 10
    August 22, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    To: Mike

    For the past few days I have been on the streets of Beijing interviewing locals on the topic of: Do you or don’t you eat babies in China?

    The most common response has been:

    “I frequently eat babies and placentas to maintain my health and youthful complexion”

    -Chinese People

    Of course this is just an averaged response, generated by hundreds of interviewees. Most responses were more like:

    “I eat babies”. “I eat placentas”. “Eating babies is good for maintaining good health”. “Eating placentas is good for your complexion”. And so on.

    -Act like you knew this was real. Because it is. People eat babies and it is not a joking matter.

  11. 11 August 22, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Author, I think you should stay open to the possiblility that you are unclear on the message of your post.
    You say, “The Chinese don’t eat human embryos. The Chinese don’t eat human fetuses. The Chinese don’t eat babies.”
    But you provide no evidence whatsoever to back up your claim. Could you provide pictures of Chinese people not eating human embryos, for example. Obviously you couldn’t find any. I bet you have never even seen a Chinese person not eating foetuses.
    Just because Bruce Gilley, James Dobson and American congressmen are jackasses doesn’t mean that its not true.
    Let me restate my opinions for clarification. Chinese people do eat foeti, as WhoThatIs has clearly proven. 2. They have for thousands of years. 3. If you were a barefoot and pregnant Chinese lady who came across some rich guy, you would convince your old uncle to claim to be an expert in Chinese medecine and tell that rich guy whatever it takes to convince him to eat that baby, for a small fee.
    Author, it seems that you feel you have learned something in China and now you wanna be all uppity about it. I see the road you are going down and its a dangerous one. Now is the time to reinforce stereotypes. To rally behind them. They serve as our guide in the dark, in a way constellations of stars never could.

  12. 12
    I eat a kid a day
    August 31, 2006 at 6:26 am

    What’s so bad about eating babies? Apart from being a bit expensive, I love ‘em.

  13. 13
    Gena Marshall
    September 7, 2006 at 1:53 am

    I’ve got a few more for your list, Josh:

    1. Older men do not have a higher chance of fathering autistic babies.
    2. Taller people are not smarter.

    But outside of having actually slept many nights with an untimed fan and having never personally tried baby-soup, or seen a chinese person do so, I have no proof of these beliefs.

    Truth and reality are not absolute these days. I just hope I can hold onto my belief in mathematics or my poker playing will really go to hell.

  14. 14 November 6, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    My students from Foshan swear to me that this is a real practice….

    The photos from taiwan were fake (I cannot open the site you referenced), but I found these a while back…


  15. 15 November 6, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Hey, Lonnie. Welcome to the site.

    My students (also in Foshan) swore to me that it is a real practice, too. And I know how difficult it is to tell them they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, considering it is their country/culture/whatever. But my Korean medical doctors also swore that Korean Fan Death was a real danger. And I can’t tell you the number of people I meet who SWEAR to me they’ve been cow-tipping.

    If it were completely unbelievable, it never would have made it to the urban myth stage.

    Check this site out. It suddenly turns your photos into a Vietnamese phenomenon. Scroll down and there are links to a different debunking. The photos I saw were the same you posted. Notice how “staged” all of the pictures are, as if they are being taken for a recipe book. Why shoot a picture of a paring knife when the fetus is apparently served whole in the soup (as in the photo you posted)? How could the cook remove the offal without eviscerating the carcass? Scroll down further on that page and somebody links baby soup to Thai black magic cults.

    The link above to Poppy Dixon’s website dispels any notion of Asian baby eating to my satisfaction.

    The most compelling thing about it for me is the way that globalization and the new media have recycled the story and allowed the original victims of the accusation to somehow “own” it.

  16. 16 November 8, 2006 at 11:30 am


    I appreciate all the work you did on this one…

    The Internet Viral Myth has become an entity all its own, hasn’t it?

    Greetings from GZ…


  17. 17
    April 12, 2007 at 2:04 am

    Joshua, the only thing that you have convince me of is that you have an ethnocentric worldview and that your mind cannot conceive the possibility that people from other cultures are capable of operating outside your own code of morals and mores.

    Spare us your pretentiousness and grow up.

    Your conclusions are all ass-backwards:

    For starters, why do you assume the photos and text are drawn from the same source ? I could easily take instructional pictures for making pancakes from one source and not have them exaclty match up with a written recipe taken from another source.

    If you follow the chronology of the photos, you’ll notice the paring knife was used to sever the umbilical cord from the fetus.

    I don’t see anything in the photos to suggest they are fake. Quite the opposite.

    I will, however, grant you that there is no proof that the fetus in question was actually eaten… that remains to be proven.

    Mind you, given that the Chinese have a penchant for eating everything from seal penises to reindeer antlers, coupled with the fact that human life is higly devalued in contemporary China, the cannibalization of fetuses is not beyond the realm of possibility.

  18. 18 April 12, 2007 at 11:21 am

    GutwinK, how exactly is human life “highly devalued” in contemporary China?

  19. 19
    April 13, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Are you being facetious or are you just willfully ignorant?

    Google the web… or better yet speak to some Chinese dissidents if you know any.

    [Editor's note: the rest of this comment has been redacted by Josh. It included links to stories about the alleged organ harvesting of FG adherents by the Party . One story was from the Epoch Times. Another was written by Bridget Morris of the Scotland Herald. A third was from Josh's old stompin' grounds - Decatur, Alabama. It was written by Paul Huggins of the Decatur Daily.
    Gutwinks comment also included links to two other stories. One was a link to a NewsMax story on US State Department testimony before the House International Relations Committee in December 2004 regarding the negative effects of the one-child policy. The other was an editorial in The Conservative Voice by John Kusumi on T-square and FG. I trust that readers who are so inclined can find the stories themselves.]

  20. 20 April 15, 2007 at 11:04 pm


    It is neither willful ignorance nor facetiousness. I like to call it skepticism. And if those newspapers and websites you cited are any indication of your usual reading material, I’d suggest you exercise a little more of it.

    When someone tells me about the Chinese eating babies, I wait for them to tell me how the Chinese left the babies on the cold floor to die. More on the Nayirah story here.

  21. 21 April 16, 2007 at 1:14 pm


    In a country of 1.3 billion people, a few grizzly anecdotes (fabricated or not) don’t demonstrate the devaluation of human life.

  22. 22
    April 25, 2007 at 10:26 am

    I stand by my assertion that human life is “highly devalued” in contemporary China. I forgot to include the reports of poor peasant farmers being forced to give blood just to make ends meet and contracting AIDS in the process.

    I won’t even bother providing links since you’re so keen to censor information that doesn’t suit your personal view whilst providing links of your own.

    Where I come from that’s called being a hypocrite.

  23. 23 April 25, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    You don’t seem to understand the meanings of hypocrisy, censor and ethnocentric, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you misuse “highly devalued,” too.

    For the record, where I come from, it’s called not living in a free country, chump.

  24. 24
    April 28, 2007 at 1:18 am


    Yes, I suppose I am a chump for taking part in your little show trial.

    All hail Joshua.

    Judge. Jury. Executioner.

  25. 25
    July 16, 2007 at 8:38 am

    i think thats nasty

  26. 26 July 29, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Jesus….its really true????/ thats too much…. is that really their tradition?????

  27. 27
    syndette lebitan and naomi alfon
    August 9, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    What is it true………….it is so yaaaaaaaaaaaaki!is these there traditon????

  28. 28
    August 10, 2007 at 9:00 am

    umm well your just kind of saying the videos and pictures are fake your not proving it and why in the world would the people in the pictures and the videos want people to think their culture eats fetuses if its not true? im doing research right at this very moment, and they have proof and evidence you preety much have nothing but what u claim…i have to admit i believe they do eat fetuses and that probably makes me ignorant or something but no one is answering the questions that arise if it rly was all fake so what am i supposed to think ?

  29. 29
    Mary Lee
    October 30, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Good heavens. People like Gutwink actually exist??

    And ‘Who that is’, totally misreading Mike’s post, actually tells him that ‘someone needs to straighten these people out and i think that you ‘teachers’ have ample opportunity to do so’ while we can see that Mike can’t even spell.

    Josh, many, many thanks. I would also like to know whether this myth has some grounds to base itself on, but that is ‘almost’ irrelevant. Just think of ALL the native peoples in ANY country where indigenous people did exist. And think of ALL the wars, each and every of them. And anyone should be able to see how futile mental segregation is.

  30. 30
    November 8, 2007 at 12:00 am

    that its so crazy!!!
    don’t you think how they eat human babies without feel a shins??

  31. 31
    bre'una taulton
    December 11, 2007 at 11:42 pm


  32. 32
    Dennis Pantocin
    December 14, 2007 at 3:24 am

    you are fucking sick peolpe you son of a bitch…….Thats why Im going to eat your sis
    your mom and your grandma!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. 33
    February 12, 2008 at 1:13 am

    this is old american wisdom.it is handed down from my mother in appalachia.DEAD BABY

  34. 34
    March 11, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Back in the sixties, some of the more “natural” hippies ate placenta after childbirth – I think the idea was
    that it would re-cycle essential nutrients back to the mom. Perhaps that is a possible origibn of this idea?

  35. 35
    denny nguyen
    April 13, 2008 at 11:42 am

    sick mother fuckers.wish u all dies .notthing else to say.

  36. 36
    May 3, 2008 at 12:34 am

    as the new york times and multiple other sources report, child slavery and other human rights abuses abound in the peoples republic of china. why that feels like something to be skeptical about-well, I suppose one can have a bell jar over ones head wherever one lives. How sad. As far as the foul pictures go, I’m sure it’s more comforting to dismiss them as impossibly fake rather than real. As far as a pointing towards a trend towards baby eating, probably not. But as an artifact of horror and inhumanity, it’s quite possible they’re real. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time someone has seen fit to document, quite in passing and for fun, something totally evil and disgusting.
    Your incredulity, Joshua, suggests you’d have been a wonderful German citizen during the nazi era, or perhaps in Missippi during the civil rights years. Society-and politicians- can always use people who put their head in the sand to avoid seeing the cruelty right in front of them.

  37. 37 May 3, 2008 at 7:56 am

    Jane, skepticism is healthy.

    The New York Times also reported on the certain existence of WMDs in Iraq in 2003. Plenty of people, lacking appropriate skepticism, bought those stories due to the fact they were printed in the New York Times. As you said, one can have a bell jar over one’s head wherever one lives.

    At a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, I went to the Children’s Stories exhibit. At the end of the exhibit, patrons are asked to submit their thoughts on a card, those cards then being posted for future visitors to read. One card struck me, though its sentiments were in no way original. As I remember, it read, “The Nazis were animals! Monsters! They should have been wiped out!”

    Child slavery exists in China. It also exists in the US.

    Mississippi during the civil rights years?!? John McCain uses slave labor at campaign fundraisers in the 21st century.

    My eyes are open, Jane.

    I suspect the only reason you care about this (baby eating) is that it comes with disgusting pictures. Your reasoning is all over the place. You jump from child slavery to “an artifact of horror and inhumanity” to Mississippi to Nazi Germany. Move slowly through the reasoning process. You need a number of secure steps before you can safely reach GutwinK’s “human life is highly devalued in China” conclusion. I don’t think you’ll make it.

  38. 38 July 19, 2008 at 4:21 am

    I see you have access to {some] of the baby eating photos. I’m not sorry to inform you that these pics are NOT fakes!
    Next time before you attempt to debunk a myth with a blanket denial of photographic evidence, subject the evidence to an examination. I suggest photoshop is probably more to your level of competance ( view at stops going full up to 6400% mag), however I’ve applied more ridgid photo forensic tests with specialized tools at my disposal… these [people] do in fact consume human fetuses! This so-called ‘culture’ is too far out of bounds to be considered for inclusion into a civilized society.

  39. 39 September 25, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    This is my first to have an access of the baby-eating photos in China. It is really terreble. I just can’t believe they’re doing this cruel things. I can’t imagine also how mothers could actually bear the pain of seeing their babies on the bowl. Mothers of these babies made into soups must be so cruel… as well as those people who have had intetaining the idea of selling baby soups for the betterment of ones health condition. The reason of maintaining a fair complexion and staying young in exchange of the babies lives those ones killed and ate are so unreasonable…

    If the chinese people are truly doing this thing, then they’l reap the effects of this in the future…

    May God Bless China!

  40. 40 September 25, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Moreover, it’s an act act of immorality, killing and eating babies…

  41. 41
    October 26, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    I think the most logical reason for Koreans dying in their sleep is most likely choking on dogmeat.

  42. 43
    April 22, 2009 at 1:25 am

    I would like to see undercover journalists go to China and prove or disprove this story. To some people the slaughtering and eating of cows, goats, pigs, birds and other living creatures is just as horrendous as eating babies. We humans are a long way from evolving into a higher form.

  43. 44
    May 19, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    This has been a very funny blog.

    What is not funny is that 20 million Chinese were systematically starved to death in 1960 by the government. And that was just 1960. Conservative estimate.
    Reputedly there were no leaves left on trees in the regions affected by the famine. But that’s just ancient 20th century history right? I mean, everybody knew that already right?

  44. 46
    August 1, 2009 at 1:36 am

    I’m Korean and I don’t believe in Fan Death. I think it’s just a coincident. hehe~

    BTW.. I believe the baby soup is a real. Chinese eat everything that has four legs except drawers. lol!

  45. 47
    October 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Just so you know, the baby soup is making its rounds again.

  46. 48
    June 15, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Cow tipping is actually true. Cows and horses can fall asleep on their feet with their knees locked. Tipping them can causes pain and damage.
    Amy de Lorimier, DVM

  47. 49
    August 17, 2010 at 2:12 am

    ” I can’t imagine also how mothers could actually bear the pain of seeing their babies on the bowl” -BEST INTERNET QUESTION EVER!!

  48. 50 September 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    i am searching if this is really true… as a catholic it is very disgusting if it is true

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