China’s dead baby pills: probably a sad story of misinformation and miscommunication

According to the Associated Press, South Korea has seized thousands of suspicious capsules smuggled from China. Upon examination, human flesh was found inside the pills. Korean Customs Service says the capsules were made in northeastern China, by chopping dead babies into small pieces, drying them, and making them into powder. Such pills are considered stamina boosters.

This may sound like news, but it isn’t really.

As early as August 2011, South Korean TV channels started broadcasting news about “dead baby pills” from China. The information was fairly vague, and was acknowledge by the Chinese government soon after, who demanded an investigation be initiated in Jilin Province, where the pills were supposed to be made. This was all over Chinese news for a couple of days before being flushed into the oblivion by more exciting (not necessarily good) news with more solid references. The investigation was indeed started, but with no apparent conclusion. So the story that blew up overnight is actually old news, and is about 9 months old.

Sure, it definitely looks scary, with new food safety scandals breaking out in China on a weekly basis, dead babies brings things to a new low. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s ask ourselves, really?

We homo sapiens are a sentient race. Most things we do boil down to a clear motive, either to steer away from harm, or to move closer to benefit. The endless food scandals in China share one thing in common: they are the results of people trying to use counterfeit ingredients to cut production costs. But dead babies? China is not a country with a particularly high newborn death rate. Even if we consider the wildest theory by taking the one child policy into account, the end result is still not likely to bring the availability of dead babies to such a surplus that they become cheaper than any known substance of medical value. On the other hand, neither the Chinese nor the Koreans have ever had any traditions of consuming dead babies. Such things were not even employed in old time wizardry. What’s the point of producing things no one cared to use until August last year? And doing that with gross yet quite scarce materials? Logically, this is highly unlikely.

So what really happened? Let’s try figuring it out with reason.

Did South Korea seize “dead baby” pills?

Yes and no. South Korea certainly did seize several batches of capsules containing dried and powdered human flesh. But whether or not they are “dead babies” remains a big question. Using common sense, it will take a whole platoon of science geniuses and they would still fail to tell if a pile of powdered flesh is from male or female, young or old. Unless solid evidence can be shown, the “dead baby” part remains a mystery.

Were they coming from Jilin Province?

It’s almost certain that the pills came from China, and if that’s the case, Jilin Province is the most likely source. Jilin is geographically connected to North Korea, and has a dense population of the Korean ethnic group. Jilin has always been known as the international trade front with the two Koreas, largely because there is no language barrier there.

So what do the capsules really contain?

Human placenta is the most likely answer. Or “胎盘” (tāi pán) as they are called in Chinese. Try punching that into the Chinese search engine Baidu, and you will be rewarded with an impressive collection of eye-opening reading. While the Chinese never found any news in dead babies, placentas make an entirely different story. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system, placentas have a long list of health benefits, including stamina boosting (sound familiar?), immune system enhancements, and even improvements for erectile dysfunction as well as spermatorrhoea. Aside from being medicine, placentas were even used in ancient Chinese wizardry. They have constantly been traded underground to this very day.

These things exist in huge numbers. One per newborn, to put it scientifically accurately. That makes them way more common than dead babies, by an incredibly long shot.

How do the Chinese use placentas?

The traditional way is to just cook and eat. We won’t venture into much detail here, for obvious reasons.

Since placentas taste horrible no matter how you cook them (I’m speaking from experience. It had quite a special stink from what I can remember.), more civilized modern people tend to chop them up, bake them dry, grind them into powder, then consume as capsules. Again, does this sound familiar?

Underground placenta pill factories do exist in China. In 2011, such a workshop was found in Dalian, Liaoning Province. Earlier in 2010, another was found in Changchun, Jilin Province. There are other cases if you care to dig deeper. These places are usually badly (if at all) sterilized and have been converted from regular apartments. Customers are required to bring their own supply of placentas, while the workshop merely does the processing.

Jilin Province, underground placenta pill shops. Again, sound familiar?

However, the current generation of Chinese people generally do NOT consume placentas, because it’s simply disgusting. On the other hand, the Chinese government and medicine administrations discourage people from eating placentas. The reason is rather simple. Precisely what the Koreans said: it could contain bacteria and other funny things.

But they said dead babies!

A placenta is part of a baby (and the mother) until it’s born. Technically they are one and the same. And the capsules contain powders. On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely do you think you can tell the head from the tail in a puddle of what looks like an utterly mashed up worm?

You can’t say a placenta is not human flesh.

So how did this mess happen?

Let’s recreate what we believe is the most likely scenario. Once upon a time, in a galaxy not far away at all, Mr. Kim, a Chinese-Korean, is talking to his Korean-Korean cousin, Mr. Lee on the phone.

Mr. Kim (China): Hey cousin! How have you been?

Mr. Lee (South Korea): Not good. I’m exhausted.

Mr. Kim (CN): That’s bad! What happened?

Mr. Lee (SK): I have no idea! I’m just spending my days as usual, doing nothing in particular, and I’m exhausted by the end of the day.

Mr. Kim (CN): Poor guy. Tell you what. We have this great medicine in China, it boosts your stamina like nothing else could!

Mr. Lee (SK): Eh? What is it?

Mr. Kim (CN): It’s… how shall I put it… It ‘s a THING.

Mr. Lee (SK): Huh???

Mr. Kim (CN): It’s… wossname… OK I get it. It’s the piece of dead meat that comes with every baby.

Mr. Lee (SK): Dead? Meat? Baby? Really?

Mr. Kim (CN): Yeah really. And it, *ahem*, also brings more fun to your nocturnal life!

Mr. Lee (SK): Oh? What exactly is it called? How can I get some?

Mr. Kim (CN): Don’t bother yourself looking for it. You know what? We have lots here. Will bring you some on my next visit.

Mr. Lee (SK): Thanks cousin!

Mr. Kim (CN): You are totally welcome, my man!

Then words spread, and people got into action.

In South Korea, Mr. Lee mentioned this marvelous “dead meat coming with every baby” (then “dead meat baby”, then “dead baby meat” – you know how Chinese whispers works) to all his friends and relatives. Soon Uncle Lee, Papa Lee, Grandpa Lee, Minister Park and Sir Gyeong are all waiting in high anticipation for it.

On the other hand, the Mr. Kim in China told his own circle of Uncle Kim, Papa Kim, Grandpa Kim, Minister Gwon and Sir Jo of the potential business opportunity, and a small army started trolling local hospitals for placentas.

Lo and behold, a new sector is born!

Several months later, a certain Officer Park at the South Korean customs was horrified by what he just seized…

“You mean what’s in the capsules? Wossname… dead meat baby. No, not dead baby meat. From China. Very good stamina booster!” Said Auntie Kim, the accused smuggler innocently, when questioned by officers.

Later, someone at the Associated Press woke up from several months of jetlag, scanned South Korean news he has been neglecting for so long, right in time to witness probably the 15th coming of the sacred “dead baby pills”, and bellowed: “HEY YOU GUYS! You aren’t going to believe this story!”

Thus here we are. Hello world.

So the moral of the story is?

If our retelling of the whole matter turns out to be true, which we are quite confident is the case, then everyone should learn something:

  • AP journalists should probably start paying more attention to what’s happening in Asia.
  • South Korean journalists should start picking up more professionalism, preferably as well as some human anatomy.
  • Chinese people, please, really and seriously, stop smuggling funny things. Many things from the TCM system could easily scare a billion people or so. If absolutely necessary, please try keeping it for domestic consumption.

So, are Chinese-originated pills safe?

By all accounts, NO! It happens that many shady factories in China have been producing empty capsules from industrial gelatin all along. The gelatin is produced from recycled leatherwear such as boots or bags, with abnormally high chromium content. By the time the scandal broke out, such capsules have already been sold to a number of market-leading medicine manufacturers. You can find the story on here.

Now THAT is a proper scandal, and something well worth digging on.

Article by Illuminant’s head of research, Kane Gao.

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11 Responses to “China’s dead baby pills: probably a sad story of misinformation and miscommunication”

  1. South Korea Seized Infant Flesh Capsules Made in China · Global Voices
    10:04 pm on May 8th, 2012

    [...] pure disgust and accusation against Chinese high abortion rate, one PR and communications agency defined this case 'a sad story of misinformation and miscommunication'. Tweet South Korean [...]

  2. Cassandra
    6:51 am on May 9th, 2012

    I find it racist that you think you can role play this into a box of misinformation and miscommunication – SICK is SICK & DISGUSTING IS DISCUSTING! Don’t try & sugar coat this story it is, what it is & bloody gross at that.
    *Jetlag* did not lead to this story the truth did. Have you ever been to Sydney Airport? Seen the amount of Asians getting pulled up by customs & searched? They have whole supermarkets in their luggage most illegal to bring to our country. Then once busted they try the “I don’t speak engrish card” UM HELLO FOOL the customs declaration form was in your native tongue.
    Seriously what is wrong with China & S.Korea Governments? I can’t stand how some (not all) these people place such a small value on life HUMAN and/or ANIMAL? Child Labour is not the issue here people, nearly everything as you say is “MADE IN CHINA”
    The issue is “No government in the world could possibly understand the Chinese government for letting such an inhuman practice go unpunished” such as the grinding down of dead babies and/or foetuses to dust to ingest…gross much?!
    How many whales do they kill in our waters (Australia/NZ) to make WHALE BURGERS? How many Sharks, Bears, Rhinos, Seals must DIE so they can take parts of their body to make herbal medicines. Most of these animals are on the endangered species list yet, they continued to get slaughter not for meat just for PARTS.
    Not funny they get away with this “absolutely hideous” practise. This is how they treat babies in China/Korea I hope you all remember Yue Yue the 2yr old “toddler who was twice run over by vans and then ignored by 18 passers-by as she lay critically injured in the street has died” Full stop most of these people have NO MORALITY.
    While you stick with placenta (after birth) we all know some capsules contained baby flesh and if one baby was not given a proper funeral for some mans sex drive that is ONE too many babies.
    In death we all deserve DIGINITY…

  3. Kane Gao
    7:50 am on May 9th, 2012

    Hi there. Although I’m really not a fan of China (myself being Chinese), I’m a firm believer of truth and reasoning. The problem surrounding this story is that too many people are jumping to conclusions entirely based on the impression China has left them. Definitely, Chinese have caused many problems with smuggling and whale hunting, and the death of Yue Yue is one of the worst tragedy ever. But none of these explains why the Chinese might even remotely want to produce pills with dead infants, while human flesh has never been documented as anything like medicine in traditional Chinese (or Korean) medicine system. As to placentas, you can actually find many online instructions about how to process them into capsule pills, some coming from certified doctors.

    As to “racist”, personally I believe racism is more defined by judging a race by stereotyping, and jumping to a conclusion based on stereotyping not quite related to the matter itself. This is exactly the contrary to what I was trying to say. “That man is so ugly and filthy. He must be torturing small animals.” This does not make a valid argument.

    As one who have been living in China for 30 years, I would trust more my common sense and first hand experience. Occasionally people just have to slow down and think it over.

  4. Cassandra
    1:09 pm on May 9th, 2012

    Hi Kane Gao I know a lot of cultures ingest placenta that’s not illegal & is not the point. People in PNG have been eating the after birth since the dawn of time.
    What I am more concerned about is most Asians say stuff like *you* “none of this explains why the Chinese might even remotely want to produce pills with dead infants?” sad thing is its happening mate maybe…just maybe *some* Asians think it will make them look younger or live longer – who knows?! The pills have been tested, so it’s time to STOP calling apples oranges & look for the facts…
    FACT: The San Francisco Times reported that tests carried out on the pills confirmed they were made up of 99.7 per cent human remains.
    FACT: Also According to The San Francisco Times, the test even determined the sex of the babies used.
    FACT: A number of smugglers who have been detained by the South Korean authorities have claimed they did not know what the ingredients were or the manufacturing process behind them. (Again they play DUMB & DUMBER)
    FACT: The grim trade is being run from China where corrupt medical staff are said to be tipping off medical companies when babies are aborted or delivered still-born.
    FACT: The tiny corpses are then bought, stored in household refrigerators in homes of those involved in the trade before they are removed and taken to clinics where they are placed in medical drying microwaves.
    Again you might say Placenta Pills but the rest of the world knows 99.7% was baby down to the point they could determine the sex of the child. Do you think this is anyway to treat a child that has passed on from this earth? It’s disgusting & those involved should be ashamed of themselves…I hope they rot in jail.
    Feel free to read some articles:
    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/thousands-of-pills-filled-with-powdered-human-baby-flesh-discovered-by-customs-officials-in-south-korea/story-e6freuy9-1226349419644 and/or
    http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/324425
    OR Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/324425#ixzz1uLQ2xwnZ

  5. Kane Gao
    1:43 pm on May 9th, 2012

    Yo. It’s pretty amusing how people are defining “facts” these days. Some very imaginative description not present in the original story, and some vague figures. And bam, you get a raging war.

    Yes I’m perfectly aware of the 99.7% figure. But I’m afraid it’s some minor mistranslation. If I reacall, the Koreans actually said the DNA of what’s inside the capsules match human DNA by 99.7%. That’s exactly how the gender of the supposed infants were determined, by DNA testing.

    And now, my FACT (and HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE, if you have to keep everything capitalized): DNA exists in chromosomes, which exist in pairs in most human body cells, save for reproductive cells which only have one single chromosome.

    And… What do you think placentas are made of? I’ll be surprised if the DNA does not match humans’. In Chinese blackmarket, placentas are traded everyday, and occasionally some, um, “dishonest” vendors give people the placenta of sheeps or deers instead of humans for higher margine. If the DNA doesn’t fit, it would mean our Korean friends not only bought ridiculous Chinese specialties, but also are cheated.

    The Chinese medicine system has many world-shockers, such as urine of virgin boys, raw bull dung, and liquid extracted from human feces and fermented for a whole year. But trust me on this. Human corpses, infants or adults, have never been a part of it.

    More importantly this should conclude our conversation. There’s just no agreements could be made when racism and prejudice is so heavily involved. Anyway, this whole mess is escalating, and we will have a final answer from either Chinese or Korean government very soon.

  6. Cassandra
    2:35 pm on May 9th, 2012

    Totally agree Kane, sometimes it’s better to agree & disagree and move on. Thou, I must say the “urine of virgin boys, raw bull dung and liquid extracted from human faeces and fermented for a whole year” OM…baby is really wrong but that stuff is just feral. The term “each to their own” rings a bell but there is a fine line between right & wrong. It will be a great day when this matter is resolved as it is quite disturbing & unsettling. Take Care Cass

  7. » Weekend Links: International Pillow Fight Day video, social media, and “dead baby pills” actually placenta? Beijing Cream
    6:18 pm on May 12th, 2012

    [...] Is “dead baby pills” another case of journalists too willing to take officials for their word? “Sure, it definitely looks scary, with new food safety scandals breaking out in China on a weekly basis, dead babies brings things to a new low. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s ask ourselves, really? // …While the Chinese never found any news in dead babies, placentas make an entirely different story. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system, placentas have a long list of health benefits, including stamina boosting (sound familiar?), immune system enhancements, and even improvements for erectile dysfunction as well as spermatorrhoea.” [Illuminant] [...]

  8. Saltklypa #52 – Om hikkeslikkepinner og frosne hjerner | Saltklypa
    1:54 am on May 14th, 2012

    [...] fylt med pulveriserte babyer stoppet i tollen? Eller kan det ha vært noe mindre dramatisk – om enn ikke så mye mer [...]

  9. ytsrevil
    7:42 am on May 14th, 2012

    I find it disgusting the genocidal fervor “people” from the west try to dehumanize the Chinese with false stories like this. No evidence that these pills are from China. No evidence that they are from “babies.” This is comparable to what the Jews had to deal with right before The Final Solution. The Chinese people really are in a existential war with these demonic trash that has almost entirely destroyed the world with genocide, imperialism, slavery, wars of aggression directed against black, red and brown people and are now trying to it again against the Chinese.

  10. Science-Based Medicine » Cannibalism?
    6:15 pm on May 18th, 2012

    [...] the pills contain babies?  Nope.  Could it be placenta?  Almost certainly.  Placentas are popular the world over.   It is the one meat OK with vegans: While some argue placentophagy is basically an act of [...]

  11. B
    9:31 am on May 23rd, 2012

    No, this article is riddled with defensive and misguiding propaganda aimed at the uninformed. Scientists most certainly CAN determine the gender of mashed up skin remains, and most likely- counting abundance of stem cells- the origin as baby or adult. EVERY CELL contains DNA, which either has chromsomes XX (f) or XY (m). You want to know why this is probably old news? DNA testing takes forever. It deeply disturbs me that there are people out there who don’t have any knowledge of basic genetics. Don’t buy this bull, why should you trust this article if you don’t trust the other? Is any one website more valid? Using analogies like “can you tell the head end from the tail end of a worm” sound great to morons, but have NO RELEVENCE to the subject at hand. Dna testing and looking at a worm are TWO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PROCESSES. USE YOUR BRAINS PEOPLE, YOU ARE BEING EASILY LED SHEEP.

    Who knows, the pills could turn out to really be placenta, but nothing about this shady article leads me to believe that. There is more REAL EVIDENCE in the original report than in this deflecting article. Smells like a coverup to me. Ever think that the worlds public opinion has a lot to do with Chinas economy..?

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