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Modernization between Cannibalism and the Chinese Dream: A “Hope” for Rejuvenating the Nation in Dumplings

Sat, June 25, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 106


Lillian Lee’s depiction of human fetus consumption for rejuvenation in her fiction _Dumplings_ (2004) questions Chinese gourmandism and medication in relation to the practice of cannibalism. She ponders if placenta consumption is acceptable: Why is eating aborted fetuses immoral? This paper tries to answer her question by engaging bioethical and medical anthropologist perspectives. First, this question is similar to the bioethical debate on human existence and value in the field of human embryonic stem cell research. The paper explores the similarity between “doomed embryos” and “aborted fetuses” in terms of the definition of human life and the use of medical wastes. It also demonstrates their differences in the aspects of the (re)production process and the parental consent.
Second, despite the differences between placentas and aborted fetuses in their forms of life, eating placentas and eating fetuses are both cannibalistic and associated with the Chinese culture of eating delicacy and tonic food. By historicizing the practice of medical cannibalism (to show filial piety), I argue that moral standards towards this practice shifted through time and cultural needs. Incorporating Chinese dietary and medical traditions, contemporary China’s modern discourse absorbs profitable elements from Chinese traditional culture, and extends modern pursuit of economic prosperity into a “hope” for a longer lifespan and a better quality of life. My analysis of cannibalism discloses a collaborating relationship between delicacies, Chinese medicine, and the discourse of the Chinese dream about its modernity and market economy.