When Chinese cannibal Zhang Yongming was executed, it was for murder, but his acts go far beyond just killing. Yongming ate his victims. He also dried and cured the leftover human flesh and sold it in the southwestern village market of Kunming as ostrich meat, according to Hong Kong newspaper The Standard.
Local police were criticized for taking so long to question Yongming, who previously served 18 years in prison for a murder which involved bodily mutilation. Police were slow to search Yongming’s house or even question him when at least 20 people went missing (of which seven were teenagers) in or around Kunming since 2007. While 20 people within a two-mile radius of Yongming have been reported missing, police were only able to tie Yongming to 11 of the victims.
Prior to his arrest, Yongming, 57, attempted to capture a 17-year-old boy from behind by putting a leather belt around his neck. The teenager screamed for help, which prompted Yongming to release him after several local villagers came to his aid. Police arrested Yongming after the incident, but released him after Yongming convinced them that he was only playing with the boy. Police also dismissed Yongming as a local lunatic who they claimed was not a threat when prompted to investigate him in connection to the missing persons reports.
Witnesses reported that Yongming began selling meat at the local market, which he had never done before, after 1997. The meat, which he sold as ostrich meat, was cured and dried.
When police finally searched Yongming’s house, they found strips of human flesh that were hung up to dry around his house. He kept dozens of human eyeballs preserved in alcohol in bottles, which police said looked like “snake wine.” Investigators said Yongming likely fed human remains to his dogs. In a nearby vegetable garden, police found bones believed to be human. According to the Daily Mirror, witnesses reported seeing garbage bags overflowing with bones hanging from his house.
Police were able to conclusively tie Yongming to one of the victims when they found ID, a phone card, and other items belonging to a missing 19-year-old inside Yongming’s house.
Despite the sensationalist aspects of Yongming’s crimes and his execution, the practice of cannibalism has occurred frequently throughout China’s history. Cannibalism was a common practice during the Tang Dynasty in the seventh and eighth centuries when soldiers would eat their enemies after an attack.
Cannibalism was also practiced on a massive scale during the 1950s in China, which is documented in “The Black Book of Communism” by Stephane Courtis and Nicolas Werth. During the ill-planed Great Leap Forward, tens of millions of Chinese inhabitants died of starvation due to an ill-fated industrialization project that the Chinese government attempted to implement at the time. Exact figures remain murky, but cannibalism was practiced to ward off starvation among perhaps millions.
The death penalty is also commonly practiced in China. According to Amnesty International, China executes “thousands” of its citizens every year. But while Yongming was one of many Chinese to be executed in China every year, his crimes will definitely stand out as one of the most heinous in a country of 1.35 billion people.