VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB post claiming Chinese people eat babies for ‘good skin’ and caused COVID-19 FALSE and BASELESS, uses old photos OUT OF CONTEXT

A Facebook (FB) post falsely claiming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) originated from Chinese people who eat infants because it is “good for the skin” has gone viral on social media, getting over 37,000 shares as of writing.

Published by a netizen on public FB group DZRH with LOVE, the morbid, shocking Jan. 28 post carried seven photos. It shows:

  • three images of the same man washing a baby’s corpse under a tap, and biting dismembered pieces of the dead infant;
  • two photos each featuring a fetus on a chopping board;
  • an image of a baby’s corpse being cleaned in a tub; and
  • a shot of three people wearing surgical gowns standing in front of a pale, lifeless baby.

The post came with the caption, “Kaya po nagkaroon ng sakit na coruna virus [sic] sa china kasi ginawa nilang ulam ang sanggol dahil daw nakaka ganda daw ng kutis (The reason for the outbreak of coronavirus in China is that they turn babies into dishes believing it’s good for the skin).”

A look at the comments on the incorrect post shows many believe the claim, with several people expressing anger toward Chinese people.

The netizen’s claim about COVID-19 coming from eating babies is false and baseless. The photos used are also all over a decade old.

First, a look at the images. The man shown preparing and eating a dead infant’s body in three photos is Zhu Yu, a Beijing-based “performance artist.” His act of cooking and eating a dead baby was part of a controversial live art piece called “Eating People” that he did in November 2000. The installation artist said his art stemmed from a realization that there was no law or religion forbidding cannibalism.

An article published in 2001 by fact-checking website Snopes.com pointed out the possibility that the “fetus” Zhu Yu ate in his act wasn’t a real baby but “a doll’s head placed atop duck’s carcass.”

Some of the earliest copies of Zhu Yu’s photos showing him biting into the “baby” can be found in a 2002 University of Florida study. The photo of him preparing the corpse can be found in a 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.

The earliest copies of the two images of babies on a chopping board, and the photo of a baby’s corpse being prepared in a tub can be traced to a 2002 post on Chinese-language studiolum.com. The site’s story claims “Taiwanese merchants” sold dead fetus meat as a soup ingredient for restaurants, claiming it could “boost their yang and boost their qi.”

The three photos also resurfaced in 2008, after The Seoul Times, a website claiming to be an “English newspaper for foreigners in Korea,” published in their Letter to the Editor section an unvalidated email report about Chinese people eating babies “to increase overall health and stamina and the power of sexual performance.”

Lastly, a verification of the image of three people in surgical gowns shows the photo dates back to a 2008 Vietnamese blog post, the earliest copy VERA Files Fact Check could find through reverse image search. The same post carried all the photos published by the netizen in late January.

The netizen’s claim that COVID-19 was acquired from eating babies is unsupported.

The source of the virus has not yet been identified, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Coronaviruses, however, are zoonotic, meaning they are transferred between animals and humans.

“Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed,” the WHO also said.

The false FB post in the public group DZRH with LOVE could have reached over a million netizens, with public FB groups Marian Rivera Dantes Fan, President Rody Duterte Facebook Army, and RAFFY TULFO IN ACTION ADMINS GROUP S MEMBER generating the most traffic to the post.

The untrue post continues to circulate on social media a month since its first posting, while cases of COVID-19 that broke out in Wuhan city in China are spreading to other parts of the globe. Apart from China, which currently has over 79,000 confirmed cases, a Johns Hopkins case tracker shows there are now over 3,000 cases in South Korea and more than 880 in Italy, as of Feb. 29.

DZRH with LOVE was created in July 2014.

(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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