Cannibalism & Fasting Quote by Gang Yue

February 11, 2012

“As a primal mode of connecting the human body to the world, refusal to eat existentially signifies one’s rejection of the body as well as its material relationship with the world. Thus, the absolute rejection of food also signifies something absolute: the will and power to kill oneself, a social behavior unique to the human species.”

— Gang Yue 1999, p. 51

It seems it is human nature to eat for survival, thus it is the act of eating that makes us worldly beings. While this quote by Yue is used as a justification for acts of human cannibalism, I also found this to be highly relevant to the cases of the renunciated, hermits, and fasters. Before, discussing its other meanings however, it is important to say something about cannibals. Simply speaking, cannibalism is the consumption of human flesh by other human beings. While many factors are involved, the resulting impacts on society are varied as cannibalism is considered a social taboo in many societies, and a social necessity in many others. Eating the flesh of a fellow human can be a sign of deep respect and a form of embodying someone’s best attributes, a necessity to avoid starvation (i.e. in times of famine), or a way to showcase one’s power over the weaker other…even beyond death. However, the motivation and function of being a cannibal can, of course, only be discerned based on the socio-cultural context of the person performing these acts.

 Gang Yue makes the point that if one refuses food – any kind of food – then that is akin to proof that the person is not eager to live. However, as I said, a much deeper meaning can also be gleaned from such a refusal. Fasting, whether political, religious, or health-related, is also the act of abstaining from food and drink by personal choice. Therefore, the absolute rejection of eating can be used as a form of control and power over the eating majority in these contexts without the aim of killing oneself.

 I realize I’ve taken this quote slightly astray from its context, however, but it is such a thought-provoking idea, as a whole, that justice can only be made through further discussion it seems. My opinion? Yue makes a statement where he mixes up the meanings of starvation and fasting. Both involve lack of food in the human body, but starvation is endured through suffering and involves the loss of self-control and personal power, while fasting is something embarked upon – which leads to heightened control and power over oneself and others. Generally speaking, only two exceptions exist – eating disorder patients and hunger strike activists – both tread the tightrope that distinguishes and blurs the lines between starvation and fasting.

Reference: Yue, G. 1999. The Mouth that Begs: hunger, cannibalism and the politics of eating in modern China. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

P.S. I also found an interesting article called Hunger Politics: Towards Seeing Voluntary Self Starvation as an Act of Resistance which raises questions about the meaning of hunger, self-starvation, and the starved body among women living in the West. Have a look!


One Response to “Cannibalism & Fasting Quote by Gang Yue”

  1. Salters Says:

    Your stuff is extremely helpful.


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