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Kneeling down in her cramped kitchen, the pharmacist opens her fridge door and removes the freezer compartment drawer crammed with three packages wrapped in black bin liners.
As she carefully opens the brittle bundles, she boasts of her ability to use the contents to make a pill that can cure all known ills.
“After taking two tablets a day you will feel the difference after just one week,” she says.
Even though the parcels are frozen, they exude an unpleasant smell that quickly permeates her nondescript apartment in a small Northern Chinese town.
But pushing the plastic freezer box across the floor to her new-found customer, the woman, who works at a Chinese hospital, appears almost proud as she says: “Choose one. Please, choose one.”
Each of the bags contains a single aborted foetus; one of them is said to be of seven months’ gestation. The infants’ remains will be cut up into small pieces, dried, microwaved and then ground down into a coarse powder, to be made into tablets of an “alternative medicine’ that plays on centuries-old superstitions and folklore.
Each tablet, containing the infants’ flesh and bone, and possibly hair and nails, are believed by many to have fantastic healing powers which fight the ravages of ageing and are capable of defeating even cancer.
It is a sickening, cannibalistic and illegal trade that the Chinese authorities do not want the world to know exists.
Yet it is disturbingly widespread. Last week the South Korean customs department revealed it had foiled 35 attempts to smuggle these ‘human-flesh pills’ across its border and seized more than 17 000 of them from China in just nine months. The contraband was either taken into the country in passengers’ luggage or posted in parcels registered as traditional Chinese herbal medicines.
This grotesquely unsavoury industry appears to cash in on China’s strict family planning laws, which limit most families to just one child each and are said to result in 13 million abortions a year, the equivalent of more than 35 000 terminations a day.
The country, which has a population of more than 1.3 billion, is said to have “dying rooms” in hospitals where unwanted newborn babies are abandoned to perish. Those trying to avoid a huge fine for violating the one-child laws have even been known to commit outright infanticide.
Now, unscrupulous pharmacists, hospital workers and even the relatives of those having abortions are making money from archaic beliefs that consuming infant cells can cure and rejuvenate us.
This bizarre notion dates back hundreds of years to China’s Ming dynasty. And, if the rumours and reports are accurate, the nearer the foetus is to its birth date, the more healing properties it harbours.
The true extent of the trade in China’s human-flesh pills emerged when an undercover team from South Korea’s SBS television channel highlighted the problem.
The footage taken by the team showed how placentas -the most common form of illegal human flesh traded in China for alternative medicine - are sold alongside the dried organs of creatures including snakes and bats from around the world to satisfy an appetite for powders, soups and potions said to have tremendous healing properties.
It also revealed how herb “clinics” or “chemists” in northern Chinese towns, including Yanji, Jilin, Qingdao and Tianjin, sell pills made from human foetuses.
Secretly filmed footage shows a pharmacist wearing pristine white overalls at one chemist admitting that she stocks ‘human-flesh capsules’.
She is filmed in a room containing huge wooden cabinets with row after row of small rectangular drawers containing drugs and rare herbs, and at one point she stands on tip-toe to reach a top shelf where she pulled down a hidden bag of red and yellow capsules.
She opens up a pill, agrees that the contents give off a bad smell, and then explains that the foetus that made this batch of tablets was nearly seven months old before its life was terminated.
“They were made recently,” she says. “These are really good for you. Take it twice a day. Don’t take too much, otherwise you will get a nosebleed.”
After agreeing the sale with the undercover reporter, she decants the tablets into a pill box marked with a prescription label for back pain.
Later, another shopkeeper advises ‘patients’ to take the pills only during colder months to avoid sweating out their health benefits.
What they fail to explain - quite apart from the appalling moral issues raised - is just how dangerous swallowing the powdered flesh of another human being can be. Tests on tablets seized recently by South Korean border control officers found the contents of some were made up of the DNA from three human foetuses.
The television crew discovered that the make-up of the pills they bought were between 97 percent and 99 percent human. And they all contained high levels of harmful bacteria, many of them of a type that could only have come from decomposing bodies.
According to ancient Oriental lore, material from babies or foetuses contains life-giving human properties inherent only in such young cells.
They are credited with boosting stamina for the frail and old, as well as improving sexual performance. They are also said to help those suffering respiratory problems or lung disease.
While the trade in such drugs is thought to be more frequent in communist China, smugglers see the capitalist state of South Korea as an increasingly lucrative market. Pills that were once sold for as little as 50p are believed to be fetching up to £25 among the population of China’s affluent near neighbour.
The pills used to be shipped to South Korea brazenly in clear plastic cellophane bags, but more recently smugglers have had to become increasingly sophisticated and use orthodox dark brown pill bottles, with sealed caps and labelled with the names of legitimate drugs or more traditional Chinese herbal medicines to evade detection.
Ground-up aromatic herbs have also been added to the capsules to try to disguise the smell of what is, to all intents and purpose, rotting dried flesh.
The frozen “raw ingredients” (a euphemism for freeze-dried human flesh) are also for sale. A single foetus fetches hundreds of pounds because it can be “processed” into so many tablets with a far more lucrative street value. An entire placenta sells for about £100.
Perhaps the most distressing element of this horrifying trade is the pitiless nature of the manufacturing process. During the undercover filming last year, the SBS journalists saw how a foetus could be turned into pills in just two days.
Once the hospital pharmacist had defrosted the foetus stored in her kitchen fridge, she cut it into “manageable pieces”. Overnight she dried it out on absorbent paper before slowly microwaving it on a low heat.
According to the undercover team, the smell at this stage was overpowering. Hair and nails were discernable in the human material.
Once it was thoroughly dried, the pharmacist placed the flesh into a herbal grinder, not unlike a kitchen food processor, to render it down to a coarse, light brown powder, similar to the texture of human ashes following a cremation. That powder would then be put into soluble capsules which were counted out into bags for packing, shipment and sale.
Those who have sold or taken such pills spoke remarkably candidly to the television team about the perceived effects of the tablets.
A Korean woman living in China explained how she had given her son the pills because he had a lung problem. She says: “The hospital had said they couldn’t help him. My child took the capsules for one month and he got better.”
A small trader at a market in Seoul, South Korea, adds: “A couple of years ago we took them many times. When we ran out I contacted my son living in North East China who posted them to us.” At that time she was just paying about 50p per tablet, and would get them shipped to her in batches of 100 or 120.
She adds: “It’s really good medicine. You will be jumping around because you will be so full of energy. But the pills are now expensive.”
Another woman had so much faith in the treatment that she bought a foetus on the black market and ground it down to make her own tablets. ‘I would get it raw, cut it, burn it and powder it,’ she says, adding: “It’s widely known that it’s very good for you.”
Modern research has shown all such health claims to be baseless. Indeed, far from being curative, the pills are far more likely to be poisonous.
Earlier this week, China’s Ministry of Health spokesman Deng Haihau said his officers would investigate reports of the trade, but said no proof that such capsules were being manufactured had yet been presented to him.
Last week a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman refused to comment on the South Korean customs findings or the investigation by the television journalists.
But Professor Dali Yang, of the University of Chicago’s Beijing School, said that while there had been a concerted effort by Chinese authorities to tighten up food standards, traditional medicines had been largely overlooked.
‘The traditional Chinese medicine sector has been under-regulated and this is because there has always been a claim by the manufactures that their medicines contain a secret ingredient, but they refuse to offer details,’ he says.
Professor Yang believes the practice of using human flesh in pills exists, but is probably quite rare.
“Historically, in traditional Chinese medicine, the placenta has been used,” he said. “If aborted babies have been used in this instance, I would say it is an isolated case.
“Regulation of such drugs in China is a work in progress. There have been improvements but at the same time, because of the size of the industry, we do come across bad practices.”
Clearly, if true, the claims by South Korean customs would suggest the trade is rather more widespread. And the concern in the months to come will be just how seriously the Chinese authorities take the allegations - for it is a state that does not take kindly to criticism. - Daily Mail