Metabolic cannibalism

Writing of the turbulent 1930s China, Mo Yan depicts the horror and beauty of the battles between invaders and patriots, bandits and peasants, men and women, dogs and humans. And while his novel has been turned into a cinematic epic of the fight against Japanese colonisation, his visceral and sensual style is a brute reminder that no war is a simple us-against-them-affair replaced by peace one day. Rather, war, too, is a metabolic affair – or so they say.


“The shack was piled high with dry sorghum leaves, and there was plenty of grain in the kitchen. To supplement their diets with more nutritious food and keep up their strength and health, Granddad and Father often went dog-hunting. The death of Red had turned the dogs of Northeast Gaomi Township from a roving pack into a bunch of individual marauders. They were never organized again. Human nature once more won out over canine nature, and the paths gouged out by the dogs were slowly reclaimed by the black earth.

Father and Granddad went hunting every other day, bagging only a single dog each time. The meal provided necessary nutrition and internal heat, and by the spring of 1940, Father had grown two fists taller. Having fed on human corpses, the dogs were strong and husky, eating a winter’s supply of fatty dog meat was, for Father, as eating a winter’s supply of human flesh. Later he would grow into a tall, husky man who could kill without batting an eye. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that, indirectly, he had cannibalized his own people.”

—— Mo Yan, Red Sorghum

War is a metabolic affair. It is a part of peace, just like peace is a part of war: dogs (the best friend of man) eat man to be eaten by other men later; women tempt men to be seduced by them; and nature…well it is culture and vice versa. Our (their) metabolic existence knows no human and nonhuman, cares nothing about gender, peace or war. Our bodies not only make these important differences, they are also being transformed by them in an ongoing cannibalistic-animistic loop.