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Revealed! Chinese stores in Hungary are collection points for organ harvesting

22 September, 2009

In the past few weeks, stories have been circulating on the Hungarian Internet about women disappearing in Chinese shops  and being discovered dead or drugged by relatives in a secret room, either with organs already taken out or in preparation for the harvesting. The women (always women, rescued by a male relative who is a friend of a friend of the author) invariably have their heads shaved (even if it is a kidney that is missing). I have been getting these emails from a friend who gets them from her university classmates, with comments like “Well, if this is true!…” “I don’t know if it’s true but I’ll forward it”.

The people waking up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing are one of the most popular recent urban myths — so much so that they have figured in well-known anthropological writing, for example by Nancy Scheper-Hughes. But these stories tend to come from exotic foreign lands. Here, however, we have a cross-breed of the story with domestic xenophobia, so that the exotic locale is transported to our midst.

Chinese shops are a ubiquitous phenomenon in Hungary and some other Eastern European countries. They sell cheap clothes and shoes, and in some villages are the only provider of such goods — to some extent heirs of the pre-war Jewish shopkeeper. It is perhaps not far-fetched to see in the organ-harvesting Chinese the updated embodiment of the Jewish blood libel (the use of Gentile children’s blood  in preparing matzoh for passover).

Hungary consistently gets the highest scores in European surveys of xenophobia.

In three days, I will be part of a festive roundtable  in Budapest celebrating “Diversity in the united city.”

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 September, 2009 7:35 am

    just recieved one such (mass) e-mail, in Croatia, and in croatian language.
    incidentally, the town where it supposedly happens is near Hungaria (Osijek).

    i immediately responded that it’s probably xenophobic propaganda, and then i found your article.
    interesting to see how fast these things spread, and even get such a fast translation…

  2. 23 September, 2009 3:54 pm

    Nice to know that we have readers in Croatia. And yes, the scale and speed of these things is really fascinating. Has anyone done a study of the dynamics of how urban myths travel across borders? It sound like someone in Osijek who speaks Hungarian probably received an email like this and quickly translated it.

    I have also just been told that an equivalent of the story has also long circulated in China. There, the organ-snatching happens in remote corners of China itself, so the exotic locale still holds. Otherwise, all details are the same, including the once-removed relationship between the author and the victim.

  3. 25 September, 2009 2:05 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post TTD. Reading it, I was reminded of Katherine Bowie’s work on Northern Thailand in the 1970s. In it, she notes that during this period of paranoia about communist infiltration, Vietnamese shop owners were accused of all sorts of things. There were rumours that Vietnamese noodle shop owners were adding ingredients to their food that would shrink men’s penises, and there were also rumours of communist vampires roaming the countryside. In fact, a quick look through my files turns up this quote from her book Rituals of National Loyalty:

    In Thailand the 1970s were a strange amalgam of magic and mayhem. Rumors of magical potions that shrank penises abounded. Allegedly part of a Vietnamese communist conspiracy to render Thai men impotent and thus unable, literally, to reproduce the Thai nation, mysterious penis-shrinking additives were said to have been mixed in food sold in Vietnamese-owned restaurants. In northeastern Thailand, where many Vietnamese refugees had settled, the rumors abetted attacks on shops and other businesses owned by Vietnamese.

    During these surreal days rumors of blood-sucking vampires also proliferated. The vampires were said to nab unsuspecting village children, sucking their bodies dry to provide transfusions for wounded communist guerrillas. The government, and particularly the military, controlled virtually all radio broadcasts in Thailand. Radio stations broadcasting into rural areas described the vampires as wearing indigo-dyed shirts, flip-flops, shoulder bags, and, significantly, eyeglasses – the characteristic attire of progressive university students seeking to demonstrate their solidarity with the village poor. Consequently, well-intentioned students who travelled to rural areas came under attack by terrified villagers (p.19).

    I think it’s interesting to note the common anxieties connecting the fertility of the nation, its ability to reproduce itself, with all these kinds of “vampiric” rumours. As you note, the Hungarian rumours suggest that it is women who are in danger and need to be rescued by their men. The Jewish blood rumours and their focus on danger to children are also similar. They all suggest that the nation-as-reproductive-unit, or family writ large, needs to defend itself from “outsiders” who are literally feeding on the national body and seeking to accrue unnatural forms of fertility to themselves.

    Clearly Bowie lays a lot of the blame for the generation of such rumours at the feet of the state, seeing them as products of an intentional propaganda policy. Presumably the internet rumours you’re talking about are more spontaneous, although it’s conceivable there are groups of nationalists circulating them in order to generate xenophobic sentiment.

    I also have to think of the comment that I received in response to your Joppik piece but decided not to approve. It contained unsubstantiated claims of the most bestial acts allegedly committed by gypsies and was clearly designed to dehumanise them.

    And just out of curiosity, what precisely is a “festive” round table?

  4. 25 September, 2009 6:22 pm

    “Festive” simply meant that it is intended to celebrate… I forgot what. Something about Budapest.

  5. 27 September, 2009 7:37 pm

    On a Hungarian blog on urban legends (, there is a comment by someone who claims to live above a particular Chinese shop in the city of Székesfehérvár, whose description could be recognised from one of the emails. The shop has had its windows repeatedly smashed, and gangs of teenagers regularly drop by to offer their organs for sale (as a joke). The shop does not even have a basement (where the victim was found, according to the email).

    According to a recent survey, 30% of Hungarians think that the expression “breeding colony of Gypsies” is not offensive. A Hungarian vice-president of the European Parliament has said in an interview that he considered the paramilitary uniforms in which the representatives of the xenophobic party Jobbik appeared in the EP just another style of clothing, like the Greens’ jeans.

  6. Peter Szekely permalink
    19 December, 2009 9:23 am

    Hungarians are phobic of all, including other Hungarians. The old joke about what 5 Hungarians would do if stuck on a deserted island… form six parties seas it all. Before the Chinese there were the Arabs, and all neighbors. As one who participated in the 1956 Revolution, I recall that it was fueled at lest as deep and and almost personal hatred against the Russians as political discontent. Days were spent in searching for meat grinders with which the political police disposed of the bodies in their jails …. They were in control, they could have buried anybody without a question or grave marker, but extravagant ideas, like the meat grinder appealed more to the masses.

    The danger lies in having people hang the shop keeper on the lamp post only to find that there is no basement! Lynching is not an American invention.

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