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posted by LaminatorX on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:27AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Stranger-than-Fiction dept.

Kembrew McLeod, writing for The Atlantic, relates a forgotten footnote from the early history of British-Chinese relations. In early 18th century England, a blond, blue-eyed man calling himself George Psalmanazar became a celebrity by claiming to be a native of Taiwan who was kidnapped from his home by French Jesuits, and then by Dutch Calvinists. He gave fantastic and detailed accounts of his home island, featuring cannibalism and human sacrifice:

They built a gigantic temple for a high priest named yes, wait for it Gnotoy Bonzo, who commanded them to annually sacrifice "the hearts of 18000 young Boys, under the Age of 9 Years, on the first day of the Year." This was obviously a major logistical flaw for such a sparsely populated nation. Psalmanazar smoothed it over by claiming that men were permitted to have multiple wives, so that "they may beget many Children every Year; of whom some of the Sons are Sacrific'd, but the Daughters are all preserv'd for Matrimony."


Psalmanazar's con worked because he tailored it for an Anglican audience predisposed to hating the Catholic Church. (If you are going to spin a crazy yarn for anti-papist Englishmen, it helps to say that French Jesuits kidnapped you.)

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by rts008 on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:59AM

    by rts008 (3001) on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:59AM (#35419)

    I wonder if 'thetans' were somehow involved with his fabricated religion?

    • (Score: 2) by jimshatt on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:18AM

      by jimshatt (978) on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:18AM (#35460) Journal
      He kinda looks like Julian Assange...
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Nerdfest on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:32AM

      by Nerdfest (80) on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:32AM (#35467)

      Aren't all religions fabricated?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @04:21PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @04:21PM (#35636)

        I think the early ones simply evolved.

      • (Score: 2) by rts008 on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:50PM

        by rts008 (3001) on Thursday April 24 2014, @08:50PM (#35787)

        Yes, they are all fabricated, but I was really struck by the similarities by this George character and Ron Hubbard, and wanted to avoid a religion flamewar.

        Silly me, I should know better by now. :-)

    • (Score: 2) by edIII on Thursday April 24 2014, @10:09PM

      by edIII (791) on Thursday April 24 2014, @10:09PM (#35814)

      Having read the article that's actually not fair. It makes no mention that he bilked anyone out of money.

      He was a consummate bullshit artist, but he worked for his pay. It seems the bulk of his money came from book sales where he produced a well written and illustrated fabrication of an entire culture. It was quite possibly very entertaining to the people at that time.

      Something to be said for never breaking character either. For all we know he may have actually believed it. A highly intelligent man suffering from a delusional state. Who knows what he was exposed to back then.

      It never mentions him being found guilty of any crimes. He eventually became the target of jokes and worked odd jobs for the rest of his life in near poverty well respected by his neighbors.

      Like the other poster said, it was an interesting read. I would have rather seen a movie about that than fucking Twilight. I promise you that.

      Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
      • (Score: 2) by rts008 on Friday April 25 2014, @07:52AM

        by rts008 (3001) on Friday April 25 2014, @07:52AM (#35970)

        Well, you have some interesting points, but I think you are reading more into my comment than was intended.

        'Bullshit artist invents a religion, and passes it off to the public' is the only comparison I was referring to, not a direct comparison of RH and GP as individuals.

        That thought just popped immediately to mind when I was reading the article. A different 'mental roll of the dice' might have come up with Orson Wells and his Martian Invasion hoax, comparing it to George P.'s Formosa hoax.

        It was an interesting read, and I would probably watch the movie also, but I can't really comment on 'Twilight', because I was never interested enough to attempt to watch it...I'll take your word on it.

        An especially good point you mentioned was it probably was entertaining to people at the time.
        The article mentioned one of George P.'s fans as Samuel Johnson, so I imagine that book was widely passed around.(the article mentions that it sold out quick when published, IIRC)
        Fiction sells, and has since language was invented. Story tellers have always been popular in every culture, both as a historical function, education, and entertainment.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:16AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:16AM (#35459)

    Psalmanazar: I was kidnapped!

    Englishmen: Ho-hum.

    Psalmanazar: By Jesuits!

    Englishmen: Ho-hum.

    Psalmanazar: And they were French!

    Englishmen: TEA AND CRUMPETS!

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by M. Baranczak on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:36PM

    by M. Baranczak (1673) on Thursday April 24 2014, @02:36PM (#35556)

    I know that most of you bastards can't even be bothered to read the summary, but trust me, the article is worth reading in its entirety.

    This guy was one of the great bullshit artists of the world. And before you start feeling all superior towards the rubes who didn't even know what Chinese people look like, consider the recent case of the Englishman who was able to successfully impersonate a Kazakh reporter.

  • (Score: 2) by Maow on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:25PM

    by Maow (8) on Thursday April 24 2014, @11:25PM (#35845) Homepage

    This reminds me of the Voynich Manuscript:

    After he wowed London with his colorful stories, customs, and far-out accent, the public clamored for more about his homeland. It took Psalmanazar only two months to knock out a 288-page volume titled Description of Formosa, which sold out immediately. The book contained illustrations of native clothing and architecture and a lovely image of a grill used to roast the hearts of little boys. Description also featured foldout plates of the Formosan language and numerical system, along with information on botany, zoology, and gastronomy.

    I imagine they have similar origins.