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.)