It is true — to the point of being a cliche, in fact — that avant-garde artists will say and do practically anything to shock their audiences, so we're obliged to acknowledge the possibility that Zhu Yu is telling the truth — that he really did cook and eat human fetuses in front of a camera. On the other hand, "performance art" is more often than not strictly that — a performance — and it has been argued that Zhu could have constructed his "fetuses" out of doll parts and animal carcasses, pretended to consume them in front of a camera, and issued tongue-in-cheek statements to the press claiming he ate human flesh.
That's a theory I'm inclined to agree with, frankly, because if Zhu's claims were factual he'd probably be serving jail time right now. There is no reason to suppose the government of China is any more tolerant of cannibalism than governments anywhere else, and the fact that Zhu's work was rejected from an official exhibition bears that out. By his own "admission," the fetuses Zhu allegedly cooked and ate were obtained illegally, thus if he is telling the truth he could be prosecuted as an accomplice in that crime, as well.
Officials demand retraction
In early 2001, a Malaysian tabloid published several of the photos in conjunction with a story alleging that the signature dish of a particular Taiwanese restaurant contains the "meat" of human infants. Taiwan government officials immediately demanded a retraction — a de facto confirmation that baby eating is not particularly well-accepted by the Chinese.
Shortly afterward, the same pictures turned up on a prominent Website specializing in tasteless content (www.rotten.com), prompting reports in the British press that Scotland Yard and the FBI were investigating their origins. The owner of said Website maintains he has never been contacted by authorities from any country, however. When last I looked (August 2001), the photos were still on display there.
Sources and further reading:
• "Baby Eating Photos Are Part of Chinese Artist's Performance." Taipei Times, 23 March 2001.
• "Officials Tone Down Chinese Art Exhibit." Associated Press, 8 Jan 2001.
• "Blood Libel Myths: Then and Now." Religioustolerance.org.
• "Dead Baby Muncher Pic Spawns Police Inquiry." The Register, 22 Feb 2001.
• "Online Baby Muncher Is an Artist." The Register, 23 Feb 2001.
• Dixon, Poppy. "Chinese Eating Fetuses: Christian Pornography." Adult Christianity, October 2000.
• Ellis, Bill. Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001; pp 46-57.
• "The Violent Trend in Chinese Contemporary Art." Chinese-art.com, 2001.
• "Chinese Avant-Garde Art Is a 'Social Evil'." The Art Newspaper, 2000.