ShenNongJia’s Wildman

Beware the shadowy areas of Dongguan this Hallow’s eve. You never know when someone—or something—is watching you from the darkness. Prepare your camera!

One rainy May afternoon in 1956, a 12-year-old cowherd named Wang Congmei was singing and hopping home when what looked a hairy primate blocked her way with clenched teeth. The girl screamed and ran. The animal chased. Her mother heard, sprinted over and hit the creature with a hoe. Other villagers soon arrived and killed the animal together.

They had never seen an animal like this before—with bright red hair and certain human features. Was it a human or a monkey? They believed what they caught was a wildman, whose story had been passed along for generations in their village, southwest of Zhejiang Province.

They sent the corpse to the local government. Later, a teacher named Zhou Shousong preserved and stored it at a local middle school.

Many places in the world have their own strange and mysterious cryptids which aren’t quite supported by the scientific community. North America has the hairy bigfoot, the United Kingdom has the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie) and Latin America has the chupacabra.

As for China, the most well-known cryptid comes from the west of Hubei in Shennongjia forest. There, a hairy, ape-like creature—refered to as wildman (ye ren)—has been allegedly spotted for decades. From 1924 to 2007, over 110 sightings of the wildman were claimed by 360 people.

There, a hairy, ape-like creature—refered to as wildman (ye ren)—has been allegedly spotted for decades. From 1924 to 2007, over 110 sightings of the wildman were claimed by 360 people.

In fact, historical records had similar images and stories written down as early as 770 BC. The descriptions of ye ren in different books written during different times are surprisingly similar: a human face and thick coat of red or brown hair, walks on two legs and appears in the south.

In Changyang County of Hubei, legends tell that Zeng Fansheng was the offspring of wildman and a human. When he was born, his body was covered with heavy black hair. He had a small brain, couldn’t speak any language and walked with hunched back. When he was angry, he would beat his chest like a gorilla.

People claimed his mother was kidnapped by wildman before she got pregnant. In a village with only 10 families, the news didn’t spread to wildman specialists’ ears until 1980s. When experts went to the village, both Zeng and his mother had died. They checked the body of Zeng and found that he had a rare brain disease, which explained the abnormalities.

In the 1980s, news about Shennongjia wildman was so popular that it even attracted scientists from America.

Ohio State University anthropologist Frank E. Poirier led an expedition in 1989 to Shennongjia. Later, he and his colleague found that, “the term ‘ye ren’ has encompassed a wide variety of known animals, such as bears, gibbons, macaques and golden monkeys.” Ironically, Poirier himself was mistakenly considered as a ye ren by villagers who had never seen a Westerner napping half-naked by a river.

Since private expeditions never truly succeeded over the years, three official expeditions were organized with the purpose of finally uncovering the myth of the Shennongjia wildman. But other than a few strings of hair and footprints—all of which turned out to be something else—none of them provided any additional solid evidence about the existence of wildman.

People claiming to have seen ye ren describe it differently. Some say it was as tall as two meters with white hair. Others claimed it was human sized with bright, red hair. Naturally, none of the witnesses could provide video recordings.

Some suggest that ye ren’s existence doesn’t make sense, as the massive forest preserve, with steep mountains and deep valleys, would be much easier to navigate with four limbs instead of two.

In January 1999, the China Wildlife Conservation Association held a seminar in Beijing, gathering experts from different areas to discuss the possibility of ye ren. In the end, they determined that there is no ye ren.

After the excitement of Shennongjia ye ren finally faded from national news, it’s now packaged as a major selling point for Shennongjia tourism. Travelers are taken to see the places ye ren allegedly appeared and lived. No one has captured a convincing video… yet.