An anonymous informant of the BCSCC recalls that as a child growing up in Hong Kong, he had unusual neighbours who kept a strange animal in a cage which filled an entire room of their house. The wealthy neighbours were kindly in their own peculiar way and took immense pride in showing our informant the bizarre freak of nature called a Yiren – also variously spelt as Yeren, Yeh Ren and Yen Hsiung (man bear). Our informant says that he had only a morsel of courage to take more than a fleeting look at the strange creature as it sat in a corner of its cage. It appeared to be jet-black in colour and had a very oddly-shaped conical head. From what our informant could make out of the beast it looked like some sort of fantastic ape.
The witness is not alone. All over Asia villagers in remote areas have reported a strange animal that walks upright and appears to be the product of hybridization between man and ape. As ghastly as the prospect of such a union is to most people it seems more than likely that there is a species of bipedal ape wandering Asia that is seen as more mischievous than malevolent. From past gleanings researchers have deduced that there are two types of wildman lurking in the bush: the gigantic dark-furred ape-like beast closely resembling Gigantopithecus; and the shorter reddy-brown furred animal which walks upright, but looks more like a monkey.
There appear to be a proliferation of sightings from China hence our decision to classify the animal – at least temporarily – as the Chinese Wildman or Yiren as it is known in Chinese. Although it is readily apparent that there are two types of wildman only, local nicknames have meant that there are sometimes as many as five different types to be considered, but from local descriptions we can eliminate at least through of the types as known apes and monkeys.
In some cases eyewitnesses have described an animal that sound remarkably like the Orangutan, but they were adamant that what they had seen was not that particular member of the pongid family. The creatures described did not always walk upright and were observed to have dropped to a quadruped stance on a number of occasions making identification even more difficult. Some have posited the possibility of the Golden monkey as the real culprit, but once again witnesses have dispelled this notion by saying they could tell a golden monkey from a Yiren.
During the 1950s and sixties, Hong Kong movie makers used the Yiren as a sometimes benevolent and at other times malevolent part of the fabric of Chinese folklore. Several films depict the Yiren as a rather dense animal that is qucik to change allegiances when resoundingly taught a lesson in the fighting arts by some handsome hero of southern Chinese folklore. Our red-brown friend usually behaved as if it were a pet after its subjugation by the hero. Not the case with the larger black variety which required the services of a particularly gigantic Hong Kong actor known as the Frankenstein of Asia. The black monster which went by the name Xing Xing or Sing Sing in Cantonese – was a nasty piece of business whose destruction would culminate into its evaporation complete with some really awful rudimentary hand drawn special effects explosions.
In 1989 two North American members of the International Society of Cryptozoology: Secretary Richard Greenwell (the same Richard Greenwell who ventured after Mokele Mbembe) and Frank Poirier from the anthropology department at Ohio State University undertook an expedition to China in search of clues to the identity of the Yiren. They met with eyewitnesses – some of whom had seen the creature as close as six feet – and investigators such as Li Guo Hua who has spent 17 years – almost all fulltime – searching for the Chinese Wildman. During their visit to Shennongjia and Guangxi province they arrived at the conclusion that there was a better than 50% chance that there was some sort of wildman of indeterminate origin lurking on the peripheries of the Chinese woodlands.
Some hair specimens have been gathered and sent for analysis with the aid of high-tech equipment that measures the proportion of zinc to iron and it was discovered that these hair fibres contained 50 times that found in its human equivalent and seven times that found in primates. The Chinese scientist involved in the critical analysis has concluded that they belong to an unknown species of primate.
In the past other evidence presented included a pair of hand taken from a Yiren carcass, but upon proper inspection the hands turned out to be those of a known species of monkey. Piles of droppings have been analysed and in 1995 Chinese researchers actually offered cash rewards equivalent to US$1,000 for specimens of wildman manure. One wonders how the postal service reacted to the replies which must have been a nightmare to transport and pity the poor soul who had to carry out the analysis of what must have been a hotch-potch of known animal droppings and virtually none from the real McCoy.
Perhaps on your next visit to China you might want to take a bucket and spade with you. Today Shennongjia has become a national park and reserve for the Yiren and the Chinese government is banking on tourists with lots of Renminbi will venture to the area in the hopes of obtaining a glimpse of the elusive Yiren. Let us hope that they leave the area as pristine as it is today.
Of interest to those who follow the fates and fortunes of hairy hominids is the Nguoi Rung of Vietnam. A country which has produced a veritable abundance of newly-discovered animals like the Vu Quang ox, the giant and lesser Muntiaq, as well as new fish speciesin the last few years, Vietnam boasts a hairy hoimid which is said to closely resemble the Chinese version. Professor Do Van Tien and others have researched the animal and have found tracks and unusual hair which may belong to the elusive animal. From the descriptions of witnesses it can be said that Nguoi Rung or “forest people” in English is rather more ape-like than the Almas of Russia and Mongolia.
As research into Nguoi Rung is in its infancy it will be some time before a clearer picture wil arise of what it is that is haunting the forests of Vietnam. However, a clue to the identity of the Ngoui Rung may lie in a paper entitled:
A Diverse Hominoid Fauna From the Late Peistocene Breccia Cave of Tham Khuyen, Socialist Republic of Vietnam by Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Vu The Long, Nguyen Lan Cuong, Le Trung Kha and Ian Tattersall, Number 73, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History , New York, 1994.
This team of American and Vietnamese scientists discovered the fossilised teeth of two previously unknown hominoid species could be distinguished from other dentition found in a cave at Tham Khuyen. These included nine specimens attributed to Homo erectus, three to Gigantopithecus blacki and others to Pongo pygmaeus or extant orangutan. The unknown dentition represent what appears to be a dentally primitive species of Pongo and includes two morphs which different in size indicating the likelihood that they represent males and females of the same species. The researchers conclusion was that there existed at least one further species of another large-bodied hominoid genus that has yet to be named and an unknowns species of Pongo. Are either likely candidates for the Nguoi Rung? Perhaps. We will just have to wait and see what further developments result from the Tham Khuyen excavations.