A lurid aspect of Hong Kong’s wartime Japanese occupation (1941-45) – anecdotally indicated for several decades, but never comprehensively researched – is cannibalism. This taboo is so strong, and the thought of eating human flesh so repugnant, that the mere mention brings forth horrified denials it could possibly have happened. Many post-war stories were immediately dismissed as sensation-seeking fabrication. Yet wartime cannibalism undoubtedly did happen, and rather more frequently than many wish to believe. In his wartime diaries, Henry Ching, the South China Morning Post ’s long-serving Australian-Chinese editor, makes frequent references to widespread rumours in the early months of the occupation . But virtually no genuine corroboration exists from anyone who either admits to eating human flesh in Hong Kong or Macau during the war, or who has first-hand testimony from someone who did. Hard documentary evidence remains elusive. Much of what we know about this aspect of the Pacific war years is anecdotal, and relies heavily on oral history – notoriously unreliable as substantiation. Oral history has assumed greater importance in recent years, as “stories” and “narratives” have been given unmerited primacy over more rigorous, checkable documentary accounts. The simple fact that an oral account represents someone’s unique “story” is allowed to lend it a patina of credibility, even if the basic facts cannot be independently verified. While cannibalism undoubtedly occurred in occupied Hong Kong – and throughout Asia-Pacific – its true extent will never be known. Key to helping us understand this awful necessity is Hong Kong’s precarious food position. From the British colony’s earliest days, Hong Kong was a net importer of food staples and firewood. For this reason, stockpiling was prudent government policy. This was especially important when, even at the best of times, most people were never more than a few rice bowls from starvation. Distribution and logistical disruptions during the hostilities, and in the immediate chaotic aftermath, meant the limited emergency supplies most people kept at home depleted quickly – especially if family members arrived unexpectedly from more badly affected areas and needed to be fed and accommodated. The human body can sustain hunger for only a few days before desperate measures, such as cannibalism, supervene. When I interviewed the post-war director of medical services, Dr Yeo Kok-cheang, for an oral history project in the mid-1990s, he told me about his experiences as the superintendent of Kowloon Hospital during the hostilities in December 1941 and the immediate aftermath. He recalled a poor Chinese couple bringing in their young daughter – clearly dying but not yet dead – and asking for her to be placed in the morgue. When staff protested, the parents insisted she must be safeguarded while they made funeral arrangements. They feared that, had they left her alone, she would have been butchered for her flesh. Yeo also vividly recalled corpses collected from the streets with their fleshy parts – thighs, buttocks, calves – sliced off. Those who spent the war years in Macau frequently mention “pork” becoming intermittently available in local markets, much of which was suspected to be of human origin. A now-deceased friend once related a story to me that his mother had told him. Like many local Portuguese, she had spent the war in Macau and recalled going into a local market and seeing, in the bottom of a split-bamboo basket, the deboned face of a Chinese child (much like a pig face in any local wet market). Apparently, she was hysterical for days afterwards.