All over the world are similar reports of a large creature that is
ape-like, yet walks upright on two feet and displays other human
In North America, we know him as Sasquatch or Bigfoot. In China, he
is called Yeren, or Wildman. Dozens of scientists from high-level
institutions in China have studied Yeren evidence. In 1980, more than
100 investigators were even sent on an expedition into the heart of
Shennongjia nature reserve covers some 1,900 square miles (3,000
square kilometers) in a remote corner of Hubei Province. It is a rugged
area with mountains as high as 10,000 feet and deep valleys. It is where
the vast majority of Yeren sightings have been reported.
Chinese state-run media agency Xinhua has estimated there have been
about 400 sightings in the past several decades. A New York Times
article estimated 300 sightings from the 1920s to the 1980s.
Here’s a look at a few of these sightings, tests conducted on some
collected specimen, the relevant cultural history of the region, and
some theories as to what Yeren might be.
Sightings: Yeren Can Laugh and He Can Cry
On April 4, 1994, park ranger Yuhao Yuan was in a remote area of the
Shennongjia reserve. He could see on a hillside across from where he was
standing, about a third of a mile away, a strange creature apparently
sleeping. Yuan had more than 15 years of experience as a ranger at this
point. He was familiar with the usual fauna of the region, so well
qualified to deem a creature unusual.
Yuan observed the creature through binoculars and called out to wake
him. The creature roused and stayed where it was for a while looking at
Yuan before it got up and walked away. Yuan described it on an episode of the History Channel series "Monster Quest”
as reddish-brown and more than 6 feet tall. "I wasn’t sure if it was
Yeren, but it was weird that he got up and walked off on two legs. It
wasn’t a bear,” Yuan said.
"I wasn’t sure if it was Yeren, but it was weird that he got up and walked off on two legs. It wasn’t a bear.”
, Shennongjia ranger
A New York Times article published in 1984, titled "On the Trail of the ‘Wild Man’ of China,” describes some sightings that attribute human characteristics to the Yeren.
In 1980, a hunter named Bu Xiaoqiu in Rongshui County of Guizhou
Province purportedly caught a small Yeren, but he let it go when he saw
its eyes fill with tears. Tears are unique to humans—other primates do not tear up like this.
The Yeren has also been said to laugh, though this is not a uniquely
human trait, as other primates can laugh. In September 1979, a cowherd
in Fangxian County said he encountered a Yeren that took hold of his
wrist and maintained his grip for half an hour. As the Yeren grasped
him, it laughed. In 1978, hunters in Rongjiang County were sitting
around a campfire when a Yeren purportedly joined them—and even added
wood to the fire! The hunters were frightened and pretended to ignore
its presence among them.
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Not only hunters and village people have reportedly seen Yeren, but
also local officials. In 1976, a commune party secretary in Fangxian
County, near Shennongjia, reported seeing a Yeren run off carrying a
The most influential sighting occurred on May 14, 1976, when a
vehicle carrying six regime officials purportedly encountered a Yeren
near a village between Fangxian County and Shennongjia. This sighting
sparked the interest that fueled the 1980 expedition.
Specimen: What the Lab Results Say
Meng Qingbao, a leader of that expedition, reported finding 1,000
footprints stretching for about a mile in Shennongjia. A plaster cast of
the clearest print was more than 18 inches long, according to New York
An anthropologist at the Beijing Natural History Museum, Zhou
Guoxing, was also part of the expedition. In a 2012 article titled "Fifty Years of Tracking the Chinese Wildman,”
he said many of the alleged Yeren prints he’s examined over the years
have belonged to bears or apes. But, he told "Monster Quest,” there was a
print collected during the 1980 expedition that does not belong to a
human or bear or any other known creature.
Zhou remains doubtful, however. He summed up his 50 years of Yeren
research: "[I’ve] gone through an interesting evolution in his search
for the Wildman—from acceptance with reservation, to vacillation with
doubt, to basically denial.”
Purported Yeren hairs have been exposed in labs as belonging instead
to boars, apes, humans, and other known creatures. Yet at least some
hairs may have proven inconclusive. In the 1980s, the Research Unit for
Forensic Medicine of the Wuhan Hospital concluded after some specimen
tests: "We infer that the hair from these ‘wild men’ could belong to an
as yet unknown higher primate.” This study was cited in the book "Hair: Its Power and Meaning in Asian Cultures,”
edited by Alf Hiltebeitel, professor in the department of religion at
George Washington University and Barbara D. Miller, professor in the
department of anthropology, international affairs, and women’s studies
at George Washington University. Epoch Times could not, however, verify
"We infer that the hair from these ‘wild men’ could belong to an as yet unknown higher primate.”
A purported Yeren foot preserved for more than 20 years resurfaced in
1980 and Zhou examined it. It was said to have come from a Yeren killed
by villagers in 1957 in the then Zhuantang Village, Shuinan Town,
Songyang County. A local science teacher had preserved the foot. Zhou
identified it, however, as having belonged to a large macaque, an ape.
Is it possible that locals—not only during this 1957 encounter but
also in the many other such encounters—could be so genuinely puzzled by
the appearance of an "unknown creature” that is actually simply an
ape? Would the villagers not recognize an ordinary ape? If the species
is unfamiliar to them, perhaps. Frank Poirier, a retired anthropologist
from Ohio State University, explained to "Monster Quest” that some Yeren
reports might actually describe the endangered golden monkey.
Would the villagers not recognize an ordinary ape?
It would be a rare sight, since these monkeys are so few in number.
The monkey is about 5 feet tall standing upright. But it doesn’t walk
upright. That’s a sticking point for Poirier, who was one of the few
Western researchers allowed by the regime into China during the 1980s
(strict limitations were put on the "Monster Quest” team in 2012 as
well). He was there to study the golden monkey, and dismissed the Yeren
stories when he first heard them. But footprints and bones he was shown
by locals started to make him question whether there was some truth to
"I’m still not sure what conclusions I’ve drawn as a result of that trip,” he said.
Theories on the Nature of Yeren
A Giant Ape Thought Long Extinct?
Some have said Yeren is a species of giant ape thought to be long
extinct (perhaps extinct for as long as 8 million years) known as Gigantopithecus. Gigantopithecus
fossils have been found in China and Southeast Asia. It’s hard to tell
much from the jaw bones and teeth—the only remnants found of the
creature—but it would have been about 9 feet tall, weighing almost a
half ton. Most Yeren sightings describe a creature of about 5 to 7 feet.