Sun, Dec 03, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Surviving on human flesh and a prayer

Chou Tsung-lu, the lone survivor of the Haishan Tunnel No. 1 mining disaster, was sustained by urine, human meat and sheer faith in his struggle to survive 93 hours trapped underground

By Han cheung  /  Staff Reporter

The Chungyi mine was one of the hottest and most dangerous mines — Chou says two miners could drink 5 liters of water in two hours. They also had fans blowing cold air from a block of ice, but Chou says they still tried to get in and out as quickly as possible.

The conditions in Haishan Tunnel were much better, but Chou says he almost died there as well — once from accidentally inhaling poisonous gas from a wind pipe. The second time, he went into the tunnel unaware that there was an unexploded stick of dynamite hidden behind a rock. Luckily, his drill malfunctioned and only later did he find the dynamite right under where he was about to drill.


After the mining disaster, Chou was afraid to leave his life-saving air pipe. Extremely thirsty, he urinated into his helmet and tried to drink it.

“No wonder people joked that it was ‘Shandong hot and sour soup,’” Chou writes. “I did not want to take another sip, but I didn’t want to dump it either. So I left it there, occasionally using the urine to wet my cracking lips.”

He dipped a cloth in urine and used it as a face mask to explore the area, finally finding half a sip of water left in a canteen. Later, he managed to find water dripping from a crevasse. It took two hours to fill up the canteen.

With his thirst quenched, Chou was now hungry. He had gone hungry before, going for several days without food while in the army and also took part in Christian fasts several times. There was absolutely nothing to eat in the tunnel, and Chou prayed: “Lord, I’m going to have to eat human meat.”

“God didn’t stop me, but who would find it an easy feat to eat human flesh — especially those of my compatriots?” he says. “Someone asked me later how human flesh tasted. I can’t really say — it was raw and I swallowed it with water without chewing.”

It took several attempts before Chou was able to swallow the piece of meat without vomiting it back out. This would impact his social reputation later on.

“After I was rescued, I heard someone say, ‘Chou Tsung-lu ate human meat, we can’t be friends with him anymore!’” Chou says.

A newspaper report came to his defense, announcing that it was not illegal to consume human flesh in dire situations, and also deemed the act acceptable from both Christian and Buddhist perspectives.

Chou now had enough energy to plan his escape — but the passageway was blocked. After frantically digging for a while, he retreated to his original location to wait for help. As he was about to give up on the fifth day, he returned to the blocked tunnel and found that there was now a small opening. He passed through and continued upward until he heard the voices of rescue personnel. He was saved.

In the aftermath, the Bureau of Mines conducted inspections of coal mines across the country, finding 70 of them not up to par. The Ministry of Economic Affairs also established stricter safety policies for coal mining the same year. There were still about 16,000 miners in Taiwan by 1984, but the government started phasing them out in 1985 by helping them find new professions and assisting the mines with severance pay.

By 1994, there were only about 1,000 miners left. When they retired, Taiwan’s coal industry was done for good.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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