The 1997 Yeren Investigation In China

By Dr. Grover S. Krantz


During late May and early June of 1995 the author spent 17 days in the People's Republic of China with Japan Television Workshop making a documentary on the Yeren or Wildman. One of our projects while there was participate in an expedition to Yuan Bau Mountain, in the Kwangsi Chuang Autonomous Region of southern China, to interview two natives of the Miao nationality who had claimed recent Yeren sightings. This was an international expedition composed of about ten Chinese, three scientists from Taiwan, a five- member Japanese TV crew, and myself, an American anthropologist. About 15 local Miao served as porters up down the mountain for most of our baggage and supplies. The primary objective was the Yeren story, though the scientists from Taiwan were there to study the flora, fauna, and human use of the region. Zhou Guoxing, a paleoanthropologist at the Beijing Natural History Museum (and an old friend of mine), was in overall charge of the Yeren investigation. He and I, and our conversations, were a major focus of camera crew. Keiko Yamada was in charge of the crew. Yasu was the cameraman, and their assistants were Muro and Ao; they were known to only by their first names. Kanako Onishi was our invaluable Japanese/Chinese/English translator. We taped additional fieldwork and interviews in the U.S., and supporting material was filmed in Japan and Vietnam without me. The first version the of documentary, in Japanese, appeared in early 1996; an English version is pending.


Our group left a comfortable hotel in the city of Liu Zhou in a small bus and supply truck to drive north, then west, over roads of gradually decreasing quality. The distance we covered was about 190 miles (300 km), and took about six hours. We spent our first night in a traditional Miao village that had been little influenced by modern civilization. From there, the expedition spent most of the next three days hiking up to the highest inhabited village on the south face of the Yuan Bau Mountain, spending the nights in other villages along the way. The friendliness and hospitality of the local people was striking, though the facilities were primitive. In terms of time and effort expended, about one-third was spent walking along narrow (12 inch/30-cm) terrace walls around the rice fields, one-third climbing steep steps from one terrace up to another, and one-third walking along typical mountain trails of various inclinations. On all difficult places, a young Chinese man pulled me by one hand from in front, and another firmly pushed me from behind; given my size and age (63 years), there was no other way I could have kept up with the group. I was by far the largest person present at 6 ft, 2 inches (189 cm) and 202 lb. (92 kg). With, in addition, a full beard, a projecting nose, and pinkish skin, I was rather conspicuous. There were many jokes — often initiated by me — about my possible identification as a Wildman.

Our major goal was to interview two Miao men who had reportedly seen Yerens (yeh-rens) within the previous few months, and to examine the places and circumstances where these sightings had occurred. Zhou Guoxing conducted most of this investigation. A translator was necessary because Zhou did not speak Miao, and the two eyewitnesses did not speak Mandarin or any other form of Chinese. The Japanese crew documented this investigation in detail. My primary part in this activity was to ask the witnesses some specific questions about the anatomy of what were evidently two different Yeren. This was complicated by the fact that no one present spoke both English and Miao. My questions in English were addressed to the Japanese translator; she then translated them into Mandarin for the local forest ranger/policeman, who then translated them into Miao for the native witnesses. The answers came back through the same two intermediaries. Given this complication, I chose to ask just one simple question at a time, and to illustrate the point in each case with my own body. Also, each question was put in terms of a simple contrast, such as "taller/shorter," with no hint as to what I might have wanted or expected to hear. This may have been intimidating to the witnesses because I towered over them, outweighed them at least two to one, was notably hairy, spoke an incomprehensible language, and appeared to command the respect of the entire assembly. We all agreed later that this imposing show, which I played to the hilt, probably helped induce these men to report their observations as accurately as possible.

Some of the important information we gained is as follows: The creatures stood fully erect like a human. In both cases, the Yeren were about 6 feet, 6 inches (2 m) tall (4 inches/l0 cm taller than me), although only one of these was measured against a clear background reference. The legs were of human proportions relative to their stature. The arms seemed only somewhat elongated. The shoulders were relatively wider than mine, but not extremely so. The face was impressively large — one witness stressed its height, the other its width. The level of the chin was above that of the shoulder, a very human trait. (I had the impression that this last question might have been misunderstood, or the translation switched the answer, and the true situation might have been just the opposite.) There was little projection of the nose. Interestingly, the forehead rose up above the eyes like in humans rather than back like in the gorilla (of which they were somehow aware). The abdomen did not notably protrude. Both men indicated that their Yeren was a male, but no reason for this judgment reached me through the translators.

The closest sighting was when one man stepped to the door of his house and saw the Yeren standing outside within 10 feet (3 m) from him. It looked at him briefly, then turned and walked away in a human manner. The other sighting, from farther away, was of a crouched Yeren which stood fully upright when it was aware of the man, and which then dropped back down to all fours and ran off. According to the imitation by this witness, it did not put weight on its hands, but moved or swept them alternately along the ground as if brushing objects away to each side. My impression was that it may have been pressing against clumps of vegetation to aid its progress in an uphill direction.

Over the last few years, Zhou Guoxing had become increasingly skeptical of the usefulness of Wildman reports from people of the dominant Han nationality of China. He felt that too many of them were simply passing on — or inventing — the kind of stories that the investigators wanted to hear. In this case, however, he was much more confident that the Miao people were reporting what they had actually seen. These people are noted for their honesty in general, especially in the more "primitive" regions, as this one certainly was. We also understood that local folklore included the belief that it was dangerous to talk about seeing the Yeren; obviously, this idea did not weigh too heavily on the minds of these two men. That they received only nominal reward for their cooperation removes one other kind of motivation.


The combined descriptions from these observers did not fit especially well with the usual Sasquatch (Bigfoot) picture from North America. Their Yeren were somewhat shorter and relatively less massive in body build; the long red hair, especially on the arms, was unexpected; and the high forehead did not fit at all. These traits, however, all fit comfortably with the idea of an erect, habitually bipedal relative of the orang-utan. The descriptions collected by Frank E. Poirier (1989, Further Investigations Into the Reported Yeren - The Wildman of China, Cryptozoology, Vol. 8: 47-57) are fully consistent with these accounts, even to including some quadrupedal progression.

After getting their descriptions, I showed the Miao observers a videotape of the best part of the 1967 Patterson film on a small, portable screen. They immediately proclaimed that it was the same creature they had seen, and watched the tape several more times. They seemed unconcerned that the film subject was clearly more heavy set, darker colored, and shorter haired; it is difficult to believe that they did not notice these differences, although they could be excused for not noticing its more retreating forehead and low set mouth. What I think happened is that, in both cases, they saw massive, hairy, human-like bodies with swinging arms and wide shoulders that moved in a ponderous manner. Aside from the obvious traits of bipedal anatomy and hairiness, I think these eyewitnesses were mainly seeing body movements that were not quite human in the same ways.

For the Yeren seen walking away, this might have included a bent knee in the support leg, extra high lifting of the foot beginning the swing phase, and a slightly forward inclination of the torso — all of which I found in studying the Patterson film. Given that Patterson's subject, an evident female, was about the same height as the male creatures these men had seen, and only somewhat heavier, a similar locomotion might well be expected. These men made many more comments while watching the video that were not translated for me. For all I know, they could have been noting all the differences that have been pointed out above, or they could have missed them entirely. Social circumstances precluded any further questioning by me as to the details.

During our entire time in Miao country, I was closely noting the topography and vegetation, as well as the people themselves. There was almost no flat land; the local people had built rice-field terraces wherever possible, but these did not cover anywhere near 10 percent of the land surface. I was told that much of the original forest on the hillsides used to be denser than it is presently. On the other hand, many areas had such thin soil that few, if any, trees could ever have grown there. The original forest had included some trees that were considerably larger than any that can be seen today. A few tree trunks up to 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter are incorporated into the buildings. These probably were never very common, as so few of them could be seen. My conclusion was that the original condition of the area would not be classed as tropical rain forest in the sense that a continuous arboreal canopy had not existed. Furthermore, there were enough deciduous trees to make the arboreal food supply less than a year-round bounty.

The significance of the natural vegetation becomes evident when one tries to imagine orang-utans living there. The terrain and vegetation clearly would not support a population of great apes which were fully arboreal. Any such apes would have to spend at least half of their time on the ground, either feeding there or traveling from one location to another. Any orang-utans under such circumstances must have a well-developed terrestrial form of locomotion, which could be either quadrupedal fist walking or erect bipedalism. The latter has been well described by the native people, who would not likely have thought through these ecological factors.

Hundreds of fossil teeth have been found in many places in southern China that are clearly identified, as orang-utan, but no other skeletal remains of them are known. These teeth are not distinguishable from those of the modern species, except that they are significantly larger. If one adds longer legs to modern orang-utans they still would not stand 6 feet, 6 inches (2 m ) tall, so this kind of Yeren from southern China is still substantially larger than the living Indonesian species of orang-utan. One might speculate that all or most of the fossil teeth actually come from the large, terrestrial kind of orang-utan that the local people seem to be currently reporting. There also two pieces of fossil jaws from Java, with some especially ape-like traits; that are usually classed as being early hominid. I have long considered these to be more likely from deviant orang-utans, possibly with erect posture; they may be Yeren.

It does not appear possible to equate the southern Chinese Yeren with the Sasquatch of North America; the differences have been noted above. Neither is it reasonable to relate it to the Gigantopithecus teeth and jaws; fossils are too large, and we already have orang-utan teeth that are a match. Whether Sasquatch in North America is a surviving Gigantopithecus is quite another matter, and outside the purview of this report. What is pertinent here is that there appear to be at least two different, unverified higher primates that commonly use bipedal locomotion.

Up to now, I have been loosely referring to this kind of "wildman" (there might be others) as a form of bipedally adapted orang-utan. It is worth least some speculation as to just how closely it is related to the living species. The locomotor adaptations of bipedalism in the African sequence carry with them the taxonomic level of a family's worth of distinction. In that case, we are contrasting not only the first bipeds, but also its greatly modified descendants; with the somewhat less modified apes that continued as brachiators. When that African ape first adopted occasional bipedalism, it probably would have been classifiable as no more than a good species away from its non-bipedal relatives. The higher level of taxonomic distinction is a consequence of how much evolution has occurred since that particular speciation event.

In the case of Yeren vs. orang-utan, we appear to be dealing with a locomotor contrast like that which separated the first australopithecine from the ancestral African ape. Disregarding whatever future evolution might occur, this initial "step" need not be ranked as anything more than a species worth of distinction at that time.

Given the distinct anatomy that we see in the australopithecine hips, knees, and feet, it would appear that similar distinctions should occur in the Yeren as well. Even if half of their locomotor behavior continued as brachiation, the added terrestrial modifications should still be ranked as a significant locomotory change. Most anatomists would probably weigh changes of this magnitude as worth at least a generic distinction. On the other hand, the length and color of the hair are so specific that one would not expect them to continue, unchanged, across a generic quantity of change.

It is quite possible that we are here dealing with just a new species, in which case the name Pongo erectus would be appropriate. This name is far superior to the old Pithecanthropus erectus, which clearly implied that there were, or at least could be, other species of that genus that were not erect; changing its generic assignment to Homo did not alter that illogical situation. In this case, the erectus label is a clear and specific distinction from Pongo pygmaeus, which is not erect. I see no compelling need to create a new genus name for the Chinese Wildman, but just in case, Yeren is offered here. The species might be called Yeren sinensis. If the first definitive specimen of this kind should come from Indonesia, rather than China, the generic name Sedapa might be appropriate, and Sedapa sinensis would be the name for a Chinese species (if distinct).


There is no expectation of any future follow-up on this particular aspect of Wildman study, but if the opportunity should arise, I would probably participate. There are more realistic possibilities for follow- up work on the fossil material from Java that just might be related to the Chinese phenomenon.

From: Cryptozoology, 13, 1997-1998, 88-93

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