Of bones and beef importsThe dead don’t talk, but their bones do. In “Water Margin,” also known as “Outlaws of the Marsh,” a classic Chinese novel, there is a story of a dead man whose bones later reveal the cause of his death. At that time, arsenic was used for poisoning, and that chemical agent remains in the hair and bones for hundreds of years. Because of that characteristic, the cause of some mysterious deaths have been discovered later using radiation.
Bone bits sometimes wake dead celebrities out of their tombs. The remains of some famous people have been excavated to find out the exact cause of death. The list includes Napoleon, who was suspected of being poisoned to death, French actor Yves Montand, Nazi officer and physician Josef Mengele and Russia’s last emperor. Bone pieces of heroes from George Washington to Ludvig van Beethoven were taken for DNA tests, according to “Body Bazaar,” co-written by Dorothy Nelkin.
A couple of bone pieces forced people to rewrite the history of mankind. In 1997, Professor Svante Paabo took mitochondrial DNA from remains of a Neanderthal. After analyzing the mitochondrial DNA, he revealed that Neanderthals and humans of today have different ancestors, according to a book titled “The Second Genesis” by Lee In-sik.
Cow bones speak as much as human bones. During the ancient Yin Dynasty, people believed cow bones had shamanistic power. Back then, destinies were believed to be inscribed on cow bones and tortoise carapaces. A priest of the Yin Dynasty burned a cow bone over a fire, saw the shape of the cracks and told fortunes. A king would execute major events of the dynasty according to how the fortune was told. Later, tortoise carapaces were used more often then cow bones.
Fast forward to today, when bones are again making news. Since last month, South Korea has blocked imports of U.S. beef three times. The U.S. government and businesses demand that we import beef with bones in it. In January, we negotiated with Washington and decided to import beef without bones. American officials who led the negotiation reportedly had a hard time returning home.
It is understandable that the United States is upset. It appeared that it could restart exporting its beef after three years, since beef importing was banned due to mad cow disease concerns. Now it faces another blockage because of a couple of bone pieces. There is not much Americans can do about it. The time has not arrived for U.S. beef to be served on Korean tables ― probably due to the shamanistic power of cattle bones.
The writer is a deputy business news editor
of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yi Jung-jae