Some of the videos show people eating soup made from bat meat, while others claim to show the mammal for sale in the seafood market in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, which scientists have suggested as a possible source of the virus.
However, our team discovered that most of these videos were actually filmed either in the Pacific nation of Palau, or in Indonesia.
Video 1: A Chinese influencer enjoys a new dish… on a Pacific island in 2016
“@wuhan @coronavirus is spreads [sic] through family’s chinese bat soup”, reads the caption on this video posted on YouTube on January 23, which has since garnered more than 40,000 views. The video shows a young woman holding a cooked bat in her hands before ripping it apart and eating it with a friend.
The video was also circulated on other sites and garnered hundreds of thousands of views. Many of the posts were followed by a flurry of hateful comments. “It makes sense that they have coronavirus,” wrote one person on social media. “They eat everything except stone and wood.”
However, our team flagged a few details in the video that raised doubts on the claims that the video was filmed in Wuhan. For example, at the end of the video, there is a scene showing a group of women dancing next to a pillar with the name “Lighthouse Palau” written on it.
We searched for “Lighthouse Palau” in Google and quickly came across a hotel with the same name and a similar logo located in the island nation of Palau in the Pacific Ocean.
The young woman who features in this video is Weng Mengyun, a well-known Chinese influencer who often hosts travel shows. Weng took to the network Weibo on January 22 to respond to the wide circulation of the video. In her post, she apologised to anyone who was shocked by her video and said that she should have mentioned that there are health risks to eating bat meat. She said she had filmed the video in 2016 in Palau, and posted it online in 2016 or 2017. She said she was angry that the video had been associated with the coronavirus outbreak.
The manager of a restaurant in Palau said that he recognised the restaurant shown in this video and that it was called CC Taiyo.
Weng’s post was widely cited by international media but there was quite a lot of confusion about it. Articles published by News Australia, Foreign Policy and the Sun shared excerpts from her post along with the wrong video [see below], which shows another Chinese woman eating a soup made out of bat meat.
Video 2: A student at the University of Wuhan eats a bat on China's TikTok
Another video, posted by the Hong Kong news site Apple Daily on January 23, shows a young woman tucking into bat meat soup in a restaurant. The news site hypothesized that bats might be the source of the virus. “Eating bats is out of the ordinary in China but it’s nothing new for Wuhan residents”, the post reads.
The video went viral on social media and was picked up by several media outlets known for sensationalist content including the Daily Mail and Russia Today. Both outlets published articles with headlines indicating that scientists had made a connection between the deadly coronavirus and bats. In truth, bats are considered to be a potential carrier of the virus, but nothing has been established yet.
Several reputed media outlets, like the French version of the Vice news website, also wrote about the video. The original title for the Vice article was “Bat soup, responsible for coronavirus” [Or, in French, “la soupe de chauve-souris, responsable du coronavirus”] although it was later modified.
People took to both Instagram and Facebook to express their disgust at the idea of eating bats. Some claimed that certain Chinese people eat raw bat meat.
If you look at the bottom right corner of the video, you’ll see the logo of the Douyin social media platform (the version of TikTok available inside China) and the handle “77maddie777”.
We found the Douyin account of the person who posted this video (“木タ木琪77”). In her profile, she says she is a student at the University of Wuhan. When we checked her account on January 28, we saw that she had deleted all her posts. She had also added a phrase to her profile, reading “Stop being idiots; these videos are from last summer”; She posted the same message on Touitao, another social media network, along with a screengrab from the video in question.
So, the video does show a young Chinese woman eating bat meat. However, the student didn’t specify where the video was filmed. In the video, she is wearing casual clothes and her reference to the fact that the video was filmed “last summer” makes it likely that she made the video while on vacation, but it is not clear where.
However, the dish that she is eating does look like the bat meat soup traditionally served in Palau, where many Chinese tourists vacation. The bat is served whole in a broth. When you’ve finished the broth, you skin the animal yourself or get assistance from a waiter. The young woman likely filmed the video before digging out the bat meat.
Our team reached out to the young woman featured in the video to find out when and where the video was filmed but, for the time being, we haven’t received a response.
Video 3: A close-up of bat soup
Some video montages compiling different videos of people eating bats have also been circulating online.
This next video features in a lot of the same montages as the previous one. This one is a close-up of a bowl of broth with a bat in the middle. This video was shared widely-- it garnered more than four million views on Twitter and was picked up by several media outlets as well as Chinese lawyer Chen Qiushi, who is known for being fiercely critical of the government.
Because the dish in this video closely resembles the bat soup served in Palau, our team showed this video to the restaurant manager on the island.
He said that he recognised the table in the video and that he was sure that it was filmed at a restaurant called Seafood House in Palau. Our team searched the terms “palau restaurant” in the Chinese search engine Baidu and it pulled up about a dozen photos of various local dishes (including bats) being served on a similar table to the one in the close-up video (round, with a raised part in the middle and a white tablecloth with black edging).
Our team contacted the manager of Seafood House but he declined to say whether the video was filmed in his restaurant.
Video 4: A man tries bat soup… in yet another restaurant in Palau
Another video was widely circulated on Chinese social media network Weibo along with the caption, “In the seafood market in Huanan [Editor’s note: an area of Wuhan], there are lots of bats to eat that carry coronavirus”. This post was viewed more than 80,000 times.
The video in question shows a man sitting in a restaurant. Nothing about it suggests it was filmed in a market. He cuts up the bat before eating, explaining the best procedure as he goes. He says that bat meat is similar to duck meat.
This video was also posted on Instagram by the user @coronavirusdaily along with the caption “Bat restaurant, bat meat in #China”. This post was viewed more than 7,000 times before being taken down.
The decoration in the restaurant in the video looks like that of a well-known restaurant in Palau. We ran a search with the keywords “palau” and “bat” and “restaurant” in Chinese on the Chinese search engine Baidu and pulled up several photos posted by Chinese bloggers who went to Palau.
When we looked at a few of these photos, we immediately saw that the table, plates, floor and murals on the wall were the same as those in the video.
Video 5: A Filipino couple on vacation in Wuhan? Nope, YouTubers in Palau
Several different Filipino Facebook pages shared the video and got hundreds of thousands of views. Quite a few of these posts included racist comments about either Chinese people or Fillipinos.
We ran screengrabs of this video through a reverse image search (click here to find out how) and pulled up several postings of this video. The earliest post that we pulled up (“Fruit bat soup. Traditional soup in Palau”) was uploaded to YouTube in July 2019 by the Filipino couple who filmed it. They recently uploaded another video apologising for sharing a “shocking” video.
Video 6: The bat section in the Wuhan market? Nope, this video was filmed in Indonesia
We took screengrabs of the video and ran them through a reverse image search on Yandex. We pulled up several similar videos that were all filmed in Indonesia. We then searched the key words “Indonesia” and “bats” in English on YouTube and found the original video, which was published by the well-known YouTube channel Travel Thirsty.
This video, posted online in November 2019, was filmed in a market in the Indonesian town of Manado.
Eating bat meat is “culturally unacceptable” in China
After seeing these videos, many social network users apparently believed that Chinese people have a culture of eating bats, which have a reputation for carrying illnesses and viruses. Some media outlets reported that bats were prized for their meat by some Chinese consumers.
However, our team reached out to several specialists in Chinese culinary traditions, who all said that people in China don’t tend to eat bat meat.
Guansheng Ma is the director of Nutrition and Gastronomy at the University of Beijing.
According to our research, eating bat meat is more than rare in China. It’s actually unacceptable in Chinese culture.
Our Observer Lu Haitao grew up in Wuhan but now lives in Beijing. He agreed.
I have never seen bat meat for sale in markets or restaurants in Wuhan or elsewhere in China. I’ve also never heard anyone talk about eating it. For me, eating bat meat is both inconceivable and disgusting.
William Chan Tat Chuen, an expert in Chinese cuisine, is the author of a book about exchanges between French and Chinese culinary traditions. He agreed with our other Observers, though he did say that bat excremement is occasionally used in Chinese medicine:
Chinese medicine uses bat excrement to improve patients’ vision and to treat dysentery, hemorrhages and diarrhea. It is often mixed into rice porridge or made into a kind of tea. However, I don’t know anyone who has actually used this treatment. Similarly, none of my Chinese friends or family eat bat meat. Chinese medicine doesn’t say anything about eating it.
That said, people in China have a different vision of bats than people in Europe. In China, bats represent happiness and people aren’t disgusted by them.
A traditional dish in the Pacific, a vacation destination for many Chinese tourists
Quite a few Chinese tourists were filmed sampling bat meat in Palau in Micronesia. However, according to the manager of a local restaurant, most Chinese tourists are disturbed when, after ordering, they see what the dish actually looks like:
We have Chinese visitors but most of them want to sample seafood. When they see the bat soup, most of them are actually horrified and very few can eat it calmly.
The restaurant manager says that he doesn’t believe eating the soup is dangerous because it has been consumed in Palau for hundreds of years without anything like coronavirus emerging.
Article written by Liselotte Mas