The following press dispatch (1902), even if untrue, shows the process "in ancient times: "Human flesh, chiefly that of babies and young children, is being sold in market places throughout the Chinese province of Shan-See at 180 cash per catty of one and a third pounds, according to news received here to-day. Famine prevails throughout Shan-See and not fewer than 300,000 people will have died of starvation before the crops are harvested. All rice brought in from adjoining provinces sells at ten times its normal value. In extremity people have commenced to eat human flesh to preserve life until relief reaches them. The empress dowager has commanded that bartering in human flesh be stopped, but she can enforce her decree only about Hsianfu, the present Capital".
There is some evidence that single-celled organisms may go on reproducing themselves by simple division forever, if the food and environment are exactly proper, but as such a rare state of affairs is never continued long, there always comes a time of deterioration and rejuvenation by conjugation with a similar cell. Of course, we do not know how long certain trees can live, certainly for some thousands of years its cells continue to divide and subdivide, but even in them a senile period is apt to come in time. Plants which are reproduced by cuttings and grafting, have their environment artificially made for them, and sexual reproduction at present seems unnecessary.
Nevertheless, among certain scientists there is a reaction against the theory of the immortality of living substance. They claim that it invariably becomes senile and will die if not rejuvenated by conjugation, and that an entirely new individual results from the coalescence. All this is a mere fight over words - it is not necessary to use the word immortality - indeed, the changes in protoplasm, from hour to hour, or minute to minute, show that the individual is not really the same from one instant to another. Immortality might be replaced by some other expression just as well - such as continuity of life. The point we make is that its way of continuing existence by sexual union is generally a result of starvation, and we can blame the nitrogen as a rule.
Cannibalism was probably the real reason for the evolution of animal forms from vegetable. In the primitive oceans animals did not exist, all living things were vegetable organisms, receiving direct kinetic energy from the sun, by means of which they built up materials for their cell life. Some organisms, though able to do this, turned criminals and began to appropriate the foods stored by others - and by the laws of selection these types survived and, through the laws of involution of the useless, lost their ability to build up their own food as a plant does. A few species of animals still retain chlorophyll in the skin, and can act in both ways, but the great majority are not able to build up these foods and are wholly dependent upon the foods manufactured by plants. Animals, therefore, are degenerated plants'. They must use the potential energy of organic foods, though there is no difference whatever between an animal and a vegetable cell. What a strange outcome, therefore, that the whole animal world, now so dependent upon foods built up by vegetable forms, is really a result of the first cannibalism among primitive plants starving for nitrogen.