not all Asians are blonde

In 1704, George Psalmanazar was strolling the streets of London and claiming to be the first Formosan to do so.

image found here

Born in the South of France, sometime between 1679 and 1684, he traveled to Germany, took on the persona of an uncivilized Japanese–who spoke fluent Latin–and joined a regiment in the service of the Dutch. Psalmanazar recounted colorful stories of his past life to his fellow soldiers and when his regiment was posted to the Netherlands, he came to the attention of the Rev. Alexander Innes, who served as chaplain to a Scottish regiment.

(un) civilised Japanese and his harem found here

Innes soon discovered Psalmanazar’s fraud and became his confederate, as a means to better his own fortune. He baptized Psalmanazar a Christian and persuaded him to change his putative birthplace from Japan to the even more exotic Formosa (now known as Taiwan), which at the time was largely unknown in Europe. It was Innes who brought him to England to entertain audiences with his alleged adventures in Formosa.

Formosan push-car found here

It mattered little that he didn’t look in the least bit Asian as almost nobody in Europe, least of all blonde George himself, knew what an actual Asian looked like. But  George’s deception was almost revealed when he attended a meeting of London’s Royal Society at which a Jesuit missionary recently returned from China was also present.

click here for tutorial on styling blond Asian hair

The evening began with the usual matters natural and unnatural, with the examination of some ovarian cysts and a possum penis topping the list. George cheerfully spoke his invented language to the Society as Father Fountaney accused him of fraud. The astronomer Sir Edmund Halley also suspected trickery but George would not budge from his story.

possum found here

Psalmanazar quickly became a celebrity in London and was persuaded to write an account of his native country. In the space of two months he produced a 288 page book including dozens of illustrations. With its lurid descriptions of polygamy, human sacrifice, cannibalism, infanticide, and other grisly activities, the book was a sensation.

read first hand account of American polygamy here

He added a translation from Formosan to English of The Lord’s Prayer buttressed by fold out plates of the Formosan language and a chart of its numerical system. These he followed with botany, zoology, gastronomy and an account of the island’s history and a sensational account of religious practices. He wrote all of this while he was only 19 years old.

A French translation appeared in Amsterdam in 1705 and interest in the book was high enough a decade later to prompt a German version, which was published in Frankfurt in 1716. By this time, however, Psalamanazar’s fraud had been revealed in England and he lapsed into relative obscurity.

images from his book found here

He worked at a variety of jobs, the most successful of which, ironically, involved writing. He became a respected man of letters and enjoyed the friendship of Samuel Johnson and others. Eventually, a repentant Psalmanazar wrote his memoirs and arranged to have them published posthumously. Accordingly, a year after his death in 1763, Psalmanazar’s Memoirs of ****: a Reputed Native of Formosa (1764) was published. In the Memoirs, Psalmanazar chronicled his fraudulent past; however, he never revealed his true name which remains unknown today.

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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Possum penis?
    I far prefer monkeys.
    Listen to these lyrics, I immediately thought of you:

    • Love that tune. Thank you.

  2. What a fabbo song! And Mr Rhoderic is quite the suave sophisticate isn’t he? Great find Cindy.

  3. What a fantastic account! I love this kind of stuff! I have met people like this from time to time; a secret past from which they can spin fantastic tales that will never be challenged.
    Great post!

  4. It’s a little known fact that I come from the tiny island of Poonagringo 576 miles North East of Australia. I’m the only surviving Poonagringan as all the others ate each other in a fit of cannabilistic frenzy. I explain how I managed to escape in my autobiography “The lore and lingo of Poonagringo”.

    • Is it available on Kindle?

  5. This is how religions get started.

  6. Brillaint! I had forgotten about this hoax. Thanks for the reminder

  7. Interesting. I was just considering going blonde. And Asian. 🙂

    • I’d recommend one or the other. Not both.

      • Oh, I dunno.

        When I was working in Japan (2000-2004), it was, and still is, all the rage to dye one’s hair.

        A young Japanese account executive had a few coppery streaks put in, and was introduced to our conservative American Country-Club Republican client. The client asked, jokingly, if he got his hair from his mother’s side. No, he replied, she’s a blonde this month.

        When Japan played Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, we remarked that one could tell the teams apart by their hair colour, the Brazilians’ colour almost certainly being black, and the Japanese anything but.

  8. those japanese sex dolls look like they are 12 year olds. makes me want to beat the living crap out of the man holding them…

    • I think they’re creepy. Well, so is anyone who’d want one.

  9. That faux Formosan was a formidable fabulator.

    • … and quite the fuckin’ fondler too I believe

  10. I see him as the Bill Bryson of his day, telling the world what the UK is like.

    • I’ll pay that one.

      • Is that an Australian saying? My ex husband used to say “I’ll pay that one” a lot

  11. Hats of to the guy for having the guts to pull it off for so long.

  12. “Formosa”…isn’t there some drink named that?

    • I thought it was a plant. Now I’m not sure.

      • The floral emblem of South Australia, Sturts Desert Pea, is a Formosa.

    • There’s a Formosa cocktail that’s a mixture of sake and port. Sounds disgusting.

  13. 19 years old? Shit, I didn’t write anything that cool at that age. My lies didn’t start getting really good until after college.

  14. I would love to read his books. Too brilliant! LMAO

  15. Doesn’t everyone speak fluent Latin? Mendax mendax tuum braccare flagare

  16. NurseMyra, please give us your take on Piltdown man.

    • I think that one is still too well remembered for me to tackle

  17. It’s funny how people like to read about grizzly activities. Authors can easily get a read by throwing together the complete guide to “Sick Shit You Ought to Know that Other People are Doing / Have Done and/or are Going to Do LATER!” Maybe the cannibalism section can include some recipes.

  18. Creepy. His name is the same as my password.

    • Pssst… what’s the name of your bank?

  19. That possum in my yard right now

  20. Final confirmation that I was born too late. Imagine the hijinks I could have gotten away with in Psalmanazar’s day, before litigiousness became a nationally applauded character trait.

  21. You have to marvel at the conviction, imagination and the sheer amount of energy that would go into living such an elaborate ruse of a life.

  22. You know….there are some Asian women that look very cute with blonde hair.

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