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It wasnt greed, or curiosity, that made Li Rusheng grab his shotgun and enter Shitou Cave. It was about survival. During Mao-era collectivization of the early 1970s, food was so scarce in the emerald valleys of southwestern Chinas Yunnan province that farmers like Li could expect to eat meat only once a yearif they were lucky. So, craving protein, Li and his friends would sneak into the cave to hunt the creatures they could hear squeaking and fluttering inside: bats.
Li would creep into the gloom and fire blindly at the vaulted ceiling, picking up any quarry that fell to the ground, while his companions held nets over the mouth of the cave to snare fleeing bats. They cooked them in the traditional manner of Yunnans ethnic Yi people: boiled to remove hair and skin, gutted and fried. Theyd be small ones, fat ones, says Li, now 81, sitting on a wall overlooking fields of tobacco seedlings. The meat is very tender. But Ive not been in that cave for over 30 years now, he adds, shaking his head wistfully. They were very hard times.
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