The Chinese government has issued a statement strongly dismissing reports it is packaging human meat as corned beef and sending it to African grocery stores.
The government was forced to respond after a Facebook post featuring grisly images, supposedly of human meat being processed, went viral earlier this month (May 2016).
The outlandish post by Facebook user Barbara Akosua Aboagye was shared over 26,000 times.
The allegations were subsequently reported by several African publications.
According to Britain's Daily Telegraph, the Daily Post in Zambia published a report saying: “One cannot deny the possibilities (sic) of this being true since we all know that the Asians are among the largest population in the entire world.
“Since China is so overpopulated to a point where there is no space to spit, what do they do with the dead bodies of the Chinese? Well the answer might be that they are shipping the bodies to Africa in the form of canned meat, and they make a profit during the process.”
South African websites Msanzi Live and Daily Post made similar claims, said Britain's Independent news site.
Yang Youming, China’s ambassador to Zambia, released a statement saying: "Today, a local tabloid newspaper is openly spreading a rumour, claiming that the Chinese use human meat to make corned beef and sell it to Africa. This is completely a malicious slandering and vilification which is absolutely unacceptable to us.
"We hereby express our utmost anger and the strongest condemnation over such an act."
Zambia's Deputy Defence Minister Christopher Mulenga pledged that the government would launch investigations into the reports, said the Telegraph.
"The government of Zambia regrets the incident in view of the warm relations that exist between Zambia and China. We shall make sure that relevant government authorities will take up the investigations and give a comprehensive statement," he said.
Chinese state media suggested that "people with ulterior motives were attempting to destroy the long-standing partnership between Zambia and China."
China has invested heavily in Zambia, especially in the mining industry, said the Independent.
However, its economic downturn has directly affected workers in the country, with plants being closed and operations suspended. Some Chinese companies have also come under fire for allegedly exploiting their Zambian workers.
Officials are concerned that rumours, such as those about the exporting of human meat, will further strain the relationship between locals and Chinese businesses.
The website Snopes pointed out that the images of the “meat” came from a marketing stunt for a Resident Evil game, adding: “This rumour has been reported by several disreputable websites which often truck in unverified or hoax 'news' stories… Of course, none of these websites provided any evidence that China was actually making corned beef with human bodies, and didn't explain the reason the misinformation was being shared with unrelated photographs.”