On November 5th 1967, an unusual article appeared on The Sunday Times. It reported that hundreds of Singaporean men discovered that their genitals were shrinking into their abdomens as a result of a mass psychologically-induced terror known as Koro.
The Singapore General Hospital was seeing 70 to 80 cases per week at the height of the ‘epidemic.’ Rumours had been circulating in Singapore for weeks that eating swine flu-inoculated pork would make your genitals to shrink, a condition known as Koro, suo yang (缩阳), or shook yong.
Desperate Singaporean men rushed to doctors across the island, clutching their vanishing genitals with a variety of devices, including “rubber-bands, threads, clamps, chopsticks, clothes-pegs, etc,” like the one below.
A 1969 study suggested there was:
“Concern about chickens being injected with oestrogen to increase their growth. Some men were afraid that the oestrogen in the chicken would cause gynaecomastia and avoided chicken meat.
At about the same time, there was a rumour that contaminated pork was being sold on the market and that diseased pigs were being inoculated against swine fever.
This triggered off the epidemic and a possible explanation of the outbreak is that the inoculation of the pigs was seen to be similar to the injection of chickens with oestrogen.“
The rumor of disease-carrying pork, of course, led pig sales to plunge. The government’s pronouncement that swine flu and its vaccine were both safe to humans merely added to the public’s fear. Pork sales plummeted as housewives and diners shunned the infected meat.
However, the ‘epidemic’ vanished almost as fast as it had appeared. The Singapore Medical Association (SMA) told the public during an impromptu televised press conference that the causes of Koro were ‘fear and rumours’ and nothing more, basically saying that the illness was all in people’s heads:
Cold weather, getting into bed, and, notably, worry are physiological causes of male organ retraction.
The Chinese Physician Association, likewise, advised the public that “shook yong” was the consequence of “Fear, rumor peddling, meteorological conditions, and a heart-kidney imbalance”
The number of people who reported having Koro dropped dramatically after the SMA and the Health Ministry made their declarations. There were no additional Koro cases reported within a month. Over 460 Koro cases were officially documented in hospitals at the end of the year.
Soon this epidemic was forgotten and Singaporeans went back to eating pork and it was as though this mass hysteria never occurred. Now that Covid-19 is raging worldwide and afflicting every nation including Singapore, let’s not forget the peculiar side of our little red dot.