In Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition and Mortal Kombat Conquest, it is said that Shang Tsung is human by origin – meaning he was born on Earthrealm. While I still haven’t fully subscribed to that notion, I have spent some time pondering the implications it has for the storyline, should it turn out to be true. We know from Mortal Kombat Armageddon that he pledged his soul to Shao Kahn long ago and by virtue of that he’s served the emperor and Outworld ever since and not even death can free him from his bondage. We also know from MK3 that Shang Tsung was the leader of Kahn’s Shadow Priests 10,000 years prior to the events of that game. Therefore, if Shang Tsung is indeed human, he was born more that 10,000 years ago. This means that in his humble beginnings Shang Tsung would have been, very literally, a Stone Age man.
Shang Tsung would have been born sometime late in the 9th millennium BC (or possibly earlier as we don’t know precisely when he began his service to Shao Kahn). Some 5,000 years before the earliest dynasties of ancient Egypt. More than 7,000 years before the ancient Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet. In northern Eurasia the glaciers had finally retreated. The total population of the world was not more than 5,000,000. In the Andes mountains the people there had only just domesticated chili peppers. In western Mesopotamia people were harvesting wheat with flint-edged sickles. Domesticating animals was very trendy about this time: in modern day China and Turkey it was the pig, in Europe the dog, and Middle Easterners were keeping goats. The Arabians were doing the hunter-gatherer thing and in what would become western Iran folks were making terracotta figurines. In much of Asia the cultivation of rice had not yet proven economical and so people were still getting by with millet. About this time the biblical Wall of Jericho was being built around that city (which was already more than 1,000 years old, believe it or not). In Europe, people had only recently invented the boat. Imagine that. He could be someone who remembers when boats were invented, for crying out loud!
We don’t know which particular culture Tsung might have belonged to, so he could have been part of any of the things mentioned above. In fact, “Shang Tsung” wouldn’t have been his original name as the language from which those words are derived had not yet developed. Imagine the kind of person he must have been. With humans having advanced no further than this, still he had the sophistication of thought to make contact with another realm. Then he traveled there himself, eventually standing at the right hand of one of the most powerful, vicious, and terrible rulers in the history of all the universe.