In Partnership With Humane Society International
Warning: Distressing Content
Last year, animal lovers worldwide rejoiced as local authorities in China announced they would initiate a dog meat ban, prohibiting traders from selling at the notoriously cruel Yulin festival.
The decision felt like a turning point in attitudes towards the dog and cat meat trade. One week later, and it became clear we celebrated too soon.
Capitulating to threats of civil unrest by dog traders, the Yulin authorities withdrew their ban and imposed a dog meat sale restriction instead, and then – despite testimony from dog traders to the contrary – they simply denied altogether that a ban had ever existed.
Despite last year’s short-lived ban on selling dog meat, The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, held in Yulin, Guangxi, China, every summer solstice since its initiation in 2010, will once again see thousands of dogs and cats butchered between 21 and 30 June, 2018.
Footage from past years shows how this week-long killing spree is disguised as celebration:
The festival is a barbaric spectacle, but the dogs’ and cats’ suffering actually starts before Yulin.
Thousands are grabbed from the streets, many stolen from pet owners, crammed tightly into wire cages and piled onto trucks to be driven thousands of miles to Yulin from as far as Anhui, Hubei and Henan in Central China for days or weeks.
Denied food, water and comfort, those dogs stacked at the bottom of the truck become drenched in urine and faeces, while those in the middle can suffocate to death.
Others die from illness, dehydration or heatstroke long before they reach their destination, suffering bodily injuries from sharp wire, biting, and rough handling along this highway to hell.
At the slaughterhouse, they wait to be bludgeoned to death with metal poles, watching the horror unfold. Their carcasses are hung out on display by traders and served up in celebration on diners’ plates.
Launched in 2010 by Yulin’s dog meat traders as a commercial enterprise to boost flagging sales, it’s no surprise to see the festival has become a symbol of the cruelty of the dog and cat meat trade in Asia.
Previously, Yulin city had never known a dog meat festival and there was no established tradition of dog eating; but the traders co-opted the idea of local tradition to legitimise the event in a sick marketing scheme.
Local officials originally endorsed the event, expecting it to attract tourists. Instead, the festival has been a PR disaster for Yulin, earning domestic and international condemnation.
So last year, after tireless campaigning, the Yulin government prohibited restaurants, street vendors and market traders from selling dog meat at the event.
The ban came into effect on June 15, 2017, one week prior to the festival, and was said to be strictly enforced with arrests and fines of up to 100,000 yuan, (approximately £11, 500).
Most of us witnessing this barbaric event in 2018 are left wondering how different things could have been this year had the Yulin authorities stuck to their guns and imposed the dog meat ban prohibiting traders from selling their wares.
UNILAD are proud to partner with the Humane Society International (HSI) for our Stop Yulin campaign to answer those questions.
As with every act of cruelty under the often negligent eye of government, there are procedures which hinder the good work of people like HSI and their Chinese partner activists, as they continue to try and save thousands of innocent animals’ lives.
UNILAD spoke to HSI’s China Policy Expert, Dr Peter Li, about China’s Foreign NGO law, which allows the People’s Republic of China better control of foreign NGO activities in China.
The PRC introduced the law in their mission ‘for better control’, Dr Li explained, and to prevent ‘activities that could potentially endanger social stability, create mass events against the Chinese government, or create a situation unfriendly to the authorities’.
It wasn’t always this way. The Chinese-born researcher told us foreign NGOs had ‘freedom of operation in China’, away from the prying eyes of government supervision until 2017.
However, he added:
But now with the new Foreign NGO law in force, foreign NGOs have to register their activities in China or enter into a collaborative relationship with a registered Chinese organisation for short-term projects.
Either way, the law allows the Chinese government to know of, approve and supervise foreign NGO activities in China.
To us, it may sound a rather dictatorial way of preventing change to the status quo in China, despite the constitution enshrining the contributions of non-party groups playing a central role in modernisation after Maoism.
The law does allow foreign NGOs to apply for permission to work with partner groups based in China – but a Western presence in Yulin is out of the question for fear of endangering the Chinese anti-dog meat activists.
Even they have to answer to a supervisory PRC government agency, in their own country.
Beyond these national restrictions, the law imposes geographical and time rules on foreign NGOs with severe punishments for breaching the limits, both for HSI and their Chinese partner groups, members of which face heavy fines and even imprisonment if the foreign NGO they work with breaks the law.
The law has forced many NGOs – including charities, community development projects and professional organisations like unions – underground.
HSI refuse to alienate the systems of power through non-compliance, and operate legally under the new law, for fear of putting their Chinese activist friends at risk and jeopardising HSI’s work in China altogether.
Yet, HSI and the network of Chinese groups it supports still has an impressively high rate of dog rescue and their work is exemplary in animal rights spheres – so why does the PRC want to restrict their work with the law enacted just months before Yulin authorities tried to ban the sale of dog meat?
The Communist Party of China’s party line states the Foreign NGO law prevents outside organisations endangering ‘China’s national unity, security, or ethnic unity’ and protects China’s ‘national interests, societal public interest’.
Contrarily, Dr Li, who is also an Associate Professor of International Relations and East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown, explained HSI’s operations in China ‘do not constitute a threat’ to any of these pillars of nationalism in China.
He told UNILAD:
On the contrary, its mission to create a kind and humane society around the world serves the national interest of China and fits in with the Chinese government’s determination to build China into a civilised nation.
However, HSI’s opposition to animal cruelty and to the dog meat trade can arouse hostility from the business interests in China that are making profits from stolen, poisoned and sick dogs.
These interest groups could see HSI as an enemy and they could even falsely accuse HSI of being anti-China in order to whip up nationalistic feelings in China and to protect their own self-interest.
No NGO is exempt – especially not those with an interest in religious, labour or human rights, or politically sensitive issues.
In a country where there is no comprehensive anti-animal cruelty law – and the precious little animal welfare regulation is focussed solely on laboratory animals, zoo animals, and livestock – Dr Li says the dog and cat meat trade is illustrative of the need for reform.
In fact, China is behind the most progressive countries in animal protection legislation by 196 years, he claims, citing the Martin’s Act of 1822, which prevented the cruel treatment of cattle in Britain, as the signpost of comparison.
Dr Li, who’s visited the Yulin festival and China too many times to count, and has dedicated his life to researching the cultural and socio-political climate of the PRC, explained how ‘the bond between humans and companion animals is trans-cultural’ and can be observed in China given the chance.
China does not have a culture of cruelty to animals per se, but neither has the socio-political situation in modern China historically fostered or valued kindness or compassion to animals particularly.
Dr Li traced the history of dog meat in China back to the very early years of the Chinese civilisation. By the end of the Han Dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago, dog meat had lost popularity, he said.
In fact, twice in history have Chinese emperors tried to outlaw dog meat consumption, believing it to be indecent and socially unacceptable.
For 2000 years dog meat has been called ‘dirty’, he said, as it came from dogs who were largely stolen.
The same, sadly, happens today:
It was so thought of that in ancient China, dog meat could not be on the dinner table of noble households.
Later, pet-keeping became popular in Tang and Song dynasties, more than 1000 years ago when dogs were kept as guardians.
Things shifted during the Cultural Revolution, when a prohibition against pets was introduced by the Communist party, who thought dogs were a symbol of decadence and extravagance.
In Mao’s China (1949-1976) many dogs were bludgeoned to death because of the Communist regime’s ideological bias against dog keeping as a bourgeois lifestyle, and because of the regime’s inability to feed the people.
In other words, they believed having pets would put more pressure on the authorities to be successful economically.
Dr Li deduces this contemporary history means an entire generation of Chinese people – through no fault of their own – were denied the bond between people and companion animals which is so vital for fostering compassion, adding it gave way to ‘a certain indifference to animal suffering or a lack of understanding of it by some’.
But today, with urbanisation and rising living standards, and rapid growth in pet ownership, China is seeing a rise in its animal protection movement in scale and enthusiasm, that Dr Li believes overshadows those in Korea and Japan in East Asia.
Dr Li continued:
Chinese animal activists were the first to stand up against the dog meat trade, they were the first to stop rodeos in China, they were also the first to protest Canadian efforts to market seal meat to China.
They are also putting pressures on the Chinese government to legislate animal protection.
It’s true to say that in modern China, it’s the dog meat thieves and traders who, to a very large extent, have reintroduced dog meat to many parts of China, where before, there was no dog meat eating history, and Yulin is a perfect example of that.
There was no dog meat tradition in Yulin prior to 2010, when the dog traders invented the idea of a festival and cleverly marketed it as a cultural event.
But in truth, Yulin festival was always a cruel capitalist-driven commercial enterprise, covered up using the false guise of cultural tradition.
It sparked a ‘crime-fuelled dog meat trade across China on an industrial scale’, with between 10 and 20 million dogs and 4 million cats killed every year.
According to the professor, there’s a divide between the rural and urban Chinese regarding attitudes towards animals, with urbanites tending to see dogs and cats as companions while rural folk see them as instruments or a source of income.
But even across the socio-economic differences which pervade, the trade is widely spread.
Despite the scale, most people in China are oblivious to the killing and don’t consume dog meat unless tricked into doing so, as so often happens with white-collar workers dining in restaurants, says Dr Li, adding the issue is compounded by government.
He described the ‘indifference’ of those in power:
[The Government] knows the problems of the industry but has chosen not to do anything yet, because to crack down on the trade, the government has to provide an alternative livelihood to the traders.
The government is not willing to do so.
The attitude of the government is that the dog meat trade is a sun-set industry, it is more cost-effective to let it die out naturally by itself than to take proactive measures to end it.
Dr Li is among the hoards of young people growing up in a globalised Internet-fuelled world, who are ‘not satisfied with the Chinese government’s complacency’ and who ‘vocally oppose the industry and the eating habit’.
So what can we do to protect these animals?
Dr Li encouraged Westerners to support Chinese activists on the ground in encouraging policy change, adding, ‘our best chance of seeing change will be from within’.
In the meantime, you can follow UNILAD’s Stop Yulin campaign, which will be running throughout the festival, from 21 to 30 June, to find out more.
Humane Society International and their Chinese animal group partners, VShine and Capital Animal Welfare Association, are petitioning the Yulin authorities to implement and enforce a total ban this year.
Speak out against this cruelty by signing the petition.