DOGS AS FOOD IN CHINA
Dog, known as "fragrant meat," has long been a popular food in northeast and southern China and in recent years has become popular in other places. It is regarded as both a wintertime food and a health food although some Chinese say eating dog meat causes nose bleeds. One dog farmer told AFP, "Dogs have nutritional value, and their meat is tender and has a beneficial effect on kidney and spleen disease," The breed of dog is not that important in terms of the taste of the meat. It is said that all species taste pretty much the same.
The animal advocacy organisation Humane Society International (HIS). estimates 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are killed in China every year for food. Overall the the practice of eating dog meat in China is not that common. The majority of Chinese people have never eaten it and have no plan to do so. Peixian in Jiangsu, Guangdong province, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Northeast China's Jilin Province are places that have high levels of dog consumption and trade. One local at a week-long dog-eating festival told the Daily Mail: “It is just like other meat. Smaller animals tend to be more delicate and sweeter while very big dogs have a strong, muscular taste.” [Source: BBC, April 2, 2020]
Royal SPCA Asian regional representative Paul Littlefair estimates from direct observations and news reports that from six to eight million dogs per year are eaten in China— a low total for a species consumed primarily for meat value, but a number that would be consistent with the perception of dog-eating as an occasional vice mostly engaged in by older men. The extent of dog eating in China appears to vary by region, appearing to be most prevalent in Guangdong, the neighboring southern provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi, and in Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces, adjoining North Korea. Commercial dog meat ranching is known to occur in Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Hebei provinces. North Korean immigrants reputedly introduced or re-introduced dog meat restaurants to Beijing in recent years, after keeping dogs for any purpose had been discouraged for decades. [Source: animalpeoplenews.org, September 2003]
Dog has been consumed in China for at least 2000 years. Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han dynasty, among others, had a taste for dog meat. The custom almost died out in the Cultural Revolution when Red Guards killed dogs all over the country because of their perceived association with the bourgeois. Dog is also eaten in Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries.
Dog meat was banned in Beijing during the duration of the Olympics in 2008. Officially-designated Olympics restaurants were required to take it off the menus and waiters were told to politely suggest alternatives to customers that insisted on having it.
Websites and Sources: Unusual Food photos travel-images.com Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Good Academic site on regional cuisines kas.ku.edu ; China.org Food Guide china.org ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Books: “Beyond the Great Wall; Recipes and Travels in the other China” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan, 2008) features travel stories, political analysis and recipes from Tibet, Xinjiang, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia and other places off the beaten track in China.
Pexian: China’s Dog Eating Center
Peixian (a town in Jiangsu province about midway between Beijing and Shanghai) is located in the heart of the dog-eating region of China. People here regularly eat dog soup, pulled dog meat sandwiches and dog stew and are particularly fond of starting their day with a breakfast of hot soy milk and a pieces of oily, red dog wrapped in a pita-like flat bread.
In the early 2000s, about 300,000 dogs were raised for food. About half were for local consumption. The others were exported to other parts of China and to Korea. Turtle-flavored, hand-pulled dog meat is a local specialty. It can purchased in boxes or vacuum-sealed plastic in gift shops and at the airport in nearby Xuzhou. Portraits of collies, spaniels and beagles are found throughout the town. [Source: Craig S. Smith, New York Times, July 7, 2001]
Dog stew served at restaurants in Peixian is made in big galvanized caldrons. Heads, paws, tails and other parts are all thrown in and seasoned with a mixture of spices that is a family secret. Intestines are stuffed into the stomach and stewed into something that resembles balls of smoked mozzarella. Sometimes other animals, such as turtles, are thrown in for flavoring.Dogs are sometimes kept in cages outside restaurants to show the meat is fresh. Many have lowered heads, sad eyes and flattened ears and look as if they now their fate. After they are slaughtered their meat is soaked in cold water for about an hour before cooking. Some restaurants slaughter 30 to 40 dogs a day. [Source: Craig S. Smith, New York Times, July 7, 2001]
The biggest dog meat operation in Pexian is Peixian Fankuai. The New York Times reported: According to Peixian Fankuai's website, the company was established in 1994 and its current total investment is 8 million yuan ($1.15 million). However, enterprise information search platform qixin.com showed the dog meat processor's registered capital was only 500,000 yuan, and that the company began in 2004. The company employee said that in 2019, the firm slaughtered about 1,000 dogs. Before 2010, that number was more than 10,000 as more and more dog lovers have since been campaigning against the consumption of dogs.
Dog Meat Markets and Farms in China
Dog meat is one of the most expensive meats in China, selling for around $2 a kilogram. Raising dogs is generally about twice as profitable as raising pigs. Many farmers switched from pigs to dogs when the price of pork declined. A typical dog farm houses about 1,000 dogs, mostly crossbreeds, locked in small cages under poor hygienic conditions. The dogs are generally slaughtered when they reach the age of six months. A dog that weighs a five pounds at this age is sold for around $10, about half of that profit. Dog hides are sold to factories that make them into dog-fur hats, fur-lined pants and and blanket used by peasants.
Animal rights activists complain about the way the dogs are killed. Many dogs are dispatched by bleeding them to death after cutting a hole in their paw. A dog farmer told AFP, "It's true, and it take them about 10 minutes to die, but this way the meat tastes better."
Research conducted by Guangdong-based animal rights group Best Volunteer Center, supported this statement, finding that 99 percent of the dogs at the Yulin festival had been snatched from owners and trucked in from other provinces for illegal sale. Liz Fields of AFP wrote: “Chinese celebrities and rights groups indicate that not enough is being done legally by the government to cutoff the bloodlines to the black market industry generated by the dog trade business. "It’s an industry characterized by criminality, cruelty and poor hygiene," Jill Robinson, founder and CEO of rights group Animals Asia, said in a statement. "Dogs are stolen from their homes — increasingly by being darted and drugged in the street. Poisons that will find their way into the meals of the festival-goers." [Source: Liz Fields, AFP, June 22, 2014]
St. Bernards as Food in China
dog meat in Shanghai
In some parts of China it is becoming increasingly popular to use St. Bernard in the dogs-for-food industry. The dogs are not raised to be eaten but rather as breeding stock for dogs that grow large quickly and can be slaughtered for food. Many are crossbred with Mongolian dogs, which are prized for the leanness of their meat.
One dog farmer told AFP, "This kind of dog grows really fast, even though it eats less than two yuan (24 cents) worth of food every day, and even less if it is crossbred. And the female can give birth to 10 or 12 puppies every year." When the dogs are slaughtered at six months they weigh 100 pounds. Dog farmers are also experimenting with Newfoundlands, Great Dames and even Dalmatians.
It is not known exactly how the Chinese obtain the St. Bernards, which cost up to $1,200 a piece. Many believe they are originate in Switzerland and are purchased through Russian middlemen. Some dog farms import the frozen sperm of St. Bernards.
SOS St. Bernards International is a Geneva-based organization committed to rescuing St. Bernards in dog farms by pressuring the Chinese government. The Swiss government has expressed sympathy for their causes but has resisted taking any action on the grounds that the custom of dog-eating is a cultural matter.
Shenzhen: First Chinese City to Ban Eating Cat and Dogs
In May 2020, Shenzhen became the first city in China to ban eating cat and dogs. The BBC reported: After the coronavirus outbreak was linked to wildlife meat, Chinese authorities ban the trade and consumption of wild animals. “Shenzhen went a step further, extending the ban to dogs and cats. Animal advocacy organisation HSI praised the move. "This really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade. [Source: BBC, April 2, 2020]
Critics of the law said Shenzhen's legislation is only for "extreme dog lovers" and the lacks in broad public support. The company that sells dog products said that dogs are not wild animals and should not be included on the banned wild animal consumption list, and arguing the Shenzhen legislation contradicts national policy and regulations, as the consumption of dogs is not banned in China's Food Safety Law.
In February 2020, Shenzhen Province released a draft regulation which would fully ban the consumption of wild animals, including dogs. "Dogs and cats as pets have established a much closer relationship with humans than all other animals, and banning the consumption of dogs and cats and other pets is a common practice in developed countries and in Hong Kong and Taiwan, " a city government said, according to a Reuters As bans on the consumption of pets are a consensus of human civilization, pets should be included on the prohibited foods list, the local official said.
Liu Lang, head of the Beijing Association of Small Animal Veterinary Medicine, told the Global Times that Shenzhen has set a good example for other cities in China which will follow, introducing similar policies. Most of dog meat is sourced from private breeding, sales or theft in China, Liu noted, and some dogs are slaughtered via poison, making consumption dangerous. In addition, non-standard practices during slaughtering or processing may allow viruses or bacteria to enter the meat and affect producers or consumers, he said.
Yulin Dog Meat Festival
Since 2009, Yulin in Guangxi Province, a humid city with many empty factory lot,s has hosted the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Even when the festival is not going on sidewalk vendors slice meat from dog carcasses on hooks and serve it men around low tables accompanying the meat with large quantities of beer. Reporting from the festival in 2014, Liz Fields of AFP wrote: “Each summer, thousands of tourists and locals flock to the unofficial festival, held on the eve of the summer solstice to feast on the flesh of an estimated 10,000 dogs carved up for dishes such as dog hotpot. These are accompanied by a side of sweet lychees and ample amounts of booze, as dictated by local tradition. Yet, even in a country infamous for its vast dietary predilections, growing concerns over public health and animal cruelty has spurned increasing controversy over dog meat festivals taking place in Yulin and other parts of China. [Source: Liz Fields, AFP, June 22, 2014 \=]
Under the Yulin tradition, eating dog and lychee and drinking liquor on the solstice is supposed to make people stay healthy during winter. It is unclear if the supposed health benefits diminish if the feast occurs before the actual solstice. “Locals defending their legal right to consume the animals said they don't want trouble, but also "don't want to give up the most important local customs." "The dogs we eat are raised by local villagers just like pigs and chicken," one resident, Zhang Bing, told the South China Morning Post. "The summer solstice tradition of eating dog and lychees has been long held in the countryside. It became a festival as more and more dog meat restaurants opened in Yulin in the past decades." "Yulin people eat dog meat in all seasons, just like Cantonese eat chicken every day and foreigners eat beef," she said.” \=\
In the lead up to the 2014 festival “in Yulin, local authorities took a giant step back from the event and vowed to crack down on food safety regulations surrounding dog slaughtering practices...The government also told its employees not to touch dog meat at restaurants and banned all dog imports into the province that had not first passed laboratory testing. \=\
Associated Press reported: “In recent years, the festival has been targeted by activists who have drummed up public awareness of the event with posts on social media and online petitions, and descended on the city to protest outside slaughterhouses or markets where the dogs are sold. The public uproar reflects the increasing affluence of ordinary Chinese, who keep pets, travel overseas and are changing attitudes toward traditions they may not have questioned before. Animal rights activists say the event is a public health risk because the dogs undergo no quarantine to ensure they are free of disease, and that they are strays grabbed off streets around the country, as well as allegedly stolen from pet owners. The dogs are often poisoned with toxic chemicals that could be harmful to humans, they say. [Source: Associated Press, June 18, 2014]
Animal Rights Activists Hound Yulin Dog Meat Festival
In June 2014, dozens of angry animal rights activists clashed with vendors and customers at the Yulin Dog Meat festival. Liz Fields of AFP wrote: “Days before the festival, animal rights activists hounded restaurants, vendors and slaughterhouse owners in the area, and launched several social media campaigns calling for an end to the centuries-old event and customs. "Some crazy unidentified people broke down the door of our slaughterhouses and stalls and stole our dogs. They are actually the robbers and are breaking the law," the owner of one of the city's most popular restaurants told the South China Morning Post. Other animal advocates reportedly dug into their own pockets to purchase pups for as much 1,150 yuan ($185) each, while a group of Buddhists from Guangdong, Sichuan and Chongqing provinces recited prayers as they shuffled among hanging dog carcasses at the city's biggest wet market. [Source: Liz Fields, AFP, June 22, 2014 \=]
“Other animal advocates reportedly dug into their own pockets to purchase pups for as much 1,150 yuan ($185) each, while a group of Buddhists from Guangdong, Sichuan and Chongqing provinces recited prayers as they shuffled among hanging dog carcasses at the city's biggest wet market. The demonstrations culminated in a brawl between angry dog lovers and diners on Yulin's Jiangbin Road, which is lined by multiple restaurants serving dog meat. One restaurant patron received a bloodied mouth before police broke up the confrontation, according to witnesses.
The protests against the festival in recent years have weakened businesses peddling dog meat and diminished the consumption of dog-laced dishes at restaurants and market stalls, according to Chinese media. Yet the event continues. Animals Asia maintains that the "inhumane" consumption of dog meat under the aegis of culture and tradition is not a viable "excuse for corruption and cruelty." "The progression of civilization requires culture and tradition to be continuously reviewed," the group said in a statement. "Traditions and customs inconsistent with modern civilization cannot be maintained." Public pressure stopped another dog meat festival, in eastern Zhejiang province, which was canceled in 2011 despite dating back hundreds of years. \=\
Wei Zhengde, a 28-year-old Yulin resident, said, "It is our tradition and our right to eat dog meat. If we are cruel and brutal, what about those who eat pork, beef and chicken?" John Sudworth of BBC News wrote: “Such arguments being made in China today” are “being drowned out by the barrage of anti-dog meat opinion online. The 10,000 dogs eaten each year at the Yulin festival may pale into insignificance compared with the 1.7 million pigs that end up on dinner tables every day in China. However it seems likely that the pressure will prevail in the end. For now it is a topic on which the Chinese authorities are allowing the country's netizens to vent. But the issue of animal rights is one thing. There can be no social media campaign for, say, the half a million people in China that Amnesty International estimates are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial. Yulin's dogs may be a reminder of the extraordinary speed with which moral and social concerns can rise to nationwide prominence. But as China's middle classes grow ever larger so the Communist Party employs an ever-growing army of censors to ensure they know well the limits of their newfound voice. [Source: John Sudworth, BBC News, January 20, 2014]
Dog-Eaters in Yulin Dodge Activists with Early Feast
In 2014, some Yulin dog-eaters dodged animal rights activists by hold a dog meat feast early. Associated Press reported: “Some residents of Yulin started gathering” says before official unofficial festibal “and eating dog meat and lychees to celebrate the longest day of the year, ahead of actual solstice, state media reported. The residents wanted to avoid protests by animal rights activists. Photos on state media showed groups of Yulin city residents tucking into plates of meat and vegetables around dining tables strewn with lychees. Other photos, which circulated widely on Chinese microblogs, were of skinned, cooked dogs hanging from hooks at street stalls or piled on tables.[Source: Associated Press, June 18, 2014]
Deng Yidan, an activist with Animals Asia, said the public backlash hurts the image of Yulin and China. “Negative coverage is growing — dog theft, criminal activities, food hygiene issues, and rabies fears — not to mention the division in society between those for and against the festival — together these have brought significantly more negative publicity to Yulin than economic benefits,” Deng said in a statement.
“The Yulin government has sought to distance itself from the feasting, saying it is not officially endorsed. State media reports say the government told restaurants to remove references to dog meat from their menus and signboards — though it did not bar the sale and consumption of the meat, which is not illegal in China. The government has denied the formal existence of such a festival, saying it is a culinary habit practiced only by some businesses and people.”
Hostility Towards Foreigners Protesting the Yulin Dog Meat Festival
In 2016 Benjamin Carlson of AFP wrote: “International groups and celebrities, backed by millions of foreign petitioners, have rallied against an annual dog meat festival in the Chinese city of Yulin: but the protests may have backfired, residents say, spurring more people to eat man's best friend. British reality TV star Simon Cowell who denounced it as "barbaric". A month before the event, activists from China's nascent animal-rights movement stopped a Guangxi-bound van carrying 400 dogs and cats, some still wearing pet collars. [Source: Benjamin Carlson, AFP, June 16, 2016]
“But campaigners' efforts have had a perverse effect, locals say. "Because of the protests, more people know that Yulin has a dog meat festival, so everyone comes and tries it, " said the dog meat seller, surnamed Lin. "As we get closer to the dog meat festival, all Yulin’s hotels are completely full." "My store's dog-meat sales are much higher than before, last year was up more than 50 percent, " the owner of Yulin Number One Crackling Dog Meat Shop told AFP.
“Even dog lovers in Yulin say that protest tactics have backfired. "I used to think our enemy was the dog meat lovers, " said the operator of a new dog shelter, who asked not to be named. "Now I see our enemy is the activists from outside." He fiercely opposes the dog trade and has adopted a retriever rescued from a market, but believes that international protests are "sabotage" that drive people to ferociously defend their custom. Local patriotism and cultural pride make outsiders bad messengers for change, the shelter operator said. Foreigners often encounter hostility in Yulin, with butchers known to knock cameras out of visitors' hands. “"When foreigners come to China and say China has this or that problem, people get disgusted with you and won't listen, " he said. "Because of media hype, more and more dog meat is eaten."
“Andrea Gung, the Taiwanese-American founder of California-based Duo Duo, a group that organised a 2.5 million-signature petition against the festival, says that the fury she has encountered forced her to change approach. "Everyone hated us, " she said of last year’s festival, noting that dog-lovers receive such animosity in Yulin that they no longer identify as activists. Now her group is sponsoring animal welfare programmes in schools, hoping to turn the next generation against dog eating by making it "uncool". "We want to come up with some slogan like, 'Cute girls don’t date dog eaters, '" she said, adding that most afficionados in Yulin are men, who believe the meat increases virility.
Dog Meat Festival in China Cancelled
The Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival — an event based a 600-year-old local custom in which thousands of dogs are slaughtered and eaten — was abruptly canceled shortly before it was scheduled to be held in eastern China in October 2011 after local officials were shamed by an online campaign begun by animal rights advocates. Gruesome photographs taken at past festivals that show canine carcasses, some bloody and others cooked, circulated on Chinese microblogs, creating popular pressure against the festival. [Source: Edward Wong, September 29, 2011]
Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “Pet ownership has grown rapidly among the Chinese, as has a greater consciousness of animal rights. In the Mao era, the Communist Party condemned pets as a byproduct of bourgeois decadence. But these days, dogs and cats (and all manner of creatures, including rabbits and birds) have become accouterments of Chinese middle-class living. What was once slated for the pantry is now housed in a playpen.
“I once had a pet dog, and I’m not a huge fan of dog meat,” said a 36-year-old man in Guangdong Province who is credited by a Chinese journalist with helping start the campaign against the festival on Sina Weibo, a popular microblog platform. The blogger declined to give his name and agreed to chat only over the Internet. “The reason why I posted that message online is very simple — that is, I don’t want to see dog lovers? feelings get hurt,” he said.
The dog meat festival, held in the Wucheng district of Jinhua in Zhejiang Province, is part of an annual three-day temple fair. The dog market has been part of the fair for centuries, according to the district government’s Web site. Local folklore says the tradition of feasting on dogs originated when Hu Dahai, a rebel battling Yuan Dynasty rulers in the 14th century, ordered all the dogs in Jinhua to be slaughtered because their barking had warned rebels in the city of his army’s approach. His soldiers were treated to dog meat, the story goes, and eating dog has been a custom at local temple fairs ever since.
The Zhejiang Jinhua Daily said in an article on Sept. 20 that the market at the annual temple fair was renamed as a “dog meat festival — about a decade ago to increase business. Traditionally, local people brought cooked dog meat to sell, but that changed in recent years because of talk that some of the sellers had poisoned the dogs. Merchants started trucking in live dogs and killing, flaying and cooking them on the spot to prove that the meat was fresh. A local journalist said at least 5,000 dogs are killed.
Microblog posts criticizing this year’s Jinhua festival first appeared about a month before the festival was scheduled to begin. The blogger from Guangdong wrote on Sept. 6: “There are thousands of dog eaters gathering there. People slaughter dogs mercilessly, the blood of the dead dogs flows like a river, the horrible screams of dogs pierce the sky.” The outcry quickly gathered momentum. By mid September, a few Chinese newspapers wrote editorials. The campaign caught on with celebrities who have millions of microblog followers. The Wucheng district authorities said on Weibo on Sept. 19 that they were canceling the fair. The next morning, they explained the decision was “in full respect of the public’s opinion.”
Some food lovers are disappointed. One blogger, Gong Wangping, wrote: “I personally think dog meat is like alcohol. They are both components of our ancient Chinese culture.”
Yuling Dog Meat Festival Goes Ahead as Scheduled in 2020
Grace Qi of CBS News wrote: “China's annual dog meat festival is underway in the southwestern city of Yulin. This year, however, the fair is taking place with the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic, and in defiance of a government initiative to improve animal welfare and reduce the risks associated with live animal markets. With rules and attitudes changing, activists hope this year could be the last for the Yulin dog meat festival. The 10-day fair was first held in 2009 to celebrate the summer solstice. It has attracted thousands of visitors every year, many of whom pick live dogs from cramped cages to cook and eat. Cat meat, fresh lychee fruits and liquor are also on offer. [Source: Grace Qi, CBS News, June 25, 2020]
"This year's dog meat festival is the same as before, with very few [people] wearing masks, " said Du Yufeng, a veteran Chinese animal rights campaigner who has been in Yulin since the fair opened over the weekend. "The police on site don't stop people from gathering or eating dog meat, " she told CBS News. The only difference Du reports this year is that the words "dog meat" have disappeared from banners at the festival. Now the decorations just tout "delicious meat."
"I hope government will ban the consumption of pets like dogs and cats in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, " she said. Du, founder of the Bo Ai Animal Protection Center in China's Sichuan Province, has been fighting against the Yulin festival for eight years. As ever, she dutifully visited the Public Complaints and Proposals Administration of Guangxi Province this year, along with six other activists, and handed over a petition demanding the provincial government ban the slaughter of pets, for the sake of food safety.
The vast majority of Chinese people don't eat dog meat and want to see the Yulin festival come to an end, for the sake of both animal welfare and food safety. Topics including "refuse to eat companion animals" and "cancel Yulin dog meat festival" have been trending on China's Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo. "Please abolish this tradition and let's make a change together, " reads one post. "This is one of the major reasons why the foreign countries criticize China, and it is awful and true — we can't deny it, " wrote another user.However, some Weibo users have defended the practice, suggesting criticism is part of a conspiracy in the West to blame China for the coronavirus and other global woes.
“"Dog meat is very safe, much safer than salmon, " insisted one poster, referring to the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing, which some Chinese scientists say may have come from salmon imported from Europe. Others simply defend it as a valued tradition, with messages such as: "This is our custom, not your business."
Video from this year's Yulin festival, sent to CBS News by activists, shows vendors butchering dozens of slaughtered dogs on long tables, without wearing face masks. Locals gather nearby at outdoor seating areas, with no social distancing, to eat the meat cooked in stew. "This fair is just a breeding ground for another virus outbreak, " said Du. She said she confronted local authorities and residents and asked why they hadn't learned a lesson from the current pandemic. She said the people she spoke to just replied that they weren't breaking any laws. Du and her fellow activists spent about $4, 200 to buy 30 dogs and save them from slaughter during this year's Yulin fair.
520 Dogs Bound for Cooking Pots Saved by Animal Rights Activists
In April 2011, a man spotted a truck on a Beijing highway that was packed with more than 500 dogs being shipped to slaughterhouses that supply restaurants in northern China. The man put out a call on the Internet to stop the vehicle, and soon it was blocked by more than 200 people; the crowd rescued the dogs after paying $17,000.
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “The mutts were destined for the dinner table — all 520 of them crammed onto a truck hurtling down a Beijing highway toward awaiting restaurants in northeastern China. Then, fate intervened in the form of a passing driver, an animal lover who spotted the truck and angrily forced it off the road. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, May 28 2011]
“From there, things began spiraling out of control. News of the confrontation hit the Chinese blogosphere, sending more than 200 animal activists flocking immediately to the highway. Traffic on the road slowed to a standstill. Dozens of police officers were called in. Animal activists, however, kept arriving with reinforcements, carrying water, dog food, even trained veterinarians for a siege that lasted 15 hours” until the $17,000 deal was worked out.
“The victory by the animal lovers was quickly eclipsed when they soon realized they had no idea where to house the hundreds of loud, wild and decidedly not housebroken canines. Even after combining forces, the handful of animal rights groups in the region had trouble handling the overflow from the truck. Most of the dogs they unloaded were strays, and many were dehydrated, malnourished or suffering from deadly viruses. Several have died since the rescue. Dozens this week remained under treatment at animal hospitals around Beijing.”
“We are a small organization. We haven’t even tried to pay the animal hospital bills yet,” Wang Qi, 32, who works at the China Small Animal Protection Association, told the Washington Post . “There was so much enthusiasm when the dogs were first rescued, but our worry is, what happens now?” The trucker, Hao Xiaomao, told the Washington Post he has not fared any better in the aftermath. Reached by phone in his home province of Henan, Hao said he lost a small fortune, more than $3,000, after being forced into the deal. Worst of all, because he failed to deliver, no one has been willing to hire him since. “I still don’t understand what was immoral about my shipment. People also eat cow and sheep. What’s the difference?” he asked. Of the activists, he said, “They were just a group of rich bullies who own pets and have nothing better to do.”
Impact of the Truck with 520 Dogs Incident
The standoff of over the truck with 520 dogs incident has sparked the widest-ranging discussions to date in China over animal rights. Pictures and videos from the incident have spawned endless arguments on e-mail groups and blogs, Web polls and news stories delving into each side’s points.
William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, several others beside the truck owner “have raised the specter of class warfare — a common meme in modern China amid the widening gap between rich and poor. In online debates, many have noted the symbolic nature of the confrontation: a working trucker forced off the road by a black Mercedes-Benz whose driver was on his way to a resort hotel with his girlfriend. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, May 28 2011]
The issue comes with historical baggage as well, notes Jiang Jinsong, a philosophy professor at Tsinghua University. “During the Cultural Revolution, having a pet was seen as a capitalist activity. Only the rich and arrogant had dogs and allowed them to bite poor people,” he said. ‘so there’s this implication that if you treated pets well, you will treat those who are weaker badly.”
At least one netizen has taken this argument to the extreme. Enraged by activists fighting for animals while ignoring the plight of so many rural, impoverished Chinese, a man in Guangzhou posted threats online to kill a dog a day until animal activists donate the money they raised to peasants living in poverty instead of to dogs. “I felt I had to do something to represent the grass-roots people,” said Zhu Guangbing, 35, who recently plastered his threat on Twitterlike microblogs in China. “I grew up in a poor village. We raised one dog to watch the door and one to be killed in the Lunar New Year because we were too poor to buy pork. I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.”
Within days, Zhu found his name, cellphone number, office number, and even his parents’ number posted online. “My parents got calls condemning them for raising a son like me,” he said, having logged more than 200 threats so far. “One elementary school teacher even called me and had her students insult me over the phone one by one.”
But dog activists have defended their fervor as a necessity. China does not have any laws against cruelty to animals, and by some estimates, as many as 10 million dogs — some vagrant, others stolen pets — are sold for consumption each year and are often kept under horrible conditions. “People are saying it’s a silly thing protecting animals,” said Wang, the activist. “But it is a question of civilization. “By teaching people in this country to love little animals, maybe we can help them to love their fellow human beings better.”
But Zhu scoffed at that notion. Last week, he was forced to quit his job after his company began receiving threatening phone calls as well. “I didn’t even intend to kill dogs. I was just making a point,” he said. “The animal activists claim to have the moral high ground, but look at what they did to me. Can they really say they have love at the front of their heart?”
Cats as Food in China
Cats are only eaten in Guangdong but not elsewhere in China. They are considered a delicacy in southern China and are sold live in markets and slaughtered fresh for customers. In Guangzhou markets you can find them in stacked metal cages alongside cages with rabbits ducks and quails and buckets with live turtles and scorpions. One cat seller told the Los Angeles Times, “You just to have to boil the cat a long time. It has a very nice, fresh taste.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times , October 2009]
Cat meat is said to give one a lively spirit, ward off rheumatism and be good for a man's health and libido. It is also regarded as a food that will keep you warm in winter. When asked why she eats cat meat one woman told the Los Angeles Times, “Winter is coming I need to eat something furry.”
A local government office worker told the Los Angeles Times, “Cat meat is good for women. You can eat it in the summer or winter. It is very light. Men usually prefer dog. It is like yin and yang. Cat is yin and dog is yang.” One Guangdong resident recommended the dish “Dragon Fighting Tiger,” made with snake and cat.
Most of the cats eaten in Guangdong are shipped in from the north. So many have been caught it is now rare to see strays wandering the street anywhere in China. One single group of catchers is said to be responsible for capturing 10,000 cats a day, The cat snatchers are typically former unemployed men who use large fishing nets and earn $1.50 per cat. Not surprisingly cat owners in places where the catchers are active don’t want to let their pets outside the house.
Cats are sold to restaurants for about $7.31 a piece or around $2.80 a kilogram. The age and sex of the cats doesn’t seem to matter that much. What is most important in determining price is the weight.
Wires wrapped around the cats to keep them from running away leave behind ugly red scars. Sometimes the cages are so crammed the cats have difficulty breathing. In the restaurant the those selected for meals are clubed into semi-consciousness and thrown alive into a pot of boiling water.
David Sedaris wrote in The Guardian, “I remember reading a few years ago about a restaurant in the Guangdong province that was picketed and shut down because it served cat. The place was called The Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant, which isn't exactly hiding anything. Go to Fangji and you pretty much know what you're getting.” [Source: David Sedaris, The Guardian July 15, 2011]
The Yangcheng Evening News in early December 2002 tried to quantify Guangdong cat consumption. "A cat stall in the game-meat market can easily sell 500 kilograms of cat meat a day in winter," the editors estimated. "There are about 80 stalls selling cats in the three [game meat] markets. If each sells about 300 to 400 kilograms of cat meat per day, then the conservative estimate is that they sell about 10,000 cats a day," the paper said. The Yangcheng Evening News asserted that almost all the cats sold to restaurants were domestic animals, and that many were stolen or caught on the streets.[Source: animalpeoplenews.org, September 2003]
Cats and Animal Activists
Many Chinese outside Guangdong find eating cat to be going too far even by Chinese standards. Cat lovers have staged protests at the Guangzhou train station, holding banners that read “Cats are your friends, not food,” and stood outside the Guangdong government offices in Beijing with signs that read ‘shame on Guangdong.”
After an article about cat snatching was run in the Southern Metropolis Daily the Internet light up with outrage. One person quoted by the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Guangdong people are the most unprincipled of the human species. They would eat their mothers-in-law of they was no law.”
In July 2007, word got out over the Internet among cat lovers that a truck with about 800 live cats was about to make a delivery in Shanghai. The cat lovers surrounded the truck in a parking lot while enough money was raised to purchase the cats. A home for many of the cats was found by posting their pictures and profiles online.
in August 2009, animal activists confronted the driver of a Guangzhou-bound truck carrying about 1,900 cats while the driver stopped at a rest area. The stand-off lasted more than a day and ended when activists opened the back of the truck, allowing 1,600 cats to escape while the driver and police were arguing with other activists. Almost 300 dead cats were found in the truck.
In another incident, animal activists that saved 300 cats in 22 bamboo cages told AFP, “The cats are abused. They threw the cages on to a truck instead of loading them properly. Some of the cats were dead or had broken legs. “The cats that survived ended up in soups in in Guangdong restaurants.
A side effect of the fondness for cat is an overpopulation of mice.
Group Saves Cats from Being Eaten
The Shanghai Daily reported: “More than 300 cats destined for restaurants in Guangdong Province were either returned to their owners or adopted by animal lovers after volunteers rescued the animals from a feline dealer over the weekend in Shanghai. Volunteers said they found 22 bamboo cages full of cats in a freight yard on Yuanjiang Road and Longwu Road in Minhang District. Most of the cats were taken back by their owners or by others, although three cats were found dead and some had broken legs. The dealer sells each cat for about 50 yuan (US$7.31) to restaurants. [Source: Shanghai Daily, June 28 2009]
Five volunteers rushed to the freight yard after receiving a tip from a cat lover. "The cat dealer will ship them to Guangdong," Lai Xiaoyu, one of the volunteers, said. "The cats are abused. They throw the cages onto a truck instead of loading them properly. The cats that survive will end up in soups at restaurants." Yang Baoguo, a man who has traded cats for over a decade, said he purchased the animals from "hunters" who capture felines in residential areas at night.
The volunteers soon called police and the district's industrial and commercial authority. Dozens of cat lovers also came to the freight yard after a tip was posted on an online bulletin board. Volunteers discovered hundreds of empty cages at the yard, apart from the ones filled with cats. Some started to use hammers to break the locks on the cages, irritating Yang. A fight broke out between Yang and some animal-lovers, but police quickly stopped it.
Yang was taken to a police station for questioning that night, but was released within a few hours. Ma Yong with Minhang District's Industrial and Commercial Bureau told Shanghai Television Station that it's difficult to stop such activity. "There is no law in China saying cats cannot be eaten," Ma said. "Cats are not a protected animal."
Police are powerless to stop it as there are no animal protection laws. The dealer can not be charged with possession of stolen property as cats, unlike dogs, do not require a license in the city, thus making ownership impossible to prove. Tao Rongfang with the Shanghai Animal Protection Association asked society to cultivate better dining habits and treat animals better.
Image Sources: Weird Meat blog except skinning the snake, Perrechon, Wiki Commons and rat restaurant Asia Obscura; YouTube
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021