A practice that many foreigners frown upon is the Chinese consumption of dog meat (狗, gǒu ròu). When presented with a menu, bear in mind that dog meat can also be written as 香肉 (xiāng ròu) or 地羊 (dì yáng). While for most Western countries, eating dog meat has been seen for a long time as the last resource in times of hardship and war, in China and some other Asian countries this culinary habit is still in vogue.
This week, a famous Chinese actress took to Sina Weibo to protest against the infamous Guangxi Yulin Dog-Meat Festival. Yang Mi praised dogs for their many virtues, like loyalty and friendliness, and asked people not to eat dog meat. She also called for the meat festival to come to an end.
Her entry in Sina Weibo sparked comments that supported and attacked her views, with some users asking how is a dog any different from a cow or a pig, and others defending dogs saying that their intelligence and closeness to humans makes them different.
The Dog-Meat solstice festival hasn’t gone unseen by international media. Both Western and Chinese media have picked on a fact that is very well documented: animal cruelty in China. There is plenty of footage from different local sources that shows dogs being skinned alive, killed by smashing them against walls, electrocuted or burned to death. These are not images for the faint of heart.
While Yang Min’s protest didn’t dwell on this issue, there is a growing local trend against animal cruelty in China, and activist groups constantly put videos and photos in Weibo condemning these practices. Moreover, people protest that most of these dogs aren’t raised to become food. Family-owned dogs and cats are frequently stolen – even in cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai – because they are cleaner and fatter, and they make better coats and meals. Earlier this year, 900 cats were rescued from being slaughtered when a truck in Shanghai was stopped by animal rights activists. Some of these cats, local rescuing group Paw Pals Animal Rescue (PPAR) said, were evidently stolen house cats.
The reasoning behind the Guangxi Yulin Dog-Meat Festival, besides being folkloric, is that people who drink lychee wine and eat dog meat in the summer solstice will be able to resist diseases and will be cured from blood circulation problems. While there’s no science behind this myth, the festival has carried on because local authorities have so far refused to treat the stealing of cats and dogs as proper theft, and there is no punishment in China for torturing animals.
The festival, despite Yang Mi’s heartfelt protests, will go on, and it probably will go on for many years to come, until Mainland China puts into practice its inert legislation against animal cruelty. Hong Kong already has an operational legislation against slaughtering dogs and cats, but for the Mainland, that future doesn’t look close.