• Thu
  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 5:45am

For animal rights activist, dog meat fight extends beyond summer festival

Global attention has turned to a summer festival in Yulin but its neighbour to the north has a long tradition of eating the animal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 3:32am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 June, 2014, 9:14am

Lisa Gao, a passionate animal-lover who lives in Guilin in Guangxi province, has watched the recent worldwide effort to end the dog meat festival in Yulin, about 500km to the south, with intense interest.

Every June, about 10,000 dogs are slaughtered in Yulin as part of the celebration marking the summer solstice. This year organisers have been forced to adopt a lower profile after an intense campaign by animal rights groups and lawyers, at home and abroad, who say the tradition promotes animal cruelty. Celebrities including actresses Betty Sun Li and Vicki Zhao Wei posted Weibo messages condemning the practice.

Gao welcomes the activism but feels it suggests, at least to the outside world, dog slaughtering is confined to the festival. For years, she has worked to spread the message it extends far beyond Yulin in June. "More than 1,000 cats and dogs are eaten here in Guilin every day at peak times in the winter and hundreds in the summer," Gao said. "But the outside world has heard nothing about it."

According to statistics compiled by the Humane Society International last year, there are currently about 43 million dogs in China that will end up as food. To local residents and people in the dog meat trade, the recent focus on Yulin is puzzling. Dogs are eaten across the south and in the east, as well as elsewhere in Asia, in South Korea and Vietnam, for example. They argue the trade is no different from poultry or pork. Others might point out that cruel practices can be found throughout the meat industry. Why are dogs more deserving of protection?

Part of the reason dogs have garnered more attention is that our relationship with them has changed. They have been embraced as household pets, and are often treated as a member of the family. We see them as experiencing the same emotions as ourselves, a personification carried further in Disney movies and on television shows that portray them as scamps and heroes.

For many people, especially those in the city, a dog is the only animal they have regular contact with, and eating them is viewed as outdated and unnecessary.

The activist campaign has been gathering steam on the mainland. In September, Animals Asia Foundation tried to persuade mainlanders to stop eating cats and dogs with an advertising campaign that urged: "Be healthy. Say no to cat and dog meat."

Many tourists across Guangxi come here for our dog meat ... Many officials like our products
Jichang restaurant staff

For Gao, the dog meat stalls in wet markets across Guilin have been the source of her worst experiences in years of saving animals. They sell a variety of breeds, including ones kept as pets, although the most popular choice is mongrel. The animals are offered both alive and dead.

Gao described the stalls as "living hells", bloody and rank. She guided me through a poultry and livestock market on Thursday. One man paid for a live dog which the seller killed and skinned. Other dogs, some with visible wounds, were squeezed into small cages. "I won't forget the eyes of the [dead] dog lying on the ground," she said. "It's a heartbreaking moment for any animal-lover."

At night, restaurants throughout Guilin tout "signature dog meat". Dozens of tables line a short downtown stretch locals call "dog meat street".

It's served stewed, roasted or sliced up with hot pot. At about 90 yuan (HK$113) a kilogram, the meat is more expensive than pork or beef, but patrons, most of whom are locals, say it's tasty. It warms them on cold days and detoxifies the body in summer.

In Lingchuan county, which is administered by Guilin, dog meat is viewed by the local government and the media as part of the area's cultural heritage, extending back 2,000 years. "Lingchuan dog meat has been used by the county government to attract tourists from other cities in Guangxi," Gao said.

At one slaughtering site in the county, an acrid smell filled the air as dogs packed into cages behind chain-link fences barked and whined. The boss, Yang Baoling, described the slaughter process. He grabs a dog by the neck and hauls it from the cage, pummels its head with a stick, then pulls out a knife to skin it. He throws the body into boiling water, and finally it's chopped up and ready for sale.

"I can sell more than 500kg of dog meat each day in the winter and about 100kg a day in the summer," Yang said. "I buy from rural households and pay 20 yuan a kilogram, which I sell for 70 yuan after the slaughtering and cooking.

"I collect and buy the dogs from nearby villagers. Many local restaurants just buy dogs that have been stolen or abducted from other provinces," he said. "To be honest, there are no local dog farms in Lingchuan even though consumption of dog meat is so big here. It would be expensive to run and it's dangerous to raise dogs in crowded places because of the risk of rabies and other diseases."

Gao said that because of the demand in Guilin, restaurant suppliers must import cats and dogs from other provinces such as Jiangsu , Anhui , Jiangxi and Hunan .

The most famous dog meat restaurant in the county is Jichang. Its walls are covered with photographs showing local officials treating guests.

"Many tourists across Guangxi come here for our dog meat," one employee said. "We also offer vacuum packaging for them. It's the best gift from Lingchuan. Many officials like our products."

The staff member said that if the controversy surrounding the Yulin festival were to spread to Guilin or Lingchuan, the local economy would "undoubtedly" suffer.

One Guilin resident wondered why animal rights activists had focused their campaign on Guangxi. "The tradition is not unique to us. Many other provinces across the country such as Zhejiang , Yunnan , Guizhou , Guangdong, Jiangxi and Jiangsu are known for eating dog meat," the resident said. "Are you ashamed of eating pork or chicken? Why should we be ashamed and stopped from eating dog?"

Gao, for her part, continues to push for an end to the practice. She said most stalls and restaurants selling dog meat lacked the proper food safety permits, and has informed local authorities. "But I have not had a response," she said.


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This article is now closed to comments

Torturing animals because of a belief the 'meat' will taste better? Hygeine in the markets? Beef/pork/poultry -the atrocities these animals have in a FACTORY FARM. Horrible. I agree. Killing meat in such insanitary conditions. Perhaps a pet. No, I do not agree. Just continue to put your head in the sand until some virus from an unsanitary cage makes you ill. How could any human being see a terrified dog in a cage, destined to be boiled alive, consider that for food in their belly. If so, you have serious issues with man-kind.
I don't understand how they cannot know that dogs have emotions very similar to humans. They feel fear, grief, joy, love, jealousy...they grieve when someone dies. They remember someone that helped them years earlier. Their memories are incredible. They are so smart. This is why dogs are used for jobs in the Western countries, such as therapy dogs to help people with disabilities and emotional problems. How can something like that be considered food?? Just because something has been done for thousands of years, doesn't make it right. Just because it's a tradition, doesn't mean it shouldn't be changed. If that were true, we would still be beheading people at the guillotine. Or some other god awful "cultural" traditions. It's the 21st century people...move on and realize that it's just not right to eat dogs and cats. Period. Eat something you can raise for food...don't STEAL IT. THAT in itself makes it WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Cultural tradition or NOT. STOP IT!!!
Here in Europe we don't eat dog meat, but many respect the chinese tradition, no problem; we eat cows and pigs, chinese eat dogs too.
The only difference is the extreme cruelty and torturing of dogs in China. The 'hurting feelings' as mentioned before are a bad joke in this context. Thousands years of tradition do not mean that you still have to use the same barbaric methods for keeping, transportation and killing animals!
Did you ever hear about RESPECT for living creatures? Especially if a living creature is intented to be your food?
as a vegan, i don't understand why eating cow meat, pig meat, chicken meat is all "humane" but dog meat is "inhumane". eating of any ANY animal is inhumane. STOP IT!!
Please don't hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.
This is a tradition that dates thousands of years and is an inherent part of the Chinese being. Currently they're studying ways to get UNESCO heritage recognition in Guangxi for this cultural tradition in addition to being entered in the Guiness Book of World Records for "most dogs eaten in a day".
Oh, and eating meat is natural...being a vegetarian is a choice.
"Please don't hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" - this is typically mainland-ish "mouthpiece" type of comments, as if we were scared because "feelings" were hurt. You even mention UNESCO heritage recognition. Do you think these people are loonies like you are? I bet you for a million dollars if a single one of the panel would vote yes for this "glorious food festival". For goodness' sake, have some common sense and compassion (I know it's lacking in that society). Manchus never eat dog meat but that's beside the point.
uneducated scum.
Please do not use your own standard to judge others. Your right as a vegetarian is fully respected but so should the rights of people who choose to eat meat. China is not the only country where people eat dog meat. As I know, people in Korea do as well.


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