Shay Xie Zheng, 31, founder of the grass-roots non-profit organisation Don't Eat Friends, campaigns for vegetarianism, animal rights and an end to the consumption of animal products. The group has held regular concerts since to 2006 for the cause and all the proceeds go to organisations or people involved in animal protection. His team is also working to save stray cats and dogs, and links companion animals and adopters. Last month he released his album A Song for Earthlings, with seven folk-rock songs dedicated to animal welfare. How did you get into campaigning for vegetarianism and animal protection? I dropped out of school at 15 in Anshan , Liaoning , and began to compose music and write lyrics for heavy rock songs in 1995. I moved to Beijing four years later and became a vegetarian in 2001 only to constrain my greed. In 2006, I had a vivid dream in which I visited a slaughterhouse where a dead pig was put in boiling water to get rid of its hair. Strangely it suddenly turned into my best friend. I couldn't help thinking how human beings are so cruel to eat our friends - animals. Human beings and animals are equal. I realised it's not enough to abandon eating meat myself - I had to do more to convince others. I organised our first animal protection concert in Beijing in July 2006. I didn't expect so many strangers would come simply out of love for animals. The second concert took place in Shanghai about a month later. I borrowed money from supportive friends to set up Don't Eat Friends in December 2007 with four people working part-time in the very beginning. Now we hold concerts about once or twice a month in Beijing to get our message out. We also organise other regular activities such as rubbish collection and helping injured raptors in suburban mountain areas. Now we have two full-time team members, including myself, and five part-timers. How do you support the team and look after dozens of cats and dogs? We receive a few thousand yuan from friends and from selling some souvenirs including cat photos and badges on the internet. The money is spent on rent for two small farmhouses for about 2,000 yuan outside the northwest Sixth Ring Road at the foot of Phoenix Ridge, and to feed 31 cats and a couple of dogs. Has your thinking about conservation changed since founding the group? I knew very little about running a team to protect animals, but I now have some ideas. I am not used to the NGO environment in China. To get an official registration, you have to be attached to a government agency. Even if we manage to register, it doesn't necessarily mean it's helpful for fund-raising. So we only raise money among friends and acquaintances. I am not religious, but many religious ideas have influenced me deep down. Do you think society has become more open-minded about animal protection? Animal protection used to mean nothing to people, and some even still reject the concept, thinking human beings should be the priority. Many friends have gradually come to understand. Last year's public proposal for an animal protection law has made people realise animal protection is worth legislation. I personally never pin much hope that it will reduce the consumption of meat. Animal torture should be outlawed, and violators should be sent to jail for years. Progress has been made through concerted promotion and publicity. No matter how uneducated people are, most still have the basic morality to know it's wrong to abandon a puppy. How do you feel about the outcome of your campaign? The goal of our concerts and activities is to change people's mindsets because both human and animals' misery is rooted in the insatiable desires of humans. Changes happen slowly, and it's difficult to see progress on a daily basis. I am working to change animal lovers into protectionists and convert protectionists into vegetarians and then vegans, and then take action to change people around them. I would like to focus mainly on the positive aspects of animal issues when we do publicity. Most times showing violent and bloody scenes won't help. If I want to do a good job, I have to control myself and cannot get too emotional or too angry. Your personal emotions won't change people, but your actions will. How do you feel about your life? I feel very content about my life. I am working for a cause that I really care about and one that can make me happy. Even if I only changed one person, I wouldn't regret what I have done. I have no plans about what I will do in three or five years, and I only know what my plan is for the next month. I am sure I won't be sidetracked from animal protection because I am feeling happy about myself. This kind of happiness is different from the thrill you feel after a shopping spree. It's deep in your heart.