Dog slaughter in the name of 'tradition' shames China

Peter Li says the dog meat festival in a Guangxi city has no place in Chinese tradition and insults the legions of animal lovers in the country

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 4:37pm

As June 21 draws near, Yulin in Guangxi will once again become a centre of attention for its "Summer Solstice Dog Meat Festival" launched by the dog meat traders in 2000. Promoted as a "cherished tradition", the "festival" has turned the city into a slaughterhouse. It has also made dog eating the city's unpalatable signature brand.

What has shocked the Chinese public more was the official endorsement of the "festival" as a way to attract tourists and investment.

I was in Yulin late last month, my third trip there since last June. What I saw was a city in preparation for the annual massacre. A slaughterhouse at the city's Dong Kou market had just received a new supply of dogs shipped from Sichuan . The unloaded dogs looked emaciated, dehydrated and terrified. Inside two other slaughterhouses hidden in residential areas not far from the market, dogs and cats, many wearing collars, displayed behaviour associated with household pets.

The slaughter is more than an insult to the nation's expanding animal-loving community. The dog meat trade has been sustained by a nationwide dog theft ring. And thefts have led to violent confrontations. In April 2014, two dog thieves were badly beaten up by angry owners in Guangxi.

And, while dog eating may not cause rabies, the handling, slaughtering and processing of a large number of dogs from unknown sources expose traders to a high risk of infection. China ranks second in the total number of rabies cases among humans, and Yulin is a top 10 city for the number of cases in the country.

The transport of the dogs across provinces is intrinsically cruel. As many as 1,000 of them are crammed into suffocatingly small cages, one over another. Denied food and water for days, the dogs suffer from all kinds of illnesses and injuries.

Before leaving Yulin, I sat down to have tea with five dog meat traders. I asked if they would consider passing on their profession to their children. Their answer was a resounding "no". That did not surprise me: China's younger generation is the least tolerant of animal abuse. Rapid urbanisation has disrupted the traditional family structure. Urbanites are more likely to seek comfort from companion animals and are less likely to see animal slaughter as a source of income. "Why don't you do something else?" was the question one 19-year-old son asked his dog meat trader parents.

This is also the question raised by the nation's swelling numbers of animal lovers. It is time the Yulin authorities made a historic decision.

Peter J. Li is an associate professor of East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown and China policy specialist at Humane Society International