Dogs can be both man’s best friend – and his food, the Communist Party's main newspaper has said in an attempt to defuse tensions over a controversial dog-meat festival in Guangxi province. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival, observed for decades during the summer solstice, had come under fire online from animal welfare groups and celebrities like Betty Sun Li and Vicki Zhao Wei, and sparked off a worldwide campaign to halt the “cruel” practice. Several activists descended on Yulin during the festival at the weekend and got into scuffles with locals. Even so, the festival went ahead as planned on Saturday, with the slaughter of thousands of dogs as diners flocked to dog-meat restaurants and markets. Activists pointed out the practice of eating dog meat was rampant beyond Yulin. But the People’s Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, refused to take sides. Instead, it advocated tolerance and understanding between animal rights supporters and “dog meat lovers”. Retreating from its usually strong rhetoric on political issues, the paper sought the middle ground by saying that even if the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is held each year, there must be some dog-protection festivals held elsewhere. “In reality, dogs can be companion animals as well as food. Different people view it differently, which causes conflicts,” the anonymously written editorial said. The People’s Daily said the issue was simply about food in a small town, but it escalated into a full-blown public debate about “civilisation, human rights and dog rights’. It cited how, during the late Qing dynasty, Buddhist master Hong Yi worked with his student, cartoonist Feng Zikai, on producing a series of educational cartoons and short stories opposing the slaughter of animals for meat. These were carved onto rocks in Putuo Mountain, a sacred site for Buddhists, so people could read and rethink their choices. The editorial suggested that dog-meat consumption became contrary to mainstream thinking. “Either Chinese laws or moral standards have reached [a] consensus and gave dogs the title of companion animals,” the newspaper said. Eating dog meat is legal in the country. Still, it said having dog-protection groups and opening animal shelters protect their status as companion animals, the newspaper said. Attempting to add some nuance, the writer also cited a personal story about an uncle whose dog died after being with the family for 12 years. After caring for it for so long, the uncle came to think of his furry friend as “half-human”. Instead of feeding its much-needed meat to his hungry children, the uncle decided to bury the pet. However, the uncle didn’t stop others from consuming dog meat. The party newspaper said that while traditions like the dog-eating festival should be tolerated, these should be subject to certain rules: no abuse, no stealing and no slaughtering dogs in public. It also called for animal quarantine procedures to standardise the production of dog meat.