On June 10th, animal activists delivered a petition to the Yulin government office in Beijing calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to end the infamous Yulin dog meat festival for good. This year, the petition was signed by an unprecedented 11 million supporters.
This annual dog meat festival starts next Tuesday in Yulin, Guangxi, and involves the slaughter of thousands of dogs, many of which are beaten to death. Most of them are stolen pets or seized strays, according to the Humane Society International, which also estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 dogs are slaughtered to be eaten each year in China, a significant and high-profile portion at Yulin in late June.
International and local animal activist groups got an early start this year organizing petitions against the festival that is reliably met with widespread backlash each summer. The grounds for the petition range from moral to practical: many protest the cruelty of the mass slaughtering of dogs, but others also point out the damages done to China’s global image by the festival. Yufeng Xu, founder of Beijing Mothers Against Animal Cruelty, declared that “Yulin is a total embarrassment to China.”
In some places in China, dogs are traditionally considered to be equal in status with livestock. Supporters of the practice of eating dog meat say that it is no different from eating any other animal. However, in recent years, more and more people see dogs as companions rather than food. One response to the comparison between dogs and livestock has been widely shared on Weibo: “Have you seen a pig protect its owner? Have you seen a duck that guides the blind or a chicken that sniffs out drugs? Does your fish welcome you when you come home? […] When you’re in danger, would a cow remain with you and rescue you with all its might?”
Critics are also opposed to the festival because it promotes the theft of pets and is dangerous to human health. In the past, experts have found that the unregulated mass slaughter of canines can increase the risk of spreading and contracting diseases like rabies.
The dogs are trucked into Yulin from hundreds of miles away, stuffed in crates without food or water. Slaughter often takes place in public, right in front dogs awaiting the same fate. Vendors usually use a club to do the deed, believing that the meat is tastier when full of adrenaline.
Supporters of the festival argue that is an undeniable part of local culture in rural Guangxi. But critics shoot back that the festival itself was in fact started in 2010, in a straightforward effort to increase tourism and sales.
In the past, animal activists have made various attempts to rescue man’s best friend from the annual festival, including halting trucks transporting dogs to Yulin, spending 500,000 RMB to buy the condemned dogs and posing as stray dogs themselves.
The annual protest campaigns have helped to stave off the slaughter with just 2,000 dogs killed during the three-day festival last year; compared to more than 10,000 in 2012 and 2013. Local officials have also felt the pressure and responded by shutting down some markets and slaughterhouses and declining to attend the festivities themselves.
But thus far Beijing has remained silent on the issue, will 11 million signatures be enough to get the central government to take a side?
By Amy Yang