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Yulin 2015 Dog Festival Recap

by Joseph Nicolai   - Jun 24, 2015

 

The yearly Yulin dog & cat meat festival, held in China’s Guangxi province, has occurred once again. But like every year, because of huge social pressure, things are improving.

 

In this short feature, we expand on our previous post on this matter, written with the help of the #StopYulin2015 team, and we give the lowdown of what the festival and the increasing efforts to stop it. Efforts that have been making real change.    

 

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What is the Yulin dog & cat meat festival? 

 

The festival begins on 21st June (summer solstice) and will last a few days. While there is no official statistics, it has been said that over the few days of the festival some 10,000 dogs and 4,000 cats will be eaten. While dog meat is consumed in some regions in China this yearly festival takes things to a whole new level. In most parts of China, they celebrate this solstice as Dragon Boat Festival and they will eat Zhongzhi, little rice balls wrapped in leaves. In Yulin, by contrast, the celebration involves a few days of drinking and eating lychees, dog meat, cat meat and lychee wine.  

 

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When does the festival take place?

 

Preparations start in June and build up towards the summer solstice. A lot of this preparation involves bringing the actual dogs to Yulin, as well as organizing stalls, slaughterhouses and paperwork. However there are a lot of grey areas. 

 

For example, where the dogs come from? Many of the dogs can still be seen with collars giving the dog’s name – a fact that proves that they must have been stolen from an owner.   

 

Another grey area is the slaughterhouses themselves. This year there were several slaughterhouses that were closed as they were operating illegally. With no local “dog farms” to source the meat in china, the sourcing of the animals is another place of contention.    

 

Another grey area is the length of the festival. With heavy censorship and hostile treatment from some local groups against reporters and activists getting the facts straight about the exact length of the festival is difficult to come by. That said it is fairly safe to say that it lasts about a week. In previous years, it was recorded to have been about a week long. In particular, there were reports floating in 2014 claiming that some celebrated the festival a few weeks before the “official date” in order to avoid the media attention. 

 

Who attends the festival? 

 

People travel from other areas of China to Yulin to experience the festival atmosphere. 

 

There are also, troubling as it may be, more and more Western tourists looking to join in as the event is interpreted as being an “extreme” festival. 

 

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How are the animals treated? (Graphic description)

 

Whatever you may personally think about dog or cat consumption, the treatment of the animals is abhorrent. 

 

Many of the animals trucked in on Lorries with quarantine certificates - under scrutiny many are discovered to be falsified.) Because there are few legitimate dog or cat farms, the smugglers avoid main roads and at times use motorcycle networks to get the animals into Yulin without the required paperwork. 

 

In this sad state of affairs, some pet owners bring their pets into Yulin or sell their pets to dog merchants. Sadly, there is also another trend where “dog hunters” roam districts and kill pets to sell them in Yulin. There are various reports, including CCTV footage, of dogs being stolen from properties and there are reports of dogs being poisoned with darts and crossbows. This is not only sad for the owners, the dogs, but also very dangerous to consume as the poison has been known to stay in the body and be present in the meat when eaten. There have also been reports of one “pet hunter” in particular that was training a new batch of workers and accidently killed himself with a cyanide dart during a demonstration. We are also reliably informed that some dogs could quite possibly be breeder's unsold stock & unsold pets from pet shops. 

 

Much like how there are no dog farms, there are no cat farms so the vast majority of the cats we see on the stalls at Yulin have usually been trapped, abused and stored in crates or sacks in warehouses by middlemen before being finally trucked into town. The cats are used as a garnish to the dog meat dishes. 

 

There is a belief in China that freshness is key to quality. In order to further this “freshness” without the need of refrigeration is to keep them alive and suffering so they die just prior to being consumed. Whatever you may think about the actual consumption of dog meat, this incredibly inhuman treatment of the dogs is without parallel. This is one of the reasons why some slaughterhouses will crush the head of an animal with a hammer without killing it until just before dinner.   

 

The animals go through untold horrors. The dogs and cats, in an act of desperation, will often attack each other when they are being transported in such cramped & crushing conditions. No care is taken unloading cages so limbs are shattered. This carelessness is for speed and maximum profit. 

 

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Is eating diseased dog meat harmful? Rabies? Diseases? 

 

Bringing in dogs from all over China to Yulin has concentrated the amount of dog borne diseases in the area. For example, Yulin has been highlighted as having a higher than average proportion of rabies than any other regions. Dogs being transported into Yulin without quarantine certificates – a large proportion of them - are also a worry as they can spread disease to local dogs.

 

In this complicated affair, dog meat traders are at the greatest risk of contracting rabies; being bitten while handling the dogs. Rabies is cooked out of meat but the poor hygiene practices in Yulin means that live dogs are in close proximity to cooked meat. Parasites, toxins and viruses in the food chain are more alarming in the 'meat' of dogs and cats.

 

Doctors in Vietnam are coming forward with recent studies about parasitic worms common in dog and cat meat causing long term gastrointestinal problems. Concerns have been raised about the Sars virus originating from birds, this could get carried to humans who eat cat meat and now we learn that bats (eaten by cats) are carriers of Ebola. It is widely recognized that carnivores are dangerous in the human food chain due to biomagnifications and the buildup of toxic metals that cannot be cooked out during the preparation process. 

 

Understandably the dogs are under immense stress throughout their ordeal and their bodies will produce abnormal levels of the stress hormone called Cortisol. This hormone also cannot be cooked out so consumption of the dogs meat will lead to unsafe levels of cortisol entering the human body. The side effects of this hormone are; cardiac problems, impotency and general fatigue. The very same symptoms the dog meat is promoted – without any scientific references - to help.

 

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Does the Chinese government condone this? 

 

This is a tricky question. The Yulin Government denies the existence of 'the Yulin Festival' as it has been referred to. 

 

As early as 2014, the local government took the following steps to appease the growing number of international, national and local tensions: 

 

1) Dog meat advertising where taken down of covered.

2) Restaurants displayed public service posters to educate consumers of the origins of their meals.  

3) Doctors and food safety staff were asked not to consume meat during June. 

 

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Apparently concerned about the adverse publicity the local Yulin government has attempted to distance itself from the festival that has been running since 1995. 

 

This year the city came out and claimed that there is no government sponsored official dog meat festival and that it was something organized by the public at large. 

 

The official announcement stated that the “Yulin government itself or any social organizations have never held a summer solstice lychee and dog meat festival in any form” read the government memo.

Some Yulin residents have defended the practice. It is understandable given that the festival has brought quite a bit of money and acclaim to the city and many people depend on the festival for their livelihood. 

There are also many in greater China that claim the festival is a Chinese tradition and must be respected. However, these defenders of the practice rarely mention how the dog meat trade is in practice completely unregulated. Many of the dogs are stolen pets, some of them are poisoned and this has dire consequences for consumers, and the animals are in general treated incredibly poorly. It is very hard to condone the treatment of these animals if you have been there and seen the horror – many of them illegal - slaughterhouses.    

 

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When did the festival originate? 

 

The huge festival as we know it was heavily promoted in 2010 by media as being good for health. The region is famous for growing lychee. Businessmen promoted dog meat and lychee as warming foods that complement each other and health properties were promoted. Of course the scientific findings behind these claims are less than lacking. 

 

Yulin is known for its lychees and, as a way to improve its sales of lychees, the city can only quite recently to promote the combination of dog and cat meat, lychees along with lychee wine (both considered warming foods) as a traditional Chinese way in which to promote good health. Within a few months this invented tradition was touted as an ancient tradition.  

 

The drink is a local specially produced lychee wine and the food is recommended as health-giving. The businesses have hyped up this event to bring people into Yulin under the guise of this magical festival improving their blood flow (fertility and keeping warm in winter) if consumed at Summer Solstice. Yulin businesses make a lot of money from this festival, so they are of course reluctant to bring it to an end. The increase of participants in the area, as well as increase of journalists and activists, has created a whole industry over the festival. 

 

Are there Chinese activists helping? 

 

There are thousands of animal loving activists all over China posting pictures and making statements on social media condemning the Yulin Festival. 

 

A few activists who are media savvy, travel to Yulin to try to protest there and get footage to bring further public outrage to the festival. However activism is made hard by businesses feeling threatened and the town filling up with so many people wanting to participate in the festival.

 

There are also, of course, many stories of locals who feel that such a treatment of animals is wrong. Some even come to the Yulin festival and attempt to buy dogs off the trucks to save them. While this is very helpful it also perpetuates the trade. 

 

Things however are changing. In a different city, Guangzhou located in Guangdong province, a famous restaurant called Sunshine Restaurant that had been serving dog meat 1963 closed due to the lack of demand. 

 

Some Chinese animal activists have also made their way to Yulin in order to intervene. For example, one particular activist named Yang Xiaoyun travelled all the way from Tianjin - in northern China - to the festival in Yulin and bought a truckload of dogs for a whopping 7,000 Yuan (£711), according to local media reports.While in an interview she claimed that she knew her work was but a drop of water in the ocean, she hoped to increase attention to what is happening. 

 

This Year’s Festival in the Media

 

The media still faces some difficulty in reporting these events – much like many other controversial events in China. 

 

Of course, there are our partners at Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival 2015 - 停止榆林狗與貓肉節2015.They have initiated an unprecedented global social media campaign and have generated, through very hard work, have trended in various countries across the world. They have most recently taken the #StopYulin2015 hashtag and brought awareness of the event. Them and their members also periodically released tweet sheets in order to facilitate in spreading the word. 

 

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For example, last year AFP photographer at the scene reported that a small group of animal rights activist’s unfurled banners in front of the local seat of the Yulin government and quite quickly a group of unidentified plainclothes people chased them off the premises. 

 

The U.K.’s Guardian recently came out with an article citing a Chinese netizens claiming that 'when the buying stops, the killing can too'. As simple as this may seem, there is growing awareness of this event and it now receiving pressure from the growing Chinese middle class. In short, the festival is receiving more and more pressure from within China after years of international criticism.

 

The Independent UK also ran a series of stories on Yulin. One of the stories focused on a local animal activist, a Mr. Li, that belonged to the group Humane Society International and his experiences at some of Yulin’s slaughterhouses.

 

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There are many groups that are doing their best to end the festival. One of them is the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project - 多多. The Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project has also been paying for some of the basic medical bills and food that some activists have been buying before they reach the so-called “festival”. 

 

Their main focus has been on how to attack the root of the dog meat trade. In particular, they have been focusing on the illegal theft and transportation of dogs. They have been pursuing this end by reaching out at local communities and schools in order to raise awareness. They have also been advocating for better animal protection laws and stricter enforcement of existing laws which would not only end the trade of animals that may be harmful to consume but also curtail the illegal suffering of the animals. They have also lead protests in front of Yulin City Hall and have joined forces with local activists to fight for the cause. 

While the festival has been a focus of international outcry in previous years, opposition is growing Ricky Gervais for example, has been quite vocal about 

 

How do Chinese people feel about it?

 

In some parts of China dog meat is considered like a meat as any other. With an increase in pet owners, in particular among China’s middle class, there has been growing resistance to pet consumption. It is not impossible to find dog meat being sold in Beijing, among many other cities. 

 

In China there are more and more celebrities coming out to raise public awareness of some of the issues outlined on this page. The local celebrity Fan Bingbing, among others, have been adding their support through an online campaign. Bingbing in particular features in a video with a number of other celebrities holding signs supporting the respect for animals. 

 

Millions of Chinese social media users, or “netizens”, have been quite vocal about opposing the yearly festival. Others have argued that there is nothing wrong with eating dog meat or cat meat, and that westerners should mind their own business.  

 

Unregulated Market & Dog Consumption

The industry is unregulated. While there are some laws in place they are not systematically enforced, making them pretty much useless. 

 

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As it is in such a state of deregulation there are only estimates with regards to dog meat consumption in China. That said a Hong Kong-based NGO Animals Asia, after a painstaking four-year investigation, calculated that up to 10 million dogs are slaughtered every year in China for consumption purposes. Sadly, the group found that few of the dogs were raised in “farms” but were rather bought or stolen from pet owners. 

 

About Writer 

joe.jpgAs well as working at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (Canada’s top think tank on Asia), Joe has been a regular at the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations conferences and has received an award for his analysis work on China from the illustrious Fraser Institute. He’s currently wrapping up his two-year policy analysis project which looks at over 40 years of the UNESCO World Heritage Center and China tourism-related official documents.

 
 

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