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UPDATED: July 13, 2015 NO.29 JULY 16, 2015
Dog Meat Festival: Traditional Custom or Abuse?


Yulin, a city in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has garnered controversy owing to its dog meat festival held annually in June, the observance of which typically triggers an avalanche of scorn. While no one knows for sure how many dogs are killed and made into a selection of dishes and delicacies during this festival, the number is rumored to be somewhere around 10,000.

While local people continue to celebrate this festival, dog lovers and animal welfare campaigners have stoked opposition to it. They focus their complaints on the source of the dogs, as there are almost no farms dedicated to the raising of dogs for meat in China. It is thus suspected that most of the canines are either stray dogs plucked off the streets or the victims of dognapping.

As long as dog meat is allowed in restaurants, the festival's opponents reason, demand will remain at a constant and family dogs will continue to be stolen. This constitutes the major reason why this festival has encountered such opposition, particularly in the online sphere, with some well-known Chinese movie stars lending their voices to the cause.

However, connoisseurs of dog meat and traders whose very livelihoods rely on the trade argue that since dog meat is not expressly forbidden by the Chinese law, whether or not it should be consumed represents a matter of personal choice. Given the fact that consuming dog meat is a custom in Yulin, locals have claimed that although one may refuse to eat dog meat on personal grounds, it is unreasonable to try to forbid others from doing so.

A questionable practice

Shen Zhanming (Procuratorial Daily): While dogs are indeed sometimes eaten in China, the practice is not as prevalent a national custom as it is in South Korea. It is not easy to find a restaurant that serves dog meat in towns or cities in China, be they big or small. Therefore, Yulin, a relatively obscure city in southwest China, has been suspected opportunistically making use of the controversy generated by its so-called dog meat festival to put itself on the map both inside and outside the country.

In China, dogs, owing to their loyalty, smartness and sharpness, are generally used for hunting or as guards in addition to being domestic pets. From the very beginning, dogs have played a role distinct from that of pigs, cattle, lambs, poultry or any other livestock. Of course, dogs were sometimes eaten, but this was mostly in times of famine or deprivation.

Nowadays, those who eat dogs do not do so for the sake of hunger, but because they wish to expand their gastronomic horizons. Chinese laws do not ban the eating of dogs and thus people are free to indulge in the practice, although what they do is undoubtedly offensive to dog lovers.

Here we need to clarify one thing: Eating dog meat under normal circumstances is different from doing so at a dog meat festival. If someone were to slaughter a dog and enjoy the meat quietly within the confines of their own homes, then no one would bat an eyelid. This is because this would constitute an isolated case, and nobody's sensibilities would be offended. However, in the dog meat festival, the consumption of canines is raised to the level of a high-profile public spectacle, provoking the ire of dog lovers worldwide, in addition to damaging the reputation of the city and China.

Arguing in the name of local tradition is not a valid case. The festival took shape only recently in 2009, as part of a ploy on behalf of dog meat traders to promote their trade. It is said that this festival can help boost the local economy, but this is arguably shortsighted.

This year, bowing to huge domestic and international pressure, the local government is trying to distance itself from the festival and seeking regulatory remedies. The practice of killing dogs in the streets has been banned, restaurants have been prohibited from openly advertising dishes including dog meat and civil servants are not permitted to eat dog meat during the festival. Nevertheless, all of these are temporary measures that will do nothing to tackle the fundamental problem. We need a definite and effective law to protect domestic pets. Even if eating domestic animals were to remain legal, we need a clear rationale as to the legality of holding a festival of this nature.

Liu Jianguo (news.ifeng.com): In recent years, the dog meat festival in Yulin has repeatedly triggered confrontation between dog meat eaters and those who care for the animal. Dog meat consumption is a moral question, as no laws exist preventing the practice. Unfortunately, all kinds of cruel behavior surround the dog meat trade. For example, by taking advantage of dog lovers' care and sympathy for their canine fellows, dog traders force the former to buy dogs at exorbitantly high prices through deliberately mistreating the animals in front of them. Also, it has been reported that dog meat businessmen sometimes receive threatening phone calls from concerned parties.

Tensions tend to reach their peak during the festival, but this custom nonetheless continues. This is a farcical situation that will produce no winners. Consuming dog meat is a personal freedom, but whatever your choice is, you should respect that of others rather than resorting to violence.

A personal choice

Hu Jianbing (www.rednet.cn): Welfare campaigners who protest against the festival are merely exercising their freedom, and their desire to protect animals is understandable. However, if the festival is canceled owing to their protests, then things have gone too far. People eat all kinds of animals, like pigs, lambs, donkeys, chickens, ducks and even horses with impunity, so why does the consumption of dog meat incite such horror and disgust? As long as these dogs are not illegally abducted, it's all right to eat dog meat, and no one has the right to prevent others from doing so.

The dog meat festival is created by local people in Yulin partially as a way of marking the summer solstice. This festival can make Yulin better known around the country. It can also serve to promote the development of the dog meat business, among other sectors.

Dog meat has long been employed as an ingredient in several parts of China and no Chinese laws forbid it. This is merely a folk custom, and has nothing to do with morality. We should learn to respect each other's customs. Apart from Yulin, in Peixian County in east China's Jiangsu Province, the practice of eating dog meat has survived for 2,000 years. There must be something positive in a custom that has lasted so long.

The focus of disputes at present is how the dogs are procured. The source of a lot of the dog meat in the festival is likely to be associated with theft. Some protest against the festival because they have fallen afoul to dognapping. It's thus important to find a proper channel for dog meat, so as to ensure that the dogs are not strays or stolen, but have been raised for meat. People need to know they are eating meat that is sound from both safety and ethical perspectives. This is the key to the continuance of the Yulin festival.

The festival should be continued and could be further developed into a big business. Yulin's dog meat should be made into a brand and widely promoted.

He Bin (www.ifeng.com): In the past few years, the dog meat festival in Yulin has given rise to all kinds of doubts and outrage. Dog lovers from across the country have banded together to oppose the event, with some indignant individuals even coming to blows with dog peddlers.

Some want to eat dog meat, and others want it banned. As of yet, no resolution has been reached. People love dogs because they are mild-tempered and loyal and help human beings in so many ways, not just as companions but as police dogs, guide dogs and sniffer dogs. Thus, a large number of people refuse to eat dog meat and call on others to follow suit.

It is a terrible fate indeed for animals that are abandoned or lost to end up as an ingredient in some restaurants' daily special dishes. Thus, dog traders are by and large despised not only by dog lovers, but also by the general public. Every year, the dog meat festival transforms Yulin into a veritable moral battleground.

Consuming dogs is a custom supported by many people in places scattered around the globe. We have to realize that banning dog meat would be impossible in the foreseeable future. The authorities seem leery of banning festivals of this nature, owing to concerns of becoming unpopular among consumers of dog meat. All we can do is to follow our own moral standards and refrain from violently interfering with practices we vehemently oppose.

Copyedited by Eric Daly

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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