How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?
China, like many countries, has a long and varied history when it comes to its relationship with animals. The distinction between companion animals and animals that are for consumption is a hazy one at best; and indeed one might ask, what really is the difference between consuming pork and consuming say, dog meat?
In Yulin, a city in the southern region of Guangxi, crowds gather for the Summer Solstice Dog Meat Festival to drink lychee wine and consume vast amounts of dog meat. The event has become somewhat of a tourist attraction with over 10,000 dogs slaughtered during the event. This is merely one example of prevailing perceptions of animals.
Happily, attitudes are changing, albeit slowly and growing anti-animal abuse sentiment has begun to effect change throughout China and Hong Kong. This is partly due to the growing middle class in China where increased wealth and education have created a class of Chinese who own animals as pets rather than for farming or consumption purposes. Between 2000 and 2012 pet ownership increased by 35% culminating in a turnout of over 50,000 people at the Shanghai International Dog Expo this year. The pet care market is worth approximately $1.2 billion and there even mobile applications like SmellMe for owners to interact with one another, rate pet care services and watch videos.
Civil justice and the desire for social change have come to the fore. After years of economic growth and rapid urbanization a sense of collective self-reflection has become more noticeable amongst the middle and upper classes in China.
The other side to this is the extent to which social media has become such a big part of Chinese life. It has created a means for people to express their opinions, garner support and create powerful social movements.
In Yulin, organisers of this year’s festival experienced a hostile backlash where animal-welfare groups organized demonstrations and a social media campaign went viral. Celebrities such as Jay Chou and Zhao Wei publicly condemned the festival and the practice of eating dog meat. Debates about the ethics and morality of animal consumption were trending heavily, even more so than The World Cup. Rallying public support would never have been possible if it weren’t for China’s love affair with social media.
Making individuals accountable for their actions has become much easier. A man photographed pulling his dog behind his car in an attempt to get rid of it was the victim of an aggressive social media hunt, exposing his name, address and other personal details. In Hong Kong, another man was roundly condemned for the part he played in the inhumane killing of another dog.
The power of social media and public sentiment is such that even the Chinese Food and Drug Administration has retracted its requirement for mandatory animal testing for a wide range of pharmaceutical products.
In a country of get-rich-quick modernity, prevailing attitudes towards animal welfare will be hard to shift but with the help of volunteer organisations, bolstered by a vocal and supportive online community of netizens, a pro-animal welfare movement is emerging and with it, hope for the thousands of animals subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions.