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June 22, 2016

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Business ‘bad’ at dog meat festival

THE traditional midsummer dog meat festival in a southern Chinese city has opened amid criticism, and it seems that the festive air has been somewhat diluted this year.

The festival is held in Yulin City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, every summer solstice. Called a carnival of cruelty by many, the festival has been bombarded by animal rights activists and dog lovers for years.

“Business is especially bad this year. I could sell over 30 dogs every day in previous years, but now I can only sell five at the most,” said a butcher in the city surnamed Zhong.

Zhong, who has been in the business for 20 years, blames dog lovers, saying many of his old customers dare not buy dog meat for fear of getting into trouble.

In recent years, some protesters have gone into the streets of Yulin during the festival, kneeling down or holding protest signs in front of diners.

“My son, a high school student, used to eat dog meat with us, but he decided to never eat it again last year under pressure from his friends,” he said.

Traditionally, residents would butcher tens of thousands of dogs on the streets, but the bloody spectacle is a rare sight in the city today.

Xie Pingqing, 46, said his family had given up the tradition. “The environment has changed and there is much moral pressure on dog eaters today,” he said.

As a custom dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Yulin residents ate dog meat with lychee at summer solstice, believing it would keep illness at bay.

For local resident Zhong Guanghai, the festival is associated with happy memories. “Since I was a child, my family would gather on this day, eating dog meat and lychee while drinking lychee wine.”

Others see the custom as an act of brutality. Chen Tianhai, an animal rights activist, said dogs were humans’ friends and eating them was disrespectful and uncivilized.

A dog lover surnamed Yang said the practice had given rise to an unregulated industry and endangered public health, as many dogs were stolen and poisoned. Much of the meat is unregulated.

Yulin officials said the government had never had a hand in the festival, a public event, but it had improved supervision over the dog meat industry.

Wan Li, of the city’s animal husbandry and veterinary bureau, said the government organizes campaigns against dog theft every year and is strict in regard to inspections of dog meat.

Some believe that arguments over the event simply show diverse social values. Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist and professor at Renmin University of China, said the protests reflect a conflict between folk tradition and animal protection. Citizens have a responsibility to heighten awareness of animal protection, Zhou said, but at the same time, different dietary habits should be given due respect.

Most Chinese want an end to the festival, saying it has “harmed China’s reputation,” according to a recent poll. About 64 percent of the survey group, aged 16 to 50, support a permanent end to the event.

It also showed 51.7 percent of respondents — who included Yulin residents — wanted the dog meat trade banned, while 69.5 percent claimed to have never eaten dog meat.

“The poll shows most people here don’t eat dogs,” said Qin Xiaona, director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, one of a cluster of animal welfare groups that commissioned the survey.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the festival wasn’t an official event. The Yulin government “has never supported, organized or held a so-called Yulin dog meat festival,” she said yesterday. “It is a personal dietary preference,” she added. “There does not exist a festival that goes by the name ‘dog meat’.”


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