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June 22, 2015

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Increasing anger at festival which kills dogs for the table

A FESTIVAL which puts dog meat on the menu in a small southern Chinese city has again met with anger and protests.

Today’s Lychee and Dog Meat Festival puts Yulin, a city with a population of 600,000 in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, into the media spotlight every June.

Locals believe dog meat is no different from pork and they should be free to enjoy their tradition, while critics are concerned about cruelty and the health risks of eating dogs, with suspicions that many of the animals are stolen and reach the table without any inspections or quarantine.

“Dogs are humans’ friends. Stop killing; stop buying, selling and consuming!” reads one of the many text messages that Zhong Peihua has been receiving over the past week.

The owner of a dog meat restaurant in Yulin is well aware that the annual protests launched by animal welfare groups and dog lovers have begun.

Traders like Zhong have been getting hundreds of such text messages in recent days. They are encouraged to cancel the festival while there are even threats against their businesses.

“We are used to it. Some traders just turn off their phones,” said Zhong, whose restaurant has been open for 27 years.

Bombarding traders with text messages is just one of the’ methods protesters use.

Chen Tianhai, head of an animal protection society in Guangxi, makes regular trips to Yulin.

On Saturday, he and other volunteers sat in front of a market in the city, holding banners with the slogan “Stop Killing!”

“Why can’t they just eat chicken or duck?” Chen asked.

With many countries having already banned eating companion animals like dogs and cats, he is urging the local government to outlaw the festival.

With some 10,000 dogs reportedly set to be slaughtered in Yulin, it’s not surprising that people have tried various ways to rescue them.

The event has also ignited anger on social media. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese web users, including many celebrities, have been vocal in their opposition to the festival on the Sina Weibo microblog.

According to an ongoing poll by Sina Weibo, 87.9 percent of the 4,606 people who had responded by 7pm yesterday said China should enact laws to prohibit animal abuse, while just 12.1 percent said this was not necessary.

There have also been nearly a million tweets from people using the hashtag “StopYulin2015” over the past month, The Washington Post reported.

Chen Taotao, deputy head of Yulin’s food and drug administration, insisted that the local government had never supported the festival, referring to it as “just a gathering of locals on summer solstice.”

The event started life in the summer of 1995 as vendors put up banners reading “Welcome to the dog-eating festival” in a food street to attract visitors, said Wei Wanli, an employee with the Yulin veterinary bureau.

It was promoted more strongly after 2009, when a dog dish won a prize in the city’s food festival.

The Yulin government has promised to crack down on anyone caught stealing dogs and to ensure food safety, and has banned the slaughter of dogs in public.

But the question of whether dog meat is a delicacy or an example of cruelty remains a conflict between folk custom and animal protection.

With an increasing number of China’s pet-owning middle-class adjusting their diets, more Chinese, especially the young, see dogs as friends not food, said Xie Pingxiang, deputy chief of the Guangxi Traditional Culture Studies Association.

The practice of eating dog is gradually dying out in other provinces including Jiangxi, Yunnan and Hubei. In 2011, eastern China’s Zhejiang Province banned the Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival after denunciation at home and abroad.

Changes also seem to be coming to Yulin. Five years ago, Zhong Peihua could sell 30 dogs a day, but now he’s lucky if the number is five.

Other traders said they were selling about a fifth as many dogs as they were five years ago.

“You can see people’s minds are changing,” said Zhong, whose son and daughter refuse to eat dog meat.


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