6 Things You Need to Know About China’s Dog-Eating Yulin Festival
Updated: May 19, 2016 11:59 AM ET | Originally published: Jun 18, 2014
1. It’s real.
In Yulin, summer solstice marks the coming of the hottest days for the Chinese city. The remote, woody city (literally “jade forest”) celebrates the astronomical event with its annual dog-eating festival. The local tradition reportedly began in the 1990s, but the local practice of eating dog meat outdates written history.
According to Chinese lore, eating dog meat stimulates internal heat, making it a food that wards off winters’ cold. But on this inaugural day of summer, it’s a superstition that’s driving dog consumption: the meat is believed to bring good luck and health. At the festival, hotpots are fired up, lychees peeled and liquors poured. Animal activists estimate over 10,000 dogs are killed for the festival, according to China Daily, the government’s English-language mouthpiece.
2. China doesn’t have an animal protection law, but experts still claim the festival is illegal.
A draft law was proposed in 2009 to punish animal abusers with a 6000 yuan (over $900) fine and two weeks of detention. It also proposed that organizations found guilty of selling dog or cat meat be charged with a fine between 10,000 yuan ($1600) and 500,000 yuan ($80,000). To date, the National People’s Congress has not signed the law; it has yet to issue a statement on it.
Still, some legal experts argue the festival is illegal under regulations passed by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2013 which require laboratory quarantine for animals before transportation, a practice that’s “rare to see,” animal rights lawyer An Xiang told China Daily.Even more, many dogs are stolen, abducted, raised in households, making dog trade difficult to document (there are also dog farms, too). In 2011, though, Chinese activists stopped a truck transporting dogs to a restaurant and paid 115,000 yuan (then, around $17,000) to free the animals.
3. The festival is also a public health concern.
The festival is more than an animal rights issue. It is a public health concern. Dogs are often transported in a crowded, brutal and unsanitary atmosphere, sometimes from unknown sources, only to arrive at the festival sick, dying or dead, according to CNN. China’s food safety administration bans selling meat from animals in these conditions. Then there is rabies. Prolonged exposure to unvaccinated dogs increases the chance of contracting the deadly disease. And studies have found, according to CNN, that Yulin’s incidence of human rabies cases is among the top ten of Chinese cities.
4. Outrage on social media over the 2014 festival was unprecedented.
For years, hundreds of thousands of Chinese netizens have been vocal in opposing dog-eating festivals. Though keeping dogs as pets was banned during the Cultural Revolution, dog ownership has become popular among China’s growing middle-class.
In addition to a petition, puppy rescues and editorials, many celebrities joined in protesting Yulin’s festival on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Actress Sun Li uploaded photos of her son with their adopted stray dog, and singer-actress Yang Mi posted a plea to end dog eating with an anti-Yulin festival poster that’s flooding Chinese social media. In the poster, a dog sheds a red tear, saying, “Please don’t eat us. We’re your friends.”
5. The 2014 festival may have begun early to avoid protestors.
Yulin locals have reportedly kicked-off the celebrations a week early to avoid activists and journalists, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Street vendors and restaurants selling dog meat have covered up the Chinese character for dog, too, in an effort to mitigate controversy.
6. Dog-eating festivals have been banned in the past, but Yulin officials claim the festival does not exist.
In 2011, Chinese authorities banned the Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival after a widespread social media campaign launched by animal rights activists. The 600-year tradition, held annually in September, commemorated a fourteenth-century battle victory when a rebel leader ordered dogs in Jinhua to be slaughtered because their barking warned the city of his army’s approach.
In contrast, the Yulin Municipal People’s Government issued a statement on June 7 in response to the social media outrage, stating that while locals in recent years have hosted small gatherings to consume dog meat and lychees, a widespread festival for these activities has never existed.
“The so-called summer solstice lychee dog meat festival does not exist,” it reads. “Neither Yulin government nor social organizations have ever held such activities.”
JUN 15, 2017 Forbes
Why China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival Won’t Be Cancelled This Year After All by Carla Thomas, Forbes staff
ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images.
China’s most controversial celebration of food, the Lychee and Dog Meat festival in the city of Yulin, was widely reported last month to have been cancelled this year after multiple animal rights organizations claimed the local governmentwas planning a ban on dog meat sales in the week leading up to the June event.
But reports of the festival’s demise, or even a sanction on dog meat sales that could negatively impact the festival, appear to be largely unfounded.
“We have spoken with several people working within the mayor’s office, the food and drug administration and the municipal building and no one seems aware of a Yulin festival ban,” said Jason Baker, Vice President of International Campaigns at PETA.
The festival faces negative press every year, with widespread condemnation from dog lovers worldwide. But in May, animal rights organizations Duo Duo and Humane Society International sensed a breakthrough when they released press releases claiming government officials had said they intended to implement a ban on dog meat in markets, streets and restaurants.
This followed a particularly strong backlash in 2016; a petition bearing 11 million signatures that called for the end of the festival was delivered to the Yulin government, while a celebrity PSA video starring Matt Damon and Rooney Marathat decried the event went viral.
However, in the lead up to the festival — due to take place on June 23 — activists who had made a recent trip to Yulin said there was no indication that a government intervention would occur.
“On May 29, I had a sit down meeting with officials in the Yulin government,” said Marc Ching, founder of animal rights organization Animal Hope and Wellness. He said he was told “there is no ban on dog meat sales during the festival as some animal rights groups have claimed.”
According to Ching, the import of dogs has already started to the small city in the southern province of Guangxi — with stolen pets likely to be among them.
“Our ground team has already spotted trucks carrying stolen dogs entering the city,” said Ching, who will also be working during the festival to identify illegally sourced dogs protected under Chinese law.
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images.
“We will stop trucks, scanning the dogs for microchips — our foundation has microchipped thousands of dogs in the last few weeks in dog meat stealing areas — hoping to find stolen dogs on board the trucks as we intercept them. [We’ll be] asking police to enforce the law, theft of stolen property.”
The widespread misperception that the event would be cancelled is not uncommon, according to PETA’s Baker.
“Perhaps someone knows something that we don’t, but [we] suspect this is simply another rumor similar to last year, in which several media reports announced the festival was cancelled,” he said.
Ching, meanwhile, claimed Yulin government officials chalked this year’s rumors up to dishonest charity groups seeking public donations, and described the dog meat ban as a “ploy to discredit the Chinese government.”
One official, who declined to give his name, told FORBES the dog meat festival was a small event privately organized by individuals and that media reports otherwise were simply “hype.”
Millions eaten globally
Around 10,000 dogs are slaughtered at the festival every year. An estimated 30 million dogs are eaten annually worldwide, according to Humane Society International.
Supporters of the festival, which started informally among Yulin restaurant owners in the late 90s, argue that eating dog is a cultural tradition in Asia, where dog meat has traditionally been used for centuries. They also believe the consumption of dog meat is no different to other types of more common animal meat, such as pork and beef, and is a matter of cultural relativism.
But critics say the festival is unnecessarily inhumane for dogs. Some believe tortured dogs will provide better meat, so conditions with which dogs are transported and slaughtered are often poor with little oversight. Many of the dogs are unvaccinated and rabies is a major concern. There have also been accusations that some vendors even steal unattended family pets in a bid to meet the demand — and the increasingly high prices — for dog meat at the
Despite worldwide opposition to the practice, confusing media reports about the fate of the festival may have worked in its favor this year.
“Because of the fabrication and false news spread by media and certain animal rights groups, this is the first year that the people have become silent. It is the pressure by the people that brings about change,” said Ching.
“The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is still happening, whether or not you choose to believe it.”