China holds annual dog meat festival
For many residents in the Southern Chinese town of Yulin, the height of summer marks the perfect time to get together with family and friends, eat lychees and feast on copious amounts of dog meat.
Thousands of dogs are expected to end up on the chopping block during the city’s annual dog meat festival, which marks the peak of summer. This year it falls on Monday, though the build-up begins days earlier, with locals getting together to eat dog meat and lychees, two foods considered to have “hot” energy.
“It’s healthy, just like raising pigs or chickens, its fine. But you definitely must not eat dogs if you don’t know the source, or dogs which have illnesses”, said local Teng Jianyi, 35-years-old, as he tucked into a dog dish with some friends.
But in recent years the event has found itself in the firing line of China’s nascent animal rights movement, turning Yulin into a battle ground between those who want to protect man’s best friend and those who would rather just eat its meat.
The city’s dog market has become a place where those pro and anti the dog meat trade clash. In the sweltering heat, tempers can often flare.
“There are all sorts of cultural norms about what you can eat, you eat turkey, so why are you trying to force us not to eat dog meat?” shouted one dog meat supporter.
Some campaigners like Yang Xiaoyun take a direct approach to saving Yulin’s dogs, choosing to buy them up to take them off the market.
Last year Yang made newspaper headlines after spending 150,000 yuan (more than USD24 thousand dollars) on rescuing around 350 dogs.
Striding into the market on Sunday, Yang said she was back to buy more dogs, this time with extra funds from animal rights supporters across the country, though she would not reveal how much she was planning to spend.
Finding herself surrounded by pro-dog meat protesters, Yang ended up leaving empty handed, but she was confident she would be able to purchase some before the end of the festival.
No laws restricting sale or slaughter of goats
“Lots of people are willing to sell dogs to me because I give a good price, for them this is a rare opportunity. Last year when we were about to leave, lots of people came and brought their dogs to the place where I was staying,” she said.
This year Yang, who comes from northern China, hopes to set up a home for the rescued dogs near Yulin. Her current base lies hidden away at the top of a hill in the surrounding countryside, though locals have already made it clear she is not welcome, threatening her to leave.
Yang said she recognised her actions were a drop in the ocean compared with the number of dogs that would be slaughtered.
“At the moment we don’t have the ability to change people’s habits, this is the government’s responsibility, isn’t it?” she said.
“If the government had animal protection laws, the people would naturally change. If the government doesn’t have a law, there’s no way the few of us who come here every year to buy dogs can change people’s habits. At the moment my philosophy is, you eat yours and I’ll buy mine. This kind of bad habit will change sooner or later. Calls from around the world will prompt an animal protection law sooner or later,” Yang added.
Paradoxically, people like Yang may be encouraging more traders to bring dogs to Yulin in the hopes they will be snapped up by well-meaning activists. Yang said she has received phone calls from people promising they would bring even more dogs for her this year.
Despite the fuss, many Yulin locals like the Liang family said they will continue to eat dog meat.
“This is one of our traditions, they criticise us saying we don’t have compassion or humanity, but I think every person has different circumstances. You can’t just lump all people together, for example, if I think eating pork is really brutal, then no one can eat pork,” said Liang Xiaoli, who returned home from Suzhou especially for the festival.
The Liangs and their friends said they planned on eating more dog on Monday.