It’s a dog’s life, but in China it all rather depends on what kind of dog you are. If you are a pampered pooch wearing the latest fashionable doggy outfits traipsing around the neighborhood, hoping to score some tail, then things might be very good indeed. If, however, you are all-set for the dinner table, you might well be in for a very different life: one filled with cruelty and suffering.
There is a growing movement in China that is against both the eating of dog and the industry surrounding it, as is evident by the petition given to US congress, asking for them to urge the Chinese government to stop the controversial Yulin dog-meat Festival. Yet, with dog-meat being a dish for the winter season, can the movement continue to grow or will the weather have the Chinese turning to dog-meat, an old tradition to battle the winter cold?
It is certainly baffling that a nation so known for its incredibly varied dining experience, suddenly seems so divided over dog-meat. The crusade against dog-meat can, partly, be attributed to the rise of dog ownership in China; ownership of dogs was stated as 900,000 in 2010, and is believed to be growing ten per cent each year. The increase is attributed to the rising prosperity of China, especially in the cities. Though looking back at history, it would appear that dogs as companions for the elite are nothing new, but a re-emerging trend. In the days of Imperial China, only the Imperial family could own a Pekingese. And, like so many things, the ancestor of the domestic dog, is claimed to have originated from China. So, how did dogs in China go from being man’s best friend, to a favorite winter dish?
If there was ever a dog that got in bad in the naming stakes then it is surely the the Chow Chow. Though bred as a working dog, i.e: hunting, herding, etc. at certain times in history people liked a good chow, and they were eaten as food. Historically speaking, dogs were seen as guard dogs or working dogs, not as pets. In the Mao era, dogs, like pretty much everything else, were deemed as symbolic of “bourgeois decadence” , within the party. The practical take on the relationship between the Chinese and dogs can help to understand why they became food, dog-meat, for instance, is thought to have medical qualities.
According to the 16th century Chinese medical encyclopedia, Bonchogangmog by Lee, Si-Jin, dog-meat is meant to help with the “digestive system” and also “supplements marrow to warm our knees and waist and raises vigor to make men virile when bodies are fatigued and damaged; it can help keep the bodies healthy, and circulate the blood smoothly.” There is even advice on which type of dog is better for males and females: “Yellow furred dog” for men and “black furred dog” for women, but the book warns not eat dog when one has a fever due to its heat-emitting qualities. The belief that it emits heat is the basis for it becoming a winter dish.
However, in today’s China, do the health “benefits” really hold up? Unlike pork, beef and lamb, there is no law stopping the sale of unregulated dog meat in China. It shares its controversial status alongside cat meat. As with cat meat, dog meat has an increase risk of being diseased, as the way it is obtained is rarely verified. The dubious way in which dog meat is obtained in China is a point of protest to the Chinese anti-dog meat brigade. Guo Peng, a professor of animal protection at Shandong University states: “They kill guard dogs with poison or knock them down, and collect dead, sick or homeless dogs to sell meat to processors, which is a huge food safety risk and threatens rural residents’ security.”
Dogs being butchered at a market in China.
Image courtesy of Whoisgalt
In what some may see as karmic fate, there was even a Dog Meat Vendor who died after stabbing himself with a dart intended for a dog. There are also countless examples of over-crowded dog trucks that are stopped by animal rights advocates.
One way NGO groups are advertising against dog meat, is by appealing to people’s emotional instincts and highlighting how these dogs could be someone’s pet. Animal Asia created a series of clever advertisements, which are displayed around the subways of Chinese cities. They show various scenarios, such as a little girl surrounded by two large dogs, under the caption: “What you just put into your mouth could have been a child’s partner in growth.”
Anti-dog meat advert by Animals Asia
This advert follows grassroots movements that are sprouting-up online, which have already managed to get the Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival canceled, after an online campaign. Those who form the pro-dog-meat lobby and support the festival, argue that the dogs eaten at the festival are specially bred for consumption, claiming it is an old tradition that must be protected. Originating in the Ming Dynasty, the festival goes back to a general who ordered a massive slaughter of dogs, as every time he tried to strike a city at night the dogs’ barks would raise the alarm. After they were killed, the general’s army was successfully able to conquer the city, and the city celebrated by eating the dogs killed. This folkloric tradition has so moved some people, that they they claimed an emotional attachment to the festival and reiterate the point that it had been passed from generation to generation. It will be interesting to see whether public pressure ends the practice entirely, or the eating of our four-legged friends remains a winter specialty.
Image courtesy of ByeByeBaby on wikipedia