China has more than 600 medium-sized cities. Yulin is arguably the most well-known globally. Its worldwide name recognition is the result of a notorious event held every year since 2010, when the local dog meat traders, supported by the local authorities, launched a “dog meat festival.” Making mass dog slaughter a “festival” and promoting it as a “tradition” are distasteful to say the least. The government’s support for it broke the tolerance of the Chinese public. Yulin has since become synonymous with insensitivity, backwardness and inhumanity.
The impact of this scandalous act has not been entirely negative. Worldwide condemnation has helped awaken the local authorities to the fact that, when dogs are killed, people around the world suffer with them. In 2014, the Yulin authorities decided to distance themselves from the “festival.” In mid-May of this year, the authorities notified the vendors to stop sale of dog meat during the “festival.” Both decisions suggest that the Yulin authorities were aware that celebrating mass dog slaughter has been a public relations disaster. Yet, the local government could have done more.
What could have prevented the Yulin authorities from taking more proactive measures against dog slaughter? First, dog meat consumption is not illegal on the Chinese mainland. Yulin, notorious as it is, cannot be expected to lead to a national dog meat trade ban.
Second, Yulin is located within one of the three major dog eating regions in China. Relatively speaking, a larger number of people eat dog meat in these regions. A proclamation to end the trade is least likely in areas with major markets.
Third, it is politically risky for the Yulin authorities to announce a ban on the trade. Yulin, with a per capita GDP higher than most countries in the world, is nonetheless a “poor” city in mainland China. Those in the trade are rural laborers who are less educated and less skilled. These are people who have nothing to lose and are not afraid to fight for their interest. Should a trade ban be imposed, the Yulin authorities would be obligated to provide alternative livelihood to these traders. At a time when the disgruntled rural poor face a grim employment situation, imposing a trade ban would create unrest, the sort of public order crisis that all local governments dread.
Yet the Yulin authorities can use the country’s existing laws and regulations as a weapon against the controversial trade. First, a large number of the dogs shipped to Yulin are victims of thefts. China does not have meat dog farms. China’s dog meat industry has been sustained by dog theft, a “property” violation and an offense according to China’s criminal code. Shouldn’t the Yulin authorities stop the inbound dog and cat trucks with stolen “properties?”
Second, China’s national government issued policies in 2011 and 2013 against the shipment of undocumented live dogs and cats across provincial boundaries. Each one of the dogs or cats in transport must bear a health certificate issued at the place of origin. None of the trucks coming to Yulin are known to have ever had these documents.
Third, Yulin is in Guangxi, the province with the biggest number of rabies cases. The Chinese government vowed to end rabies in China by 2025. Allowing the shipment of a large number of dogs from unknown sources, potentially carrying diseases, could undermine or delay the achievement of the national objective.
Fourth, dog meat is a serious public safety threat. China’s own media reports and court sentencing have confirmed the rampancy of dog thefts using poisons. Hundreds of traders have been convicted of selling poisoned dog meat. According to China’s own food safety law, processing and selling meat from diseased pigs and pigs from unknown sources, for example, constitutes a serious offense. Why is selling dog meat from unknown sources legal? Finally, dog slaughter takes place in public places, in residential areas, and in places close to schools. This violates China’s own law for the protection of the healthy physical and mental development of young children. Yulin is already a desensitized city. Exposing Yulin’s young children to the bloody slaughter of humans’ companion animals is a terrible form of child abuse.
The Yulin authorities can stop the trade if they are determined to enforce the criminal law; to implement the national government policy against undocumented trans-provincial dog and cat transport; to honor the national policy for rabies control and prevention; to carry out the food safety law; and to abide by the law for the protection of the youth.
I have been to Yulin many times in the past three years. Yulin has modern looks just like most other Chinese cities. It also has new leaders who should be more cosmopolitan and future-oriented. The Yulin authorities do not need to proactively take the lead to end the country’s notorious dog meat trade. They only need to implement the existing Chinese laws and policies for the local trade to end. When the trade is gone, the “festival” will be buried once and for all.
Featured image: a massive rally held by Chinese organization VShine on May 20th to shut down the Yulin Dog Meat Festival.