In recent years, the space for political dissent in China has shrunk considerably, and yet the animal rights movement has made surprising progress. Last month, thousands of Chinese netizens stormed the Internet with angry posts about the kidnapping of a seeing-eye dog named Qiaoqiao to save it from its likely fate of becoming dog meat. After 35 hours, the thief set the dog free, along with an anonymous note asking for forgiveness.
The stigma attached to China’s consumption of animals that are usually kept as pets is well known, as are Chinese activists’ efforts to end the practice. Every year, ten million dogs are slaughtered for food, 70 percent of which are believed to be stolen household pets. In 2011, animal rights activists succeeded in shutting down a centuries-old annual dog-eating festival in Zhejiang. However, the country’s most popular dog-eating festival, in Yuling, which began in 2010 to attract tourists, is still operating. In 2014, activists intercepted 18 trucks on a highway in northern China that were filled with dogs and saved 8,000. In 2015, a similar intervention saved 3,000 dogs.
But China’s animal rights movement doesn’t stop there. It is as diverse as the country itself. Activists have worked for years to end so-called wildlife farming, which includes the exploitation of wild animals. The bear bile trade is a $1.6 billion industry that has led to the capture of over 10,000 Asiatic black bears and 5,000 tigers that are locked up and used solely for extracting bile, a substance that goes into cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and traditional medicines. Animal testing, particularly for cosmetics, is also widespread, although China is now working with British scientists to find alternatives, such as cultured skin cells.
China is also the world’s largest livestock producer, generating 80 million tons of meat in 2013 alone, more than double that of the United States. And yet it still lacks humane slaughtering practices. China first experimented with humane slaughter in 2007. Two years later, the Chinese government issued a protocol for humane slaughter, but implementation has been spotty.
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