China holds dog meat festival despite protests
A dog meat festival opened in south-western China on Friday amid protests by activists from a growing movement against abuses of dogs and other animals.
Officials and many residents of Yulin city in the Guangxi region argued that the one-day festival, held annually on the summer solstice, was an important part of the region's cultural tradition.
But the activists accused butchers of using primitive methods to kill thousands of dogs in the "bloody carnival," and claimed some animals were even cooked alive.
"We are at the place of slaughter. There are many people here. We are trying to catch [save] dogs," Du Yufeng, founder of the Bo'ai Small Animal Protection Centre, told dpa by telephone from Yulin on Friday.
A woman from a small Buddhist group in the southern city of Guangzhou, who declined to give her real name, said by telephone that she and three activists had travelled to Yulin on Tuesday.
Buddhist groups from other areas had tried to save dogs from slaughter in Yulin, she told dpa. "But since the festival is opening today, we can't do anything more," she said.
State media estimated that some 10 000 dogs would be killed in Yulin on Friday, a scale that has made the festival a prime target for animal rights activists across China.
"We want to negotiate with the [city] government and want them to ban the festival," Du said.
Many local residents defended the festival, while online opinion was divided.
The China Daily quoted Wei Huan, a resident of Guangxi's nearby Guilin city, as saying that dog - traditionally eaten with lychees in Guangxi -was her favourite dish and one she had grown up eating.
"Why do we have to follow [the protesters'] likes and dislikes," the newspaper quoted Wei, 27, as saying.
The activists accused local officials of failing to stop trucks carrying illegal shipments of dogs, many of which were suspected of being stolen or bred illegally.
But officials failed to respond to petitions and an open letter from the activists, Du said.
"Of course, if you eat it at home yourself, then it's none of our business, it's a matter of conscience," she said.
"But the cruel killing in public is damaging the city's image, and it is forcing people to suffer the crimes of others," Du said.
Dog meat is popular in many areas of northern and southern China. It is widely available in restaurants in most areas.
An online search on the popular Sohu.com website returned 135 000 results for dog meat restaurants in Beijing.
Some men eat dog, as well as snake, turtle and other animals, for their supposed ability to boost the male libido.
Critics say the low market price of dog meat – about 50 yuan ($8) per kilo, or half the price of lamb – reflects illegal trade, since licensed breeding of dogs for meat is expensive.
"Stealing dogs for the dog meat trade has become an organised crime," Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in March.
There were "three major bases for underground dog theft and slaughtering" in Jiangsu, Jilin and Guangdong provinces, Guo Peng, an animal protection expert at Shandong University, told the China Daily.
Activists have highlighted the terrible conditions in which dogs are transported, and succeeded in intercepting several large truckloads of dogs.
Gabriel was speaking after activists rescued 2 200 dogs from trucks in the central region of Chongqing and the south-western province of Guizhou in early March.
In another high-profile case, activists intercepted some 500 dogs en route from Beijing to north-eastern China in 2011.
More than 100 dog-protection groups have sprung up nationwide in the past decade, IFAW spokesman He Yong told dpa on Friday.
"I would say that ordinary people are against eating dogs, rather than just some pet-owners and dog-protection organisations," He said.
The ruling Communist Party, which forbids most forms of protest, appears to tolerate the animal rights activists.
"I don't know how it sees us, but I think government should take more responsibility by forbidding people from eating dogs, or [at least] should not encourage it," He said.