Photos of beachgoers in China posing with a sick or dying dolphin has caused an uproar on Chinese social media sites concerning animal welfare in their country. The story was subsequently picked up by international news outlets, initiating the familiar deluge of comments about “cruel Chinese”, despite the story originating with Chinese netizens criticizing behavior in their own country.
Press regarding animal cruelty in China has a way of sparking outrage across the Western world. Take British singer Morrissey’s rants regarding Chinese animal circuses or the deluge of comments under any recent article about the Yulin dog meat festival. Things can get a bit racist very quickly.
People’s perceptions about how different other cultures are from their own tend to surface in ugly ways in these situations, especially with the anonymity that the internet provides. Some watch Chinese tourists showing off by picking up a dying dolphin and conclude that 1.35 billion Chinese people do not “value life” like the rest of us. (What about Americans “cannonballing” manatees in Florida?) The resulting outrage is so complete that it must be shared with other similarly incensed internet users. The irony is that making these types of comments is often as dehumanizing as the material they are in reaction to.
What’s more is that the main reason we hear about animal abuses in China is because of Chinese people who disapprove of them. While it is true that China has an overall poor record in terms of conservation and animal welfare, it has been online outrage within China that brought stories of abuse at tiger parks to global attention. Or do we think a few foreign animal rights groups and online petitions got state animal circuses banned in China?
Likewise the dog meat scandal. Yu Jichun, a user of the microblogging service Weibo, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times:
Thousands of dogs will be eaten at a dog meat festival in Yulin. As long as such a festival still exists in China, this country can’t start talk about becoming civilized.
–Weibo user, Yu Jichun
This is a common attitude within China and as a result consuming dog meat is on the decline, with several cities no longer holding traditional festivals and over 100,000 signing a recent petition condemning the practice. And then there’s that state animal circus ban I mentioned, although animal cruelty is still going on in privately owned circuses.
Animal abuse needs to be condemned wherever it happens. So does racism. Whether it’s slapping a tiger cub in China or jumping on a manatee and her calf in Florida. Case in point: the drive hunting of whales in the Faroe islands is just as cruel as the dolphin slaughter in Japan, you just don’t hear about it as much.