CHINA is not famous as a place where animals are treated compassionately. Despite the traditional Chinese philosophies of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism promoting compassion towards animals, the country receives more attention from the animal rights community due to its status as a hotbed for cruel animal shows, dog meat festivals and the trade in wildlife parts, both legal and illegal.
Yet things are changing, especially among China’s young and educated.
A kinder, gentler China?
While animal welfare as an issue may be unknown to many Chinese, a study published in 2014 showed that a majority of people surveyed at least partially supported animal-welfare laws.
PETA Asia special projects coordinator Layla Wen:
With greater access to information – particularly through social media – China’s younger generations are increasingly eager to speak out against abusing animals for food, fashion or entertainment.
— PETA Asia (@PETAAsia) January 20, 2016
According to PETA, progress in terms of animal welfare has progressed in several areas:
- There are an estimated 50 million vegetarians and vegans in China
- Eco&more recently became the first Chinese member of PETA’s list of cosmetics companies that do not test on animals
- Many large retailers operating in China have stopped buying wool that has been shorn in a particularly cruel method known as “mulesing”
- PETA Asia’s recent online anti-fur campaign, “Fur Hurts”, received nearly 350,000 signatures from all over China
- PETA Asia’s first-ever animal-rights tour of China visited over 50 colleges, showcasing its “Animals ≠ Entertainment” display
- Many Chinese celebrities, such as Jackie Chan, singer and TV presenter Show Luo, director Tian Yuan, and actors Bo-Lin Chen, Betty Sun Li and Liu Xiaoqing, are speaking out against animal cruelty
- China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently proposed an outline for a comprehensive ban on animal performances in zoos
While animal shows, fur farms and other examples of animal cruelty still persist in China, concern is growing, though mainly among affluent urban classes. Nonetheless, at least some circuses and animal trainers are addressing the issue.
Do affluence and religion lead to animal rights?
Vegetarianism, concerns for animal welfare and animal rights can be linked to rising levels of income, urbanization, education and pet ownership among Chinese citizens. However, there are those who credit a revival of religious and cultural traditions.
— Veggie Girl (@ILoveVegetarian) January 12, 2016
Professor Mang Ping of China’s Central Institute of Socialism is quoted in an article for Singapore’s InDepthNews:
Ancient manuscripts show that animal protection was the first activity to be regulated by the ancient dynasties, and people under the Qing dynasty were not allowed to kill cubs, pregnant females, or working animals . . . Today, we see bears riding bikes, animals cruelly treated in labs, and so on, but can we return to our traditional culture.
Perhaps some Chinese are doing just that. For example, in order to “console the souls of the slaughtered dogs”, Buddhists from across the country marched through the wet market of the city of Yulin — site of an annual dog meat festival — in 2014.
The Yulin dog meat festival has become an international focal point of animal welfare activism. Hundreds of dogs were saved from slaughter at last year’s festival by the efforts of the Humane Society International together with Chinese animal rights activists.
Up to 10,000 dogs are killed at the annual festival, which also claims to promote local tradition and culture, though it is believed that many of the dogs are stolen from pet owners.
China remains the only country where animal testing is required for some cosmetic products.