China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival Survives Celebrity Activism, ‘Wet Market’ Fears

Puppies are seen in a cage at a dog meat market in Yulin, in China's southern Guangxi regi
STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, a tradition in the southern Chinese city, is set to begin on Summer Solstice, or Sunday, despite years of global animal rights activism urging China to end it.

The festival typically attracts large crowds of carnivores seeking to eat dog meat, often in “hot pot” form, and eat the fruit for which the event is named as a way of cooling down during the summer heat. Chinese merchants from around the country travel to Yulin to sell dog meat, often transporting live dogs and gruesomely butchering them in open markets.

Images of dogs being killed in open-air markets, hung upside down, trapped in filthy cages, and butchered have triggered campaigns around the world to stop the festival, ongoing for almost as long as the festival, which was founded in 2009.

The years 2015 and 2016, in particular, attracted widespread Hollywood scrutiny to the festival. In 2015, pop celebrities like Paris Hilton, Simon Cowell, and Ricky Gervais all made public calls for an end to the festival. The next year, the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, which has run operations to rescue dogs from the festival, organized a celebrity video featuring Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix, and a host of others bringing awareness to the mass killing and eating of dogs in Yulin.

That year, Congress also welcomed reality television star Lisa Vanderpump to testify on the horrors of the Yulin dog meat festival.

While global outrage has now become nearly as much of a tradition as the dog eating itself, Yulin’s dog meat lovers now face new scrutiny in light of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which Chinese officials initially blamed on the unsanitary conditions at an open-air “wet market” in central Wuhan city. While the Communist Party now blames a conspiracy by the U.S. military – without evidence – for the pandemic, scientists around the world agree that “wet market” environments are high-risk locations for deadly pathogens to jump from animal meat to humans.

Animal rights organizations argue that the public butchering of animals in “wet markets,” often resulting in streams of blood throughout the area, is not only a clear public health risk but a moral atrocity. Many equate Asia’s wet markets with live animal butchers offering chicken and other common Western meats in the United States.

In past years, the Chinese government has used several tactics to dispel global disgust that have varied from claiming the festival does not exist to spreading rumors that Beijing had banned it. This year, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs passed a law, amid the uproar about wet markets, limiting the species that can be bred as livestock to a small set of animals. Addressing concerns that bats or pangolins, a species of anteater, may have introduced the Chinese coronavirus to humans, those species did not make the cut. Notably, dogs were also not on the list, making it illegal to breed them for food.

While the move elicited some international praise, animal rights activists noted that the new regulations did not ban the consumption of dog meat and that butchers often sold stray dogs or stolen pets, in any way. Recent reports suggest that preparations for the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival are well underway.

“The scale of the dog meat trade in Yulin is pretty much the same compared to previous years,” Yu Dezhi, an animal welfare advocate, told the South China Morning Post, which reported in early June that “dog meat lovers are returning in full force” to Yulin.

Humane Society International revealed on Friday that its partners on the ground in China had found “rows and rows of dog carcasses lying on tables or being butchered with cleavers, all in defiance of a Chinese Ministry of Agriculture statement last month that dogs are not meant for human consumption.”

While the Humane Society stated that “there appears to be less activity this year than usual,” this may be in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted China to impose total lockdowns on multiple major cities and discourage mass gatherings. The virus continues to ravage large parts of Beijing, though Communist Party media insist that the situation is under control.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in a statement to Breitbart News, described the situation in Yulin this week as “unclear.”

“Earlier this month, China created a livestock list that didn’t include dogs, but it did not — despite what many outlets have reported — remove dogs from a livestock list, because no such list previously existed,” a PETA representative explained. “This move should prevent the dog-meat industry from obtaining the certificates needed to breed, transport, and slaughter dogs — but at the same time, the government official making the announcement explicitly stated that the livestock list will not affect the dog-meat trade.”

PETA Asia Vice President Jason Baker said in a statement that the organization places limited emphasis on legal changes and instead considers making their case against animal abuse to individuals a more successful strategy.

“PETA Asia has never relied on rules and regulations to help animals, because government announcements and reality don’t always align,” Baker said. “The key to change lies in empowering consumers and businesses to make kinder choices to help animals, and after more than 20 years of activism in China, PETA Asia has seen fur sales drop, vegan food sales skyrocket, and celebrities speak out for animals. Progress is slow but steady, and the interest in seeing animals for who they are, rather than as commodities, is growing in China.”

Highlighting the discrepancy between Chinese government announcements and the reality on the ground is the case of the 2017 Yulin dog meat festival, which was rumored to be canceled about a month before it was to happen. The Daily Mail reported at the time that China would implement a ban on consumption of dog meat on June 15, a week before Summer Solstice. The local Yulin government added to the allegedly positive news by claiming that the festival “doesn’t exist,” according to the Chinese state-run Global Times. Hidden in that report was the fact that Yulin officials also denied the existence of the ban on the sale of dog meat.

“With the announcement (from a very large international group) of a supposed ban on dog meat sales the week before the festival – it definitely had a negative effect on the attention brought to the Festival,” the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation told Breitbart News that year. “Many celebs who normally tweet and post about it have been silent believing that the festival was over … We have been on the ground all week and there are no big groups there – especially the ones collecting large donations to Stop Yulin.”

The same Chinese state newspaper that reported Yulin officials’ denials of the existence of the festival reported shortly thereafter that the festival indeed took place, though allegedly in a “much more subdued manner” due to animal rights protesters. The Global Times made the same claims of a “low-profile” or “subdued” version of the festival in 20152016 and 2018, as well, before apparently avoiding covering it last year.

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