Sometimes referred to as “fragrant meat” or “mutton of the earth”, dog has been eaten in China for thousands of years.
The philosopher Mencius, who lived during the fourth century BC, recommended dog meat for its medicinal properties. More recently, Chinese astronauts have eaten it in space (something you can’t imagine Neil Armstrong ever doing).
But opposition to eating dog has grown as China has become richer and the number of people who can afford to keep a pet has increased. Last March a draft law banning their consumption was submitted to the country’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.
In the latest example of how dogs are transitioning from dinner dish to much loved companion, a dog-eating festival in the eastern province of Zhejiang was cancelled last week after thousands of Chinese expressed their fury online.
“Stop this massacre. Dogs are our most loyal friends,” one netizen demanded last Monday. Messages calling for the event to be banned were forwarded tens of thousand of times.
The three-day festival, which traces its roots back to a military victory six centuries ago, was due to be held near the city of Jinhua in the middle of October.
Activists said many as 10,000 dogs would be slaughtered.
Photos of local markets circulating online last week showed dozens of dogs crammed into tiny cages with their jaws wired shut.
“People actually enjoyed killing them in various ways at the festival,” one activist wrote her on microblog. “I’ve seen the dogs being stabbed, strangled and even beaten into comas and thrown into boiling water. Some dogs came to in the boiling water and they struggled, but the vendors kept pushing them, [till they drowned].”
Qianxi has held the festival since 1389 when a Ming dynasty general captured the town by killing all the dogs so that their barking wouldn’t alert inhabitants to his advance.
Netizens celebrated after the local government announced that the event had been cancelled last Tuesday. Others pointed out that killing and eating dogs is not illegal in China.
Pet ownership – once banned by the ruling Communist party because it was deemed to be bourgeois – is now becoming more popular in wealthier cities. Though the government still imposes restrictions on the number and size of pets, there are thought to be some 2 million pet dogs in Beijing with the population growing at 10% a year.
Scruffy Pekinese — the dog favoured by China’s imperial court – are still the most common but Dalmatians, Huskies and Labradors are also popular. Many are walked under cover of darkness because of their size (local regulations stipulate that dogs in Beijing should not be taller than 35 centimetres).
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