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Bulls, Apes and Dogs - The Rise of China's Animal Rights Movement

From a western perspective, it can often be very difficult to understand or accept the way that animals are treated in some parts of Asia. Japan continue to allow whaling despite massive opposition, bears are crammed into into tight cages with their stomachs cut to extract bile and the shark fin soup trade is strong as ever. Most recently, controversy has risen around the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in China's Guangxi Province. 

It's as it sounds, a summer festival which sees residents gather as vendors sell and trade in dog meat. The dogs are displayed live in cages before being taken off to slaughter, which usually means being bludgeoned to death and sometimes means being skinned alive. Many of the dogs are less than a year old. Animal rights is a relatively new concept in China, having only really started gaining traction in the 90s, but with the recent rise of social media usage in the country it has gained an enormous amount of momentum. 

Yulin has come under fire before, weathering a protest campaign both on and offline last year which supposedly put a huge dent in sales (but failed to get the festival shut down) and in 2011 a similar festival in Quanxi which had been happening every autumn for 600 years was banned. The Chinese authorities put an end to it as a direct result of pressure from animal rights activists. They have no such power over Yulin, since city officials deny any involvement with it and cite it as an entirely citizen-run event. 

Some of the push against the dog meat festival can be attributed to the rise in pet ownership across China, but animal rights work in the country extends far beyond just that. In 2010 Chinese activists were able to prevent the introduction of a Spanish bullfighting project to the country and again in 2011 even a planned series of rodeo events were stopped.

Earlier this year Wonderful Friends, a weekly reality TV program with numerous segments featuring animals was lambasted by online campaigners. The show has featured segments involving a chimpanzee being forced into a superman outfit, and another far younger one being introduced to a bear cub. The cub takes a frightened swipe at the baby chimp, which in turn chases the cub around holding a club. The whole thing is played for laughs. Tens of thousands of critics have taken to Sina Weibo (the Chinese Twitter equivalent) to call for the cancellation of the show.

The role social media has played in this movement is significant, to say the least. China has had a practiced aversion to any ideologies characterised as 'western' since the days of Mao, but even despite the reluctance to adopt any western platforms, the culture has taken the nation by storm. Sina Weibo had 500 million active users in 2013, whilst the equally Chinese Qzone had 715 million, making it the third largest social media platform on the planet at that time. Even the messaging app WeChat had 236 million monthly active users.

Environmental consciousness is becoming widely regarded as 'trendy' in China anyway. Vegetarian restaurants are becoming more popular and numerous Chinese celebrities have spoken out against animal cruelty, which has only become more influential now that such things can be broadcast online. NBA star Yao Ming has campaigned extensively against the shark fin soup trade, Jackie Chan has been active in the fight against the bear bile trade and Chinese rock star Xie Zheng has been very vocal about his veganism, adopting the slogan 'Don't Eat Friends'.

Sadly none of this was enough to prevent the dog meat festival from going ahead as planned in Yulin, since city officials refused to involve themselves with it. Activists still turned out to protest as well as filming footage of the slaughterhouses to fuel further online campaigning and compile evidence for a court case. One woman even spent thousands of yuan buying hundreds of dogs to save them from their grizzly fate. 

Many patrons of the festival have argued that there are far worse practices for people to get upset about and there's definitely some truth to that, but even beyond the cruelty of the methods used to slaughter the dogs, the animals are kept in unhygienic conditions and the meat carries a huge risk of food poisoning. Even though the festival wasn't stopped, the level of campaigning emanating from China - and especially the nation's youth - speaks volumes for the way that social media is helping to bring animal rights and environmental awareness to the forefront. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Bulls, Apes and Dogs - The Rise of China's Animal Rights Movement Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 Rating: 5

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