I can’t count the number of times that people have asked me about the Chinese eating dog. It is often amongst the first things people want to know when asking about my life in China: ‘have you ever eaten dog?‘ and the answer is emphatically NO.
For the past few years, towards the end of June, there has been an annual hoo-ha in the Western and Chinese media about ‘dog eating festivals’ in China, with people in Europe and the USA, not to mention other places, getting hot under the collar (sorry about that) and having on-line arguments where the fur starts to fly.
Because I am a dog-lover (I have had dogs as pets all my life) but am also a confirmed carnivore, I have felt rather squeamish about tackling this issue, but have decided to gird my loins and wade into the fray. So I have been doing some investigation and here is my contribution to the whole brouhaha:
At least 11 countries in the world eat dog (including Switzerland – who would have thought!!) but in many of these countries it is not eaten by the vast bulk of the population and that includes China, eating dog has never been the norm in most of China.
Of course, in times of great trouble such as World War 2,and during ‘Mao’s Great Famine’ when millions of people were starving to death, Chinese people would eat anything they could get their hands on including dogs, cats, rats etc; but that is true of other countries as well – for instance, in Germany dogs and cats were eaten during the major crises of World Wars 1 & 2 and called ‘Blockade Mutton’ and ‘Roof Rabbit’ on menus.
The two countries with the biggest consumption of dog meat – by far – are Vietnam and South Korea (North Korea also eats it but there are no statistics available).
Indeed Vietnam kills and cooks approximately 5,000,000 dogs per annum. There is a profitable trade in stolen dogs shipped across the Mekong delta from Thailand to supply the Vietnamese with dog meat.
So why is it that China gets most of the flack? Two reasons I suspect. The first is that Vietnam and South Korea are perceived to be ‘nice’ countries whereas in the west, China is often pictured as a place of horrible barbarism and it both reinforces prejudices and makes good copy. The second reason is that in one of the southern-most provinces of China, Guangxi , which borders northern Vietnam, dog meat restaurants have existed for years. However with the rise of modern China, and increasing pet ownership, consumption of dog meat was beginning to dwindle. So a few years ago a group of restauranteurs in the southern city of Yulin got together to launch a promotional but unofficial ‘Dog Meat Festival’ around the time of the summer solstice. It has paid off in terms of publicity (both good and bad), with increasingly angry scuffles between dog lovers and dog eaters.
Yang Xiaoyun, a 65-year-old dog lover from Tianjin, has become a well-known activist over the past two years, travelling south to Yulin and spending over $25000 of her life savings in buying hundreds of dogs to keep them from the pot.
The local authorities have now banned the slaughter of dogs in the Yulin Market, and had the words ‘Dog Meat Street’ removed from the signs on Yulin’s Jiangbin Road. They have also had to assign police officers to protect Yang Xiaoyun from the dog meat vendors.
Apart from the fact that many people find the idea of eating dog meat totally repulsive, there is another major problem, unlike beef, mutton and pork, there are no farms breeding dogs for meat, so many of the dogs killed for food are strays, or stolen pets. As with any dodgy supply chain this has meant some rather brutal and semi-criminal people are involved in the trade. It is hideously cruel.
I have been in China off and on for over 20 years, and have now lived in Beijing for five years and I have NEVER seen dog on the menu of any restaurant, though I am told that there are some South Korean restaurants in the city which bring it in from elsewhere and it features regularly on their menus.
Of course some people say that if we are prepared to eat other meat we should not be hypocritical about eating dog, and in one sense that is true, it is however rare for any species of carnivore to eat other carnivores. In Western society dogs are considered as having a different relationship with humans – indeed they are often refered to as ‘man’s best friend’.
People grow up with dogs as part of their family or work life, dogs trust humans, and if well treated give us their loyalty and affection. Call me a hypocrite by all means, but I for one could no more eat dog meat than I could eat human flesh.