A Hideous Pageant of Cruelty and Torture: The Yulin Dog Meat Festival Must End

Recently, my father sent me a link to a petition. Signing it is not enough, he said with that kind of familial authority parents manage to convey even electronically.

The petition he shared concerned the so-called Lychee and Dog Eating Yulin Festival, China.

The festival is “celebrated” annually during the summer solistice in June. Over ten days, dogs are carried through the city in crates and metal cages after which they are skinned alive and boiled for consumption by residents and festival goers. Estimates of the numbers killed each year range from 10,000 to 15,000 to a staggering 50,000.

These dogs are not just stray dogs taken from the streets. Some are domestic pets stolen from homes to be slaughtered. They are kept before the festival in wire cages without space or even access to food or water. Thousands die before the festival of starvation and dehydration. Those who live have their bodies ripped open, often cut open with chainsaws, and are beaten with hammers. They are not only boiled, some are burned alive.

The eating of dogs in Asia is part of a mythology that it brings good luck and better health. Yulin itself has 100 dog slaughter houses. The festival is a grotesque parade to this heritage. But it is charade. Yulin is not a tradition but began a mere seven years ago in 2011. It was started in defiance of international outrage and changing domestic attitudes.  

Every year, protestors and international animal welfare charities rescue dogs intended for this torture. In 2015, over 100 dogs, puppies and even cats were saved. In 2017, that number was 1,300. The disgusting conditions these animals are kept in is demonstarted by the fact that of those rescued in 2017, 40% were carrying an infectious disease.

Admirable as mass rescues are, it is not enough. The Yulin Festival must be stopped.

The Yulin Festival is a hideous pageant of intended cruelty

The Chinese government has responded to criticism of the festival by calling it a campaign against China by the West, citing bullfighting in Spain to demonstrate Western hypocrisy. This criticism would be valid were there not numerous campaigns to stop bullfighting - both in Spain and elsewhere.

China’s paranoia neglects that animal welfare charities campaign for domestic changes when they see a wrong. In the UK, Theresa May was forced to abandon a vote to reintroduce foxhunting after public concern. Canada faces international outrage over its annual seal hunting season and a slump in demand for seal-related produce.

Protesting against Yulin is nothing to do with China in and of itself, and everything to do with stopping brutality.

Respect for other cultures does not mean we accept them in totality. Our own imperfection does not mean we should accept impotence. We cannot allow ourselves to be embarrassed into submission. However great our faults, the sheer cruelty of Yulin exceeds these by some distance. 

Animal welfare in the UK, or Europe, is not perfect. The reality is that a majority in the West eat meat on a regular basis. However, animal husbandry is subject to welfare laws and regular checks; and animal slaughter legislation intends that suffering is kept to a minimum. As consumers, we can make choices to ensure the best conditions possible for animals eaten, or whether to avoid meat altogether.

Cultural relativism cannot prevent us from making a stand against self-evident wrongs. The Yulin Festival is a hideous pageant of intended cruelty. We should we accept that this is merely an emotional spasm.

Domestic pets have developed an ability to bond with human beings. They form emotional attachments. Any dog or cat owner will tell you this. So will science. It is not a Western phenomenon but transcultural. Domestic animals are highly intelligent and highly sensitive to pain. The torture - and yes, it is torture - of animals who have such high sensitivity is especially revolting. The cruelty of the Yulin Festival plays on our emotions but were the festival to involve the skinning alive and slow, agonising death of cattle, it would still be despicable.

Most importantly, it is not just Westerners who are appalled by this barbarity but millions of Chinese people too. Some see the damage that it does to China’s reputation globally. Others are part of the country’s growing animal welfare movement.

We need to tell our government that we expect them to take action to end the Yulin Festival

My dad was correct. (As always, he would say.) Signing one petition is not enough. That is why I have written this piece to raise awareness and to ask people to do what they can to stop it. It is also why I have started my own petition on the Government’s e-petition site.

It is not enough that we tell the Chinese government that by allowing the Yulin Festival to continue, they are complicit in unspeakable inhumanity. We need to tell our government that we expect them to take action to end the Yulin Festival.

Everyone has to play their part. One petition is not enough but it might play a small part in a much larger drama.

So please, take a minute to sign my petition urging the UK government to speak out and do something to help bring about the end of needless cruelty. Even better, take two minutes and share the petition with your friends and family.

Previous attempts to stop the Yulin Festival have raised awareness but failed to stop it. They have scaled back the slaughter though: there were reports that at the most recent festival the number of animals killed had shrunk to 1,000. There were also rumours that 2017’s festival had been cancelled. Unfortunately untrue. However, it shows that sustained pressure does have some impact.

It also means that present or future campaigns can succeed.

When you think of the callous sadism of skinning an animal alive, boiling it or burning it, watching as it suffers unendurable pain, it really should not be too much to ask.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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