Animal Rights in China

Did you know that when you search Google images for “lion”, the image on the left is the first one that comes up? It is. I didn’t know this either until I stumbled upon it yesterday while watching Penny Arcade‘s new episode of PATV. What, I wondered, was the context for this photo, a shot of a lion riding a horse? I shouldn’t have wondered. Of course it’s from a Chinese zoo.

In fact, the photo is from a Daily Mail article that’s sort of about animal abuse in China. The article’s lede is actually rather interesting:

Just when it seemed that the Chinese had plumbed the depths of animal humiliation, along comes something even worse.

The country which gave you bears riding bikes now proudly presents … lions and tigers on horseback.

Although I understand its value as shorthand in a media where space is limited, isn’t it a bit misleading to blame this on “the Chinese” and “the country” rather than the people who run that particular zoo? Not all zoos in China are so twisted, nor are Chinese people as a nationality cruel to animals (though, certainly, some Chinese individuals are). It’s a small distinction, perhaps, but one whose effects can be seen in some of the comments on the story in question, many of which call for boycotts of Chinese products or of the “disgusting, barbaric, and revolting country” itself.

On the one hand, bigots are everywhere and more precise news reporting isn’t going to stop some people from reading “Chinese zoo” and extrapolating to “all Chinese are like this”. With that said, isn’t implying that this show reflects “Chinese” as a whole misleading? I highly doubt that, were they reporting on animal abuse in the US (which is as rampant if not as blatant as in China), their story would start with something like”Just when it seemed that the Americans had plumbed the depths of animal humiliation.” (And as a side note, aren’t we anthropomorphizing a bit with the “humiliation”, Daily Mail? I’m all for animal rights, but let’s veer away from ascribing human emotions to animals without any kind of evidence).

In any event, animal rights is something that’s been on the mind of Chinese lawmakers, too. Recently, an animal protection law that could ban the eating of dog and cat meat has attracted a lot of controversy. Dog is a part of Korean cuisine popular in Northeastern China, and people in Southern China eat both dog and cat meat. However, it appears much of the fervor may have sprung from a misunderstanding. From the Oriental Morning Post (via Danwei):

What does it mean to ban “the illegal consumption or sale of the meat of dogs or cats”? Chang Jiwen explained things to this paper: “The media has misunderstood. What is ‘illegal consumption’? For example, if Beijing has a rule banning consumption, and other areas have their own rules, then it is illegal to consume it in those places. But in the northeast, there are many ethnic Koreans, for whom eating dog meat is a folk custom, so the northeast need not ban it, and eating dog meat would be legal.” Chang said, “the Animal Cruelty Law needs local governments to issue corresponding regulations.”

So eating dog and cat meat would be illegal except in places where they eat dog and cat meat? That strikes me as rather useless (and I’m not the only one). Of course, the food restrictions are just article nine of a larger draft bill, one I have (as yet) been unable to find a complete copy of.

Anyway, although the draft law has drawn criticism — “According to a poll reproduced in today’s Information Times, 64% of more than 37,000 respondents to an online poll were dubious about the appropriateness and enforceability of the provisions,” reports Danwei — there’s also plenty of support, which lends credence to the idea that blaming “the Chinese” for animal cruelty is, well, stupid. In an online forum for cat owners (granted, a self-selecting group), there was much rejoicing over the announcement of the draft law, and widespread hope that it would become a real law. Said one netizen,

Amitabha [the name of a widely-worshipped bodhisattva], [I hope the law] is quickly presented [to the legislature] and confirmed. There’s enough dog’s blood on the hands of Han [people].

Another wrote:

Go, go, give those people who play with animals’ lives a wake up call!

Of course, much of the controversy over the law comes not from Chinese people’s love for eating dogs so much as it comes from the widespread belief that the legislature should be spending their time passing laws that protect the rights of people before they worry about the rights of animals.

What do you think?

(Full disclosure: Your correspondent has eaten dog meat soup at a Korean restaurant in Harbin, but found it impossible to enjoy. I kept picturing my parents’ dog.)

0 thoughts on “Animal Rights in China”

  1. You should know that the Daily Mail is racist and consistently offensive. It is completely in keeping with their policy of keeping the middle classes scared with stories of evil foreigners doing harm to all the things they hold dear, cute fuzzy-wuzzy animals among them. This piece is actually pretty tame for them.


  2. I’ll just say this; I’m not a fan of zoos anywhere, but the few I’ve had the misfortune to visit in China have demonstrated by far the greatest disrespect towards the creatures that man shares the planet with. And that comment applies to zookeepers and visitors alike.


  3. Not idea how you could be so imaginative that even animal rights can have something to do with China’s human rights protection. If you are that discontent with China, then why don’t you just leave. Nobody forces you to stay here. Obviously not the CCP.


  4. I’ll just say this; I’m not a fan of zoos anywhere, but the few I’ve had the misfortune to visit in China have demonstrated by far the greatest disrespect towards the creatures that man shares the planet with. And that comment applies to zookeepers and visitors alike.


    back with the “evil chinese people” schtick i see. the consistency over the months is worth applauding. a perfect illustration of what megan knight described in comment #1.


  5. I respectfully refer the author of comment #5 to the ‘handbook for civilized debate and how to avoid ad hominems, the straw man, and false premises’.

    Otherwise he/she could always take a trip to the zoo.


  6. Oh, I get it.

    So now we got the sophisticated urban liberals on our asses for carrying out our ancient folk customs, none of which have anything to do with intentional cruelty. We also get to label the “good”ness of other civilizations based on their similarity to the Western instance.

    Last time we saw moral universalism and self-righteousness of today’s magnitude was back in the Middle and early Modern ages, in the name of a little religion called Christianity.

    It would be interesting to see China become more powerful one day, and slam the Americans for being barbaric because they refuse to eat dog meat.

    In fact, it would be even more interesting to see a powerful future India declare America an evil state for not banning the consumption of beef.


  7. Gee, going to google, search for lion and this picture comes up shows what a screwed up, anti-China search engine google is.

    Eating dogs is considered a delicacy to some Chinese people, like some people in the US eating Horsemeat or alligator. What’s the difference?


  8. The difference, my friend, is that we’re threatening the Western cultural hegemony and their monopoly on ethical definitions.

    And that pisses them off. Not as a state, but as a nation, as a people.


  9. Ancient custom, tradition, delicacy, cultural difference.. all irrelevant. If it tastes good, doesn’t poison you and there’s plenty of it… why not eat it?


  10. From what I see in Beijing these days, is that many city folks preferring their dogs more than migrant workers which I regard that as more disturbing.

    Just from a scientific approach ( myself as a researcher in engineering), I never understood why animals should remain as animals as in “the good old days”. I mean the only thing that Darwin told us is that animals that can adapt the best in an every changing environment will be the last creatures that will see the end of this planet. Varies from a cockroach to a virus at the top.

    Now, with humans on top of the food-chain, I think that the animals that adapt the best in the human area is the wolf–>house dog and wildcats–> cats. With the least flexible animals being of course the endanger ones (tigers, lions and elephant).

    I am not here to advocate the killing/training of exotic animals but I do think it is hypocrite to think that these animals should stay in their original habitat or behave like thousand years ago just because we humans want to feel good about ourselves. We should realize that 99% of the original wild lives was already eradicated long before we begin in trading in the ivory and leather. Long before the humans, original animals were eradicated by new species and long after the humans, original animals will still be eradicated by new species unless they adapt in the favor of the new species.

    THIS ALL IS JUST A THOUGHT (JUST RATIONALLY), personally I still prefer to see an lion or elephant in the WILD than in a zoo.


  11. Yang,

    Personally, I’m all for the preservation of wild species simply because I think they’re interesting and like the variety. However, I will say I don’t think there’s much that’s “natural” about humans considering that we destroy everything in our path. Not to sound all tree-huggerish but that’s essentially what we do. There isn’t a single animal that I can think of that we wouldn’t be able to find some sort of use for, be it for fur, food, or decoration.

    Except maybe the jellyfish. That doesn’t, however, mean that we should drive everything in our paths to extinction just because we can.


  12. @ Eric, chaji: Who the hell are you talking to? This post doesn’t condemn Chinese for eating dog meat (that would be pretty hypocritical given that I’ve eaten it myself), nor does it suggest that animal rights and human rights issues in China are connected.

    Don’t let that get in the way of paranoid, defensive nationalism though, eh?

    @ pug_ster: Google search results are based on an algorithm, and if you really think it’s specifically tuned to post “anti-China” results first, you’re even more paranoid than the rest of them. I have to assume you’re joking, though.

    @ Josh: Don’t some people eat jellyfish?


  13. C. Custer,

    This post doesn’t, but there are a LOT out there that do. You don’t get defensive without someone being aggressive, so maybe, just maybe, we actually have a legitimate reason for saying the things we say.

    As for Google bombing, remember “Chinese people eat babies”? Google itself isn’t associated with a particular ideology, but at the same time, it can definitely be used as a platform to deliver them.


  14. Google suggests crazy stuff all the time. “Chinese people eat babies” is one of billions of examples and assuming it’s there because of some anti-China forces at Google is downright moronic. Going by that logic, Google is also attempting to spread the idea that…

    Sarah Palin killed Michael Jackson
    Computers want to murder you in a lake
    Nostradamus eats people’s house pets
    Pants are an illusion
    People with red hair are rotting vegetables
    Unicorns want to murder your children
    Google itself killed Bambi
    Etc. etc. etc.

    I could literally post these INFINITELY because Google search and auto suggest are BASED ON ALGORITHMS. There is no one sitting in a desk at Google saying “muhahahah, I hate Chinese people.” Someone just wrote “Chinese people eat babies” somewhere on the internet, and Google read it and indexed it. The fact that some people take it as a serious and intentional slander against the chinese people makes about as much sense as unicorns getting up in arms because they don’t actually murder children.

    There’s nothing wrong with defending yourself when something is actually attacking you, but calling Google’s autosuggest racially biased is a pretty good example of paranoia.


  15. C. Custer,

    My point wasn’t that Google is racist for displaying certain things, but the fact is that there ARE indeed people sitting in a desk going “muhahahah, I have Chinese people”, just not in Google. These people intentionally abuse the Google’s algorithsm so that autosuggest will show what they want it to show.

    Here’s an example you’ll find more revelant. Remember when Google autocorrected “miserable failure” to G.W. Bush’s home page in the Whitehouse website? Same thing.

    So I really got nothing against Google in turning up pictures of a circus (somehow associated with animal cruelty), but I do have something against those people that manipulate Google’s search results based on their own biases.


  16. @Josh
    Why are humans not natural: the fact that we are destroying such much indicates that we are a part of the natural system. Like every new species, when it is first introduced a new equilibrium will have to be found before the whole system is stable. You should think this according to earth time ( so hundred thousand of years).

    Sometime of course, it is very hard to find a equilibrium when the specie develops itself too fast ! Most of its resources will be exhausted:

    In smaller scale: cancer cells or most of bacteria that case epidemics

    In larger scale: we humans, But also carnivores and herbivores that are introduced in a total new environment. I mean animals will also exterminate other animals if that result into an increase of territory or food.


  17. First of all, that “miserable failure” isn’t the same thing at all. That WAS people inside Google, making a very intentional joke. It had nothing to do with “people manipulating Google’s search algorithms.

    As for “Chinese people eat babies”, do you have any proof whatsoever that “people intentionally abuse the Google’s algorithsm so that autosuggest will show” the phrase Chinese people eat babies? Any proof at all? (Note: this isn’t legitimate proof of anything. California is a state with 3.5 million people; those searches could be the result of some stupid joke getting passed around a California high school just as easily as they could be the an evil plot by Google to slander the Chinese).

    Go to and type in “Chinese people”. What’s the first thing that pops up? “Chinese people are stupid.” So is there also some conspiracy among the people in Baidu to slander the Chinese people? Goojje (another Chinese search engine) lists the second result of a search for “Chinese people” as “Shameless Chinese people”. Is Goojje, too, trying to intentionally slander the Chinese?

    There are plenty of real examples of Western bias against Chinese people. Why would you fixate so much on something that is so clearly not some evil Western conspiracy to bad mouth the Chinese people?

    (And as a sidenote, why the hell would anyone even spend the time to do this? If you actually search for “Chinese people eat babies”, the first response is about how Chinese people don’t eat babies and how that urban legend is racist. So, if someone actually did want to slander the Chinese people, isn’t this a rather stupid and pointless way to go about it? It would also be somewhat difficult, so why would anyone ever bother? Sure there are people who want to slander China, but there are much better, much easier ways.)


  18. Still, you can’t eliminate the possibility that a similar method was used in the “Chinese people eat babies” case.

    Even if we were to assume there were no conspiracies, the fact that enough Westerners are sufficiently convinced that Chinese people eat babies that it shows up on Google auto suggest doesn’t disturb you at all?


  19. Nope, it doesn’t, at all. Unicorns murdering children ALSO shows up on Google autosuggest, should I be concerned lots of Westerners believe that, too? You’re free to get concerned about it if you like, but it is a tremendous waste of your time.

    And yes, I can’t prove that it wasn’t a case of Google bombing that led to the “Chinese eat babies” thing, but luckily for me that’s not how reasoned debate works. If you are making a claim — such as yours that “Chinese people eat babies” represents some vast Western smear campaign — the burden of proof is on you.

    Trust me, Westerners can come up with way better smear campaigns anyway. No one would care enough to waste their time with a conspiracy that, at best, puts “Chinese people eat babies” on the same level of legitimacy as “pants are an illusion and so is death”.


  20. I’ve never made the claim that it’s some sort of a smear campaign – we get enough of that on a daily basis on every form of media in existence.

    What I see is that there exists a widespread myth about Chinese people, namely, that they eat babies.

    Still, the role Google played here is rather ambiguous – just as with the removal of the “miserable failure” bomb, shortly after its discovery, it was observed to be replaced by “Chinese people get babies”. One can’t help but wonder why they would do so, if Google really were innocent.


  21. You never claimed it was some sort of smear campaign? But you said “there ARE indeed people sitting in a desk going “muhahahah, I have Chinese people”, just not in Google. These people intentionally abuse the Google’s algorithsm so that autosuggest will show what they want it to show.”

    “Chinese people eat babies” hasn’t been replaced, it’s still there in the autosuggest.

    And yes, that myth does exist. It’s because people found photos of Zhu Yu’s “Eating People” exhibit but didn’t realize they were performance art and thought they were just pictures of a Chinese guy eating a baby. Ignorant, yes, but it’s hard to blame people for thinking some Chinese eat babies when presented with photos of a Chinese person eating babies.


  22. Yes, I heard from my friend from Beijing that people from Southern China eat babies so it must be true.

    Why is a lion riding on a horse considered animal cruelty? Does the lion eat the horse after it rides it?


  23. It’s not animal cruelty per se, in China people go to the zoo expecting to see something of a show. Westerners go to zoos to see animals in a simulated environment. It’s acceptable (at least in Shanghai zoo) to “rouse” the animals into some kind of action either by making noise or throwing feed at it. It’s like half circus half zoo.


  24. I respectfully refer the author of comment #5 to the ‘handbook for civilized debate and how to avoid ad hominems, the straw man, and false premises’.

    Otherwise he/she could always take a trip to the zoo.


    Because you’re an examplar of civilized debate, including demanding a nurse, before the cops could officially confirm, publicly tell an ambulence chasing reporter that a 9-year girl was raped over there at hao hao report, and the friendships you have at cnreview and here over your freaking out at any association of the words “great” and china or chinese people and the constant rasict theme that “among all the places i’ve been to, the chinese people are the most racist/cruel to animals.”


  25. Yang,

    While I understand and actually expected that exact argument, I really hate getting all philosophical and shit about what is and isn’t natural. Sorry, man.


  26. And btw, Custer, I’ve never heard of anyone eating jellyfish. Who does that? It really doesn’t sound appetizing. Then again, neither did scorpions the first time I tried them in wangfujing. I remember as a kid in Ocean City, MD, there were some days throughout the year when all the jellyfish would come into shore and die on the beach and so the entire beach would be covered in dead jellyfish. Some may say it’s gross, I’d say it’s a poor man’s frisbee.


  27. “@ 凯文: I think at least some people would consider forcing animals to do anything they wouldn’t naturally do as “animal cruelty”.”

    So, down with circus animals? Set free all the domesticated chickens so they can become a major pest? An end to dolphin shows at Seaworld?


  28. @ Anon342: In a word, yes. Keeping domesticated animals for food is different, that’s something we more or less need to do, but do we really need the circus (let’s face it, it’s pretty freaking creepy anyway) or dolphin shows at sea world (just watch Planet Earth)?


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