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].
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.)