Over the past week, the Yulin Dog Meat Festival has been trending on China’s social media. The recurring festival, that is held in the south of China starting from June 21st celebrates the Summer Solstice by eating lychees and dog meat. Approximately 10,000 dogs are slaughtered during this festival; an abundance of food stalls in Yulin sell dog meat specialties. Dog lovers and animal rights supporters have cried out against the event; many of them came to Yulin to protest against the practice of eating dog meat. Yulin locals resent these demonstrations and stand up for their legal right to eat dog meat. Online discussions have flared up in the light of this event, with strong sentiments against the eating of dog meat. Time to list some facts about dogs and dog eating in China.
1. The practice of dog eating is an ancient tradition. In China, it can be traced back to around 1700 B.C., starting in the north (Liu 2006, 102).
2. 13 to 16 million dogs are eaten in Asia on a yearly basis. Dog flesh can be found on the menu in North-Korea, South-Korea, Vietnam and China (Podberscek 2009, 616-617). (Image below: stew made of dog meat).
3. In ancient China, a dog could have three different functions within a household. It could be a watchdog (to guard the farmhouse), a hunting dog, or a dog that would be slaughtered to eat (Liu 2006).
4. Although dog-eating originally was a northern Chinese tradition, it was brought to the south around the 6th century. It became popularized due to northern nomadic groups that travelled south, bringing all kinds of customs with them – including dogs and their meat (Liu 2006，102).
5. The dog is one of China’s twelve zodiac signs. People who are born in the year of the dog are generally believed to be loyal, faithful and unselfish. They can also be pessimistic, anxious, and doubtful about many things in life.
6. Dogs and dog meat were considered important offerings in ancient China. It was common that the deceased were buried together with their dog to accompany them to the other world. Dogs were also sacrificed as food for the gods (Liu 2006, 102-103). This shows that since ancient times, the dog was considered both a foodstuff and a friend in Chinese culture. (Image below: ceramic crouching dog, excavated from Henan burial site, dating from Han Dynasty, 206BC-220AD, Henan Museum).
7. The importance of dogs in rituals of sacrifice is evident through Chinese scripture: the Chinese character for ‘offer’ (献, xian) incorporates the character for ‘dog’ (犬, quan) (Liu 2006, 102). (Image below: the character ‘xian’).
8. Around the 10th century, the meaning of dog meat started to change for many Chinese, who no longer perceived dogs as food. It is likely that the popularization of Buddhism caused this general change in attitude; Buddhism does not advocate the killing of any animals, but particularly rejects slaughtering dogs for their meat. Because of the dog’s general traits, such as loyalty to its owner, it came to be believed that killing dogs was bad karma (Liu 2006, 104). (Image below: a Buddhist nun with her dog at Seda monastery, ABC 2013).
9. Eating dog is considered taboo in Manchu culture. When the Manchu came to rule China from the 17th century, the eating of dog meat was labelled ‘barbarian’ and the practice was banned. Southern Chinese continued eating dog flesh (Hopkins 2004, 20).
10. Because followers of the Kuomintang (‘China’s National People’s Party’) were very much anti-Manchu, they symbolically would start their meetings by cooking dog meat (Hopkins 2004, 20).
11. Although dog eating has become relatively rare in China, the idea that dog meat is ‘tasty’ is ingrained in its culture and language. One famous saying goes: “Dragon meat in heaven, dog meat on earth” (天上龙肉，地上狗肉) (Liu 2006, 105).
12. Not long ago, dog flesh was also eaten in some parts of America, Africa and Europe. In Germany, dog meat was eaten until the early 20th century, and in 1996 it was still served in some areas in Switzerland. In the Phillippines, dog eating became illegal in 1998 (Podberscek 2009, 616-617; Roberts 2004, 20).
13. Today, dog meat is still mostly eaten in the south of China. Some say people in the south of China will eat almost anything. An old Chinese joke goes: “Anything with two legs is edible except your parents, so is anything with four legs, except the bed” (Yue 1999, 1).
14. Beijing currently still has 122 listed restaurants that serve dog meat or are specialized in it. (Image below: dog meat hanging outside a Beijing restaurant in 2009. Picture taken by author).
15. Dog meat is commonly praised for its good taste and health benefits. It is believed to be good for one’s ‘yang’, which stands for the hot (in contrast to the ‘ying’, which is cool). It is said to provide warmth in the winter and to have medicinal value. Not only is it presumed to be good for the liver; it supposedly also enhances the male sex drive (Roberts 2004, 20; Liu 2006; Hopkins 2004, 20). (Image below: dog meat hot pot).
16. Although dogs were rarely seen in Chinese cities up to the late 1980s (Roberts 2004, 124), they have now become a popular pet. In China’s urban areas, one will often see dogs with colored tails or ears – a fashion trend.
17. In 2006, 50,000 dogs were beaten to death during a five day crackdown in Yunnan after three people died of rabies. Only 3% of China’s dogs are vaccinated against rabies, and 2000 people die because of it every year. During the Yunnan crackdown, authorities halted people who were walking their dog. The dogs were beaten to death on the spot (NBCN 2006).
18. In 2012, the city of Harbin issued a law banning 49 different breeds of larger dogs, including Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Chow Chows. If people had not disposed of their dogs by November 2012, they would be taken away by authorities. Weibo netizens collectively posted pictures of their dogs wearing an “SOS” sign as an outcry over the regulation (Ministry of Tofu 2012).
19. Eating dog flesh is only allowed in Mainland China; in Hong Kong, consuming dog meat has been illegal since 1954. In Taiwan, it was banned in 2001.
20. From shoes to dresses, from hats to sweatbands. You can find over 23,000 different items to dress and accessorize your dog when searching for dog’s clothing on China’s Taobao.
Hopkins, Jerry. 2004. Extreme Cuisine: The Weird & Wonderful Foods that People Eat. Singapore: Periplus.
Kaiman, Jonathan. 2014. “Chinese dog-eating festival backlash grows.” The Guardian. June 24 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/23/chinese-dog-eating-festival-backlash-yulin-animal-rights (Accessed online June 24, 2014).
Liu Piaobing 刘朴兵. 2006. “Luelun Zhongguo Gudai de Shigou zhi Feng Ji Renmen dui Shiyong Gourou de Taidu 略论中国古代的食狗之风及人们对食用狗肉的态度 [A Discussion of China’s Ancient Dog Eating Practice and People’s Attitude Towards Eating Dog] (In Chinese). Yindu Xuekan 殷都学刊:102-106.
Ministry of Tofu. 2012. “Dog owners irate, tearful over Harbin’s crackdown on large dogs.” Ministry of Tofu. April 12 http://www.ministryoftofu.com/2012/04/dog-owners-irate-tearful-over-harbins-crackdown-on-large-dogs/ (Accessed June 23, 2014).
NBCN. 2006. “Chinese county clubs to death 50,000 dogs.” NBCN. August 1 http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14139027/ns/health-pet_health/t/chinese-county-clubs-death-dogs/#.U6rV142SzV5 (Accessed Online June 25, 2014).
Podberscek, Anthony. 2009. “Good to Pet and Eat: The Keeping and Consuming of Dogs and Cats in South Korea.” Journal of Social Issues 65(3): 615-632.
Roberts, J.A.G. 2004. China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Young, Connie. 2014. “Canine controversy: Chinese festival serves up dog meat.” CNN. June 23 http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/22/world/asia/china-yulin-dog-meat-festival/ (Accessed online June 24, 2014).
Yue Gang. 1999. The Mouth That Begs: Hunger, Cannibalism, and the Politics of Eating in Modern China. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
ABC. 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-29/seda-monastery2c-china/4657486.
BBC. 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_8150000/newsid_8150200/8150213.stm.
Henan Museum. http://www.chnmus.net/dcjp/node_4140.htm.