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Chinese Netizens Infuriated by “Live Animal Mystery Box” Industry

The business of live animals being sold online as ‘reveal pet surprises,’ transported through regular courier services, has caused outrage on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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The cruel business of living pets being transported through regular courier services as ‘surprise boxes’ has caused outrage on Chinese social media.

“This just makes me furious!” A popular Chinese food blogger posted about China’s “live animal mystery box” on May 4th. The blogger, who goes by the name of ‘Snake Rose’ or ‘Snack Girl’ (@零食少女), has over seven million followers on social media platform Weibo.

In her post, ‘Snack Girl’ addresses the problematic industry of ‘pet blind boxes’ (宠物盲盒) which are for sale on various Chinese e-commerce platforms. “I’ve seen this since about six months ago on all sorts of platforms from Pinduoduo to Taobao, offered for various prices, including those of 9.9 yuan [$1.5] and 19.9 yuan [$3],” the blogger writes.

‘Pet blind boxes’ are offered online as surprise deliveries containing an actual pet. Usually advertised with photos showing attractive and expensive breeds of dogs or cats, online shoppers are lured into buying a small and cute pet at an extremely low price. The fact that these customers do not know what pet they are buying is supposed to add to the ‘charm’ of these blind boxes, since the moment of unboxing is one of anticipation.

In reality, the business is anything but cute or charming. A recent incident exposed the terrible conditions in which these animals are sold and transported as regular goods by standard courier services.

On the evening of May 3, a courier business vehicle containing over 160 small cats and dogs was discovered by local animal rescue volunteers in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan province. The animals were being transported as express delivery goods, with the seller selling them as ‘blind box’ pets. After alerting the authorities, on-site rescue volunteers found several of the animals in the boxes to already have died. Other animals were taken to a local shelter, where they can later be put up for adoption (video of the rescue operation).

Image posted by @junsoly from Chengdu.

Mystery boxes are especially popular among young people, who enjoy the surprise element of not exactly knowing what they are buying. Mystery boxes usually contain beauty products or candy but have also come to contain other things. In May of last year, when the pandemic lockdowns had boosted the domestic pet market, there was also a trend of mystery boxes for pets – containing various pet snacks and care products for cats or dogs.

Reports on the trend of actual live animal mystery boxes started to come out in January of 2021, when Weibo bloggers discovered the online sale of 35 yuan [$5.5] ‘small breed dog’ surprise boxes. Other variations include turtle and cat boxes. One blogger called the service, where these pets are sent to customers through standard courier services, a “deadly game.” The lack of ventilation, long-distance freight, and the violent handling of packages is called “a torture” for these animals, that can barely survive being squeezed and tossed around in such a confined space with a lack of oxygen – sometimes for days.

The animals in the Chengdu rescue operation.

According to Weibo blogger ‘Snack Girl,’ many pets do not make it out alive. If they have not already died by the time they come out of the box, many do not survive for more than a week, which is also called the “week dog / cat” (“星期狗/猫”).

A “week dog” (星期狗) is a term that was originally used for dogs sold by roadside dog dealers in busy shopping areas. When people see these little dogs they are lively and cute, but once they take them home, many of these dogs, carrying contagious illnesses, become ill and die within a week. Along with China’s rapid digitalization, many roadside vending businesses have shifted to the e-commerce environment. In this process, the phenomenon of “week dogs” has now also become an e-commerce problem.

Even if the small dogs arrive alive, they often turn out to be deadly ill.

Many people who bought a pet blind box online find that their dog doesn’t live longer than a week.

Another story that was previously shared online is that of a 9.9 yuan [$1.5] package containing a dog that was rejected by the customer and ended up at the post office. Once opened, the small dog was malnourished, shivering, and near to death. An attempt to rescue the pup failed, and it died the same day.

By Tuesday night, the post by ‘Snack Girl’ and her call on Weibo netizens to never buy these live animal mystery boxes was shared over 47,000 times and liked more than 340,000 times. Many people express their anger and sorrow over this online business.

One artist on Weibo (@ARCS-嘎法) said that in the end, it is humanity that is hurting itself by engaging in these sorts of inhumane practices, sharing a drawing in response (image below).

“The buyers and sellers of these boxes don’t even regard these little cats and dogs as living creatures,” some people say: “When can we finally have an animal protection law?!”

Although China currently has no law against animal cruelty, the live animal blind box industry is still officially illegal since it is not in accordance with Article 33 of the Postal Law in China, which prohibits the posting and delivery in postal materials of various species of live animals.

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

Fresh Off the Boat, Xiamen Fish Are Tested for Covid-19

Catch of the day! These fish in Xiamen can’t escape their daily Covid test.

Manya Koetse

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It does not matter if you’re old or young, shrimp or fish – you can’t escape China’s zero-covid policy.

In the Jimei district of the coastal city of Xiamen, some fish and shrimp also had to do a nucleic acid test this week, leading to some banter on Chinese social media.

In the area, fishermen returning from a day of work have to undergo nucleic acid tests together with some of the fish that they caught during the day.

After the fishermen themselves have done the Covid test, they reportedly have to grab a few fresh fish from their catch of the day for the anti-epidemic workers to test. They open the mouth of the fish so that the fish can be tested with the cotton swab.

Chinese media outlet Sohu (搜狐新闻) posted a video about the issue on its Weibo account on August 17th, receiving over 90,000 likes and more than 8000 shares.

“I thought fish didn’t any lungs?” a popular comment said, with other commenters suggesting that this news made it clear that Covid “doesn’t affect the lungs but the brain instead.”

Another commenter suggested that if this matter concerned authorities, they should also start testing mosquitos.

Some also felt bad for the fish: “They still have to undergo this before getting killed.”

“The fish should be grateful for receiving a Covid test for free,” others wrote, while there were also people who wondered if parts of the sea would go into lockdown mode if some fish would test positive for Covid.

There were also critical commenters wondering about any scientific reasoning behind testing fish, asking who was getting paid to test them – suggesting commercial benefits outweigh scientific basis in this case.

“You can’t get Covid if you don’t have lungs, let alone if you live in the sea,” one Weibo user wrote, another person asking: “Have we all gone mad?”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China Animals

‘Welcome Home, Molly’ – Chinese Zoo Elephant Returns to Kunming after Online Protest

One small step for animal protection in China, one giant leap for Molly the elephant.

Manya Koetse

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Following online protest and the efforts of animal activists, Molly has returned to the Kunming Zoo where she was born and where mother elephant Mopo is.

The little elephant named Molly is a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media recently.

The popular Asian elephant, born in the Kunming Zoo in 2016, was separated from her mother at the age of two in April of 2018. Molly was then transferred from Kunming Zoo to Qinyang, Jiaozuo (Henan), in exchange for another elephant. Over the past few years, fans of Molly started voicing their concerns online as the elephant was trained to do tricks and performances and to carry around tourists on her back at the Qinyang Swan Lake Ecological Garden (沁阳天鹅湖生态园), the Qinyang Hesheng Forest Zoo (沁阳和生森林动物园), the Jiaozuo Forestry Zoo (焦作森林动物园), and the Zhoukou Safari Park (周口野生动物世界).

Since the summer of 2021, more people started speaking out for Molly’s welfare when they spotted the elephant chained up and seemingly unhappy, forced to do handstands or play harmonica, with Molly’s handlers using iron hooks to coerce her into performing.

Earlier this month, Molly became a big topic on Chinese social media again due to various big accounts on Xiaohongshu and Weibo posting about the ‘Save Molly’ campaign and calling for an elephant performance ban in China (read more).

Although zookeepers denied any animal abuse and previously stated that the elephant is kept in good living conditions and that animal performances are no longer taking place, Molly’s story saw an unexpected turn this week. Thanks to the efforts of online netizens, Molly fans, and animal welfare activists, Molly was removed from Qinyang.

A popular edited image of Molly that has been shared a lot online.

On May 15, the Henan Forestry Bureau – which regulates the holding of all exotic species, including those in city zoos – announced that Molly would return to Kunming in order to provide “better living circumstances” for the elephant. A day later, on Monday, Molly left Qinyang and returned to the Kunming Zoo where she was born. In Kunming, Molly will first receive a thorough health check during the observation period.

Official announcement regarding Molly by the Henan Forestry Administration.

Many online commenters were happy to see Molly returning home. “Finally! This is great news,” many wrote, with others saying: “Please be good to her” and “Finally, after four years of hardship, Molly will be reunited with her mother.”

Besides regular Weibo accounts celebrating Molly’s return to Kunming, various Chinese state media accounts and official accounts (e.g. the Liaocheng Communist Youth League) also posted about Molly’s case and wished her a warm welcome and good wishes. One Weibo post on the matter by China News received over 76,000 likes on Monday.

Although many view the effective online ‘Save Molly’ campaign as an important milestone for animal welfare in China, some animal activists remind others that there are still other elephants in Chinese zoos who need help and better wildlife protection laws. Among them are the elephant Kamuli (卡目里) and two others who are still left in Qinyang.

For years, animal welfare activists in China and in other countries have been calling for Chinese animal protection laws. China does have wildlife protection laws, but they are often conflicting and do not apply to pets and there is no clear anti-animal abuse law.

“I’ll continue to follow this. What are the next arrangements? What is the plan for Molly and the other elephants? How will you guarantee a safe and proper living environment?”

Another Weibo user writes: “This is just a first step, there is much more to be done.”

To follow more updates regarding Molly, check out Twitter user ‘Diving Paddler’ here. We thank them for their contributions to this article.

To read more about zoos and wildlife parks causing online commotion in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse

References (other sources linked to within text)

Arcus Foundation (Ed.). 2021. State of the Apes: Killing, Capture, Trade and Ape Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

China Daily. 2012. “Animal Rights Groups Seek Performance Ban.” China Daily, April 16 http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2012-04/16/content_25152066.htm [Accessed May 1 2022].

Li, Peter J. 2021. Animal Welfare in China: Culture, Politics and Crisis. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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