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Tradition or Abuse? Chinese Views on the Yulin Dog Meat Festival

The start of the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival has made international headlines, with celebrities and politicians condemning the event. The tradition has mainly sparked outrage outside of China, but what is the general view on the dog meat festival within the PRC?

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The start of the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival has made global headlines, with international celebrities and politicians condemning the event. The tradition has mainly sparked outrage outside of China, but what is the general view on the dog meat festival within the PRC?

The controversial annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival (玉林狗肉节) has started in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi, despite loud voices protesting its takeoff this year. The festival, that is now internationally condemned by celebrities and politicians, draws mixed reactions on Chinese social media platforms.

 

A MORAL AND LEGAL ISSUE

“Is this even legal? That’s the question.”

 

Although many dog lovers and animal welfare campaigners from around the world call on the Chinese government to stop the festival and its dog meat industry, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying recently clarified that the Yulin government has never supported or organized the festival.

The event, that is locally organized by city residents, starts from June 21st every year and has been drawing controversy since 2010. The recurring festival celebrates the summer solstice by eating lychees and dog meat. An abundance of food stalls in Yulin sell dog meat specialties throughout the event, that allegedly is a long-standing local tradition. It is estimated that around 10.000 dogs are slaughtered during the ten-day festival (Yan 2015, 46).

Is this even legal? That’s the question. China has no law that bans the eating of dogs; eating dog meat is a personal freedom. This suggests that the controversy over the Yulin event is purely moral and not legal.

But what makes the issue murky and extra troublesome for dog lovers and animal welfare campaigners is that China actually has no legal dog farms, nor legal dog slaughter houses. It is therefore not clear where the Yulin festival dogs come from. Are they stray dogs? Are they “victims of dognapping”? And if so, would this not be considered illegal (Cao 2014; Yan 2015, 46)?

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It is these questions, and the persisting reports of animal cruelty during the event, that have made Yulin’s Dog Meat festival extremely controversial – not just internationally, but also within China, where more and more people are now denouncing the annual dog-meat-fest.

 

MORE RESOLUTE OPPONENTS

“62% of Chinese surveyees think the dog meat festival harms China’s international reputation”

 

Over recent years, it seems that the Yulin Dog Meat Festival has grown more resolute opponents than enthusiastic supporters within mainland China.

A recent opinion poll revealed that 64% of Chinese now oppose the festival. The survey was conducted by Beijing Horizon Key (北京零点指标信息咨询有限公司) and was held amongst 2000 people in the 16-50 age category from 1000 different cities, 500 counties and 500 villages (Jiemian 2016).

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Image shared on Weibo: “Yulin Dog Meat Festival: should we eat dog meat?”

The survey also revealed that 62% of Chinese surveyees think the dog meat festival harms China’s international reputation, and that 51.7% of the people feel that the Chinese dog meat industry should be banned altogether. 69.5% of the surveyed claimed they had never eaten dog meat in their life.

 

HYPOCRITICAL ACTIVISTS

“Yulin’s dog meat should be made into a brand and be widely promoted.”

 

Yet there are also those who are still strongly in favor of the festival. In the Beijing Review (2015), Hu Jianbing of rednet.cn suggests that it is hypocritical to denounce the eating of dog meat when there are so many other animals that are being eaten. Why would the consumption of dog meat be more “horrific” or “disgusting”? Hu says that the festival should go on, as long as there are no illegal abductions of dogs:

“The festival should be continued and could be further developed into a big business. Yulin’s dog meat should be made into a brand and be widely promoted.”

On Sina Weibo, there are also people praising dog meat for its taste and disagreeing with the Yulin protesters. By now, the Yulin dog meat festival has become a much-discussed issue, especially in light of the international condemnation for it.

 

MIXED REACTIONS

“My family also raises dogs, and we will always kill and eat them after raising them for years.”

 

Chinese netizens vehemently discuss the dog meat festival on Weibo under the hashtags of ‘Yulin Dog Meat Festival’ (#玉林狗肉节#), ‘Who Advocates the Dog Meat Festival?’ (#谁是玉林狗肉节推手#), the popular hashtag ‘Boycott the Yulin Dog Festival’ (#抵制玉林狗肉节#), and others. The topic has received thousands of comments, with many people venting their thoughts on their own Weibo pages or commenting under Yulin-related news articles.

The discussion draws many mixed reactions, because many netizens disagree on what the focus issue actually is. Is it about whether or not people should eat dog meat? Is it about preserving local traditions? Is it about animal welfare laws in China? Or is this about Western media condemning Chinese traditions? On Chinese social media, it is about all of those things, with different people viewing the issue from different angles.

One netizen writes: “I have seen so many posts about this, here’s my two cents: my family also often raises dogs (to protect the home), and we will always kill and eat them after raising them for years, because they’ve become old and useless. It would be a pity to bury it, especially because we can’t afford to eat dog meat very often. My dad likes to eat it, I don’t really. But I would never object to my dad eating dog meat. Ever since the Dog Meat Festival, I’ve begun to detest the behavior of all those activists. At this year’s summer solstice I’ll also eat a few pieces of dog meat!”

 

THE CORE OF THE ISSUE

“Eating dog meat is okay, animal cruelty is not.”

 

Many netizens emphasize that they feel it is not right to eat dogs because of their relation to humans: “It is true that we are carnivores,” another Weibo user comments: “But since ancient times, we’ve had a special connection to dogs. Every time I see people eating dog meat or hear them justifying it, it disgusts me!”

cartoons

Yulin Dog Meat Festival opponents post campaign posters on Chinese social media.

But not all netizens understand what the fuss is about: “China is so big and powerful, and yet some little dogs draw international attention. In Africa, people are starving to death yet nobody cares. In Syria there are so many refugees that people don’t care about. The Western world..” one netizen says.

“Every year it’s the same battle and I am sick of this issue. I try to avoid all news related to it, but I can no longer stand those of you morons who say ‘well don’t you also eat pork and cows?’ – screw you! We raise dogs and take them into our homes like friends, we take care of them with medicine and injections when they are sick. Do you take your cattle into your house like friends? If not, then you have nothing to say!” one Tianjin netizen writes.

There are also many netizens who share shocking pictures and videos of dogs being cruelly killed for their meat. Virtually all netizens respond to these images in shock: “Human nature is so low, it makes my hair stand on end. Society is evil.”

In the end, the Yulin dog meat festival discussion is genuinely multifaceted. As long as eating dog meat is not banned in China, eating dogs will remain a personal and legal choice. Perhaps the question of whether or not dog meat should be allowed is not at the core of the issue, nor is the question whether or not Yulin’s dog festival is tradition or abuse. The many videos, pictures, and online documentaries show that the Yulin festival is a tradition that undeniably involves animal abuse. It is therefore both a tradition and abuse.

Most Chinese netizens seem to agree that what should be tackled first is not necessarily the tradition of eating dog meat itself, but the abuse that comes with it. As one netizen puts it: “Eating dog meat is okay, animal cruelty is not.”

– By Manya Koetse

References

Cao Yin. 2014. “Experts: Dog Meat Festival ‘Illegal’.” China Daily (June 16). Online at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-06/16/content_17589087.htm [6.23.16].

Luan Xiang 栾翔. 2016. “调查显示六成民众呼吁取缔玉林狗肉节 官方称从未组织 [Poll Shows 60% of People Oppose the Yulin Dog Meat Festival – Government States They Do Not Organize It]” . Jiemian 界面 (June 20). Online at http://www.jiemian.com/article/704030.html [6.23.16].

Yan Wei. 2015. “Dog Meat Festival: Traditional Custom or Abuse?” Beijing Review (29): 46-47.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Martha boltares

    June 24, 2016 at 12:11 am

    Red meat gives humans rectal cancer in the long run! I hope Karma gives these dog and cat eaters a lot! Torture before killing a being is evil! Do you do that to a fetus before you eat it? Do you beat up the mom to make it taste better? I’ll bet you don’t! You’re evil beings! May karma curse you!

  2. Rosa Aguirre-Sweet

    June 24, 2016 at 2:17 am

    well that was disappointing as hell, but glad to know that we all agree on one thing, the brutality and cruelty that is used on these dogs, Id like to see them watch how these dogs are tortured, skinned and cooked alive, then tell me how great dog meat taste….
    to mention Africa is ridicules, how does India live as vegetarians…they farm their food and grains, Africa also has access to many wild life animals for food, the wild boars are out of control all over the world, even the refugees eating the wild boars might help keep the population down and keep them out of the crops they destroy, deer population also out of control, have you ever watched “the great migration”? were talking so many wilde beast are killed, from trying to cross a couple croc infested rivers, OH WAIT, CROCS probably eat better then the africans and refugees, and crocs are edible, wilde beast are edible, anything deer related, antelope , elk, moose, and many others edible, birds are edible, and tell me again….WHY are people starving????
    during extreme droughts, fish literally die from lack of water, I understand that it would be difficult to grow crops because lack of water, what it takes to raise live stock for meat, would be more useful to utilize the grains used to feed the live stock, these grains can last much longer on a shelf then meat would… I myself have turned towards vegetarian, I also grow, can, dehydrate many of my own vegatables…the US throws away and waste more food, then necessary. ..and then the Africans poach Elephants and Rhino, wild cats to near extinction, for the Chinese of course…and leave the remains to rot in the sun, or for other animals to eat…then turn around crying their starving.

  3. Linda Ensing

    June 24, 2016 at 11:06 am

    This is no adition! This is animal cruelty!????

  4. Linda Ensing

    June 24, 2016 at 11:07 am

    This is no tradition ! This is animal cruelty!????

  5. Robyn Gale

    June 24, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    The Yulin Dog Festival should be banned, these people…if you want to call them that…. are barbaric they torture these animals skinning and boiling them alive, muzzling them and chopping their paws off, what do they say ” the more pain the animal is in the better the meat tastes” WELL SORRY THIS IS JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE. #StopYulinforever????????????????????????

  6. RSB

    June 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t give a flying fuck if it is culturally insensitive. I am a mental health provider and I ALWAYS have to be culturally mindful. This is NOT about attacking one’s culture. I would say the same if other countries display this type of barbaric torture towards animals. And I am sick to death of people posting “what is the difference between dogs and cows?”, it is not the kind of animal that is being eaten. It is the philosophy of inflicting severe torture to animals to “tenderize the meat” and for “strength and fertility” purposes. This kind of torture and pain that is inflicted is pure evil and wrong and simply states that this “culture” lacks compassion. It is wrong and these people need to be educated. And lastly, the bulk of the dogs and cats consumed are stolen pets with collars. This also states that these people do not care about the morality of where their meat comes from and proceeds to slaughter stolen pets instead of letting them go to return to their owners. They can complain about their moods being spoiled but what about the pain that these innocent animals endure? Therefore, my final words.. Culturally insensitive, my ass, go choke on a bone!

  7. Mary johnston

    June 24, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    THIS IS ANIMAL CRUELTY!!!! TAKE THESE BARBARIC PEOPLE SKIN THEM ALIVE THEN COOK THEM!!! THAT IS WHY I STOPPED EATING CHINESE FOOD I DONT WHAT I AM EATING AND I DONT BUY ANY TREATS FOR MY PETS MADE IN CHINA!!! What’s next they gonna start eating they’re own children?

  8. lisa goudie

    June 25, 2016 at 1:19 am

    Would you slowly torture a person if it made them taste better? How can you think this way? You are evil and you use and abuse but give nothing back. You should never be near an animal. They are too good for you. You need to feel the pain that these animals feel. You are cowards!!!!!!!!

  9. Cynthia

    June 25, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Yu Lin dog meat festivil is not merely personal choice or traditions, but it is an organized marketing behavior. The maority of dogs are napped and shipped to Yulin, most are pets or stay dogs. The whole procudure of the business covers criminal and illegal activities. To say this is merely traditions and personal behavior is actually escape the responsibility of bureaucracy. It is very desappointing the government made this annoucing. It is an insult the Chinese and the culture to let this inhumane “festivil” exsit and even justify for it.

  10. susan shawket

    June 25, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    These poor dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are brutally tortured to death. They are companion animals and just want our love and attention. The Yulin dog and cat meat eating festival is absolutely horrific. The pain and suffering these animals endure is beyond our comprehension. The torturers are SAVAGES… they even eat dogs alive. Saying that, in Iraq the Kurds eat puppies alive and rip their poor little bodies apart. It sickens me that in this day and age, billions of animals, birds, insects, sealife and reptiles are tortured to death. ROT IN HELL the lot of you SADISTIC, EVIL savages.

  11. Tania micallef

    June 26, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    They say that Yulin dog meat festival is a tradition.In ancient years people in the Colosseum (Rome -Italy)gladiators used to combat with wild and hungry animals.Nowadays this has stopped because people realised that this was inhumane.Torturing and killing an animal in this barbaric state is inhumane.We are human beings and we must have feelings.A man without feelings at all is a monster.We need more people like Marc Ching .He saved 1000 dogs from dog meat festival.He deserves a nobel price for doing such a thing.

  12. Nicole

    June 28, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    The China government is clever. On one hand, they said they have not supported nor organized the festival. (to appease foreigners) Yet at the same time, they continue letting their citizens do whatever they want in regards to holding the festival. Even when tons of complaints about dogs being stolen from home, caught from the streets and even the vast amount of cruelty/torture were involved.

    Even the current festival, Marc Ching reported that there were police officers wearing street clothes following him around.

  13. Michele

    June 29, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I am very disappointed in the article re: Yulin Festival. There’s hardly any discussion regarding the cruelty involved in butchering the dogs (and cats..no one ever discusses the poor cats! ) alive. Next time around…or even all year long…let’s put a camera inside these houses of horror so all those about to sit down to a doggy feast can see how their dinner was made. The tragedy is that not enough Chinese are bothered by the cruelty: the torching, boiling, skinning and mutilating a living animal is tolerated in their archaic, pagan, society. Just send a couple of Viagra shipments to China! That may end their demand for tiger penises and thirst for tiger wine. Their abuse of bear for bile…and their need for rhino horn for ‘medicinal’ purposes. They must be the horniest men on the planet.

    • MF

      July 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

      It would be nice if people like Michele could oppose dog meat eating without slipping into racist comments and if people like Mary Johnston would read the article before commenting. Most people in China don’t eat dog meat or condone the festival. It doesn’t make any sense to boycott restaurants in your home country run by Chinese people who have no connection to the Yulin festival.

      • Eddie Wood

        June 15, 2017 at 8:32 pm

        The very act of the torturing dogs and cats angers people beyond reason, these people who do this are sub-species, why comment on someone showing a distaste towards the chinese weather it is racist or not that is nowhere near as important as the torturing of these beautiful animals!!!!!!!
        If we all boycott chinese restaurants maybe then something will be done by their own people??? I see nothing wrong in doing that, what is wrong is the torturing of animals!!!!!!!!!

  14. SL

    August 2, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    the torture before killing these dogs/cats really breaks my heart & make me tremble… Are these even humans?

  15. sharon rowe

    August 25, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    You are right to say it is the torture of the animals which most offends people outside of China…and it is this savagery that makes many people look down on China for allowing this to continue in 2016. We have cruelty all around the world towards animals, but the extent and the nature of the cruetly involved in the dog meat trade is not defendable under the name of history, culture, diet, need.

  16. Jones Schmit

    August 31, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    I am totally against this Festival. Because in the way they celebrating it’s out of humanity. Such festival should be banned. Many animal lovers and organisations like vanderpumpdogs.org are Uprising this festival. But I am still surprised how their government could not ban such inhumanity festivals there.

  17. Zach

    January 2, 2017 at 10:43 am

    The dog meat torture is so extreme that most people do not ever watch it, because the videos do not get circulated. On a daily basis, i see new videos of dogs in China being boiled alive, thrashing about and screaming in agony, or dogs hanged and blow torched alive while they scream, or having their skin peeled off as they kick and scream, or have their paws chopped off and eaten while the dog is left alive to suffer. This is torture that you would find in Saw movies. To support the Yulin festival in any way makes you the scum of the Earth. The problem is NOT eating dog meat necessarily. It is TORTURING dogs. And harming peaceful protestors by dumping boiling water on them or kidnapping them. Reading this article, i expected the number of people against this to be in the 90th percentile. China is a disgusting place.

  18. Zach

    January 2, 2017 at 10:53 am

    People will call protestors “hypocrites” for eating beef and pork while being against dog meat in China. As a vegan myself, i get to say that’s a complete false equivalency. I cannot watch a family pet, writhing in agony and screaming desperately, as it is forced down in a pot of boiling water, and think that people who eat cows are just as bad. It is no contest. Where in civilized countries, we strive to kill animals quickly and somewhat “humanely”, China strives to inflict as much pain as possible. The only time they actually kill humanely is when they are in a hurry and don’t actually have time to torture the animal.

    By the way, it has been proven that lots of leather in the US imported from China is dog leather, labeled as cow leather, and those dogs were boiled and skinned alive. Boiled, and then had their fur scraped off their tender bodies as they were fully conscious, crying out in pain. Any torture you can think of, they have done it already.

    As i mentioned, these videos do not circulate, because to share them means losing most of your friends. I lost 75% of my facebook friends for sharing the Yulin Festival and asking others to spread the word. Everyone would rather look the other way, or even become angry at the messenger, rather than at China.

    • Adrian Shiva

      February 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      You are exactly correct. I myself am a vegan, yet I always see people attempting to excuse cruelty on the grounds that anyone who protests it is a “hypocrite” – but not only is it false equivalency to liken the torture-consumption of dogs and cats to the consumption of typical livestock animals, but an appeal to hypocrisy is known as a “to quoque” logical fallacy, which says that attempting to point to supposed ‘hypocrisy’ has nothing to do with the current topic but instead points to some other fault as if that excuses the current one.

      You know what’s interesting? ‘Hypocrisy’ accusations pretty much never come up with any other cruelty. If we try to save a human life, we’re suddenly not ‘hypocrites’ if we don’t donate to starving children, or don’t adopt a child. We’re not ‘hypocrites’ if drug addicts try to tell youths to stay out of drugs. A suicidal man is not called a ‘hypocrite’ for trying to talk someone else out of jumping off a bridge. Or should he instead say “jump, you coward!” because apparently the worse crime according to these cruelty apologists is to be considered a hypocrite.

      But when it comes to animal torture/consumption, it’s really interesting that so many people are bent on excusing it. After all, the apologists are not the ones being tortured or killed, and will look for ways to excuse sadism and gluttony that targets animals.

      They are wrong to assume that they are logically or morally right to suggest that no one can condemn a cruelty if they are hypocrites, because that places an emphasis on character imperfection *and* in this case relies on false equivalency, rather than on a position or proposed argument.

      Further, another reason many people go with hypocrisy disengagements is because, by suggesting that only vegans can speak out against animal cruelty in the proposal that ‘hypocrisy’ is the worse crime, they are attempting to morally excuse themselves from taking action if they are not vegan. Interestingly, at the same time many people are keen to mock vegans for advocating for animal well-being, yet when it comes to inviting advocacy from non-vegans, many would suddenly shift to the position that “only vegans can rightly advocate for animals, otherwise I would be a hypocrite”.

      I’ve found myself having to speak up for non-vegans who want to help animals – but who are wrongly attacked by naysayers and cruelty apologists who’d rather sit around and do nothing but swirl the proverbial wineglass from where they sit comfortably as they portray the advocacy for the well-being of animals as merely ‘hypocrisy’ in their attempts to disarm people from taking compassionate action.

      • Adrian Shiva

        February 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm

        tu* quoque (unable to edit last comment)

  19. Giolina Maksimovic

    March 6, 2017 at 7:00 am

    These people are sick what sort of heart do you people have ..i am sick to my stomach. .stop the torture of dogs..ban any every single dog from China. .

  20. Melanie Arena

    August 16, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    WE domesticated dogs to be companions hundreds of years ago. Every single dog breed came from a wolf, we domesticated them and now these barbarians with severe mental illness, to thank them for their loyalty, boil them alive and skin them alive. This is not normal behavior, and it sickens me to the core. How can you watch a screaming animal die and go about your day in celebration, shame on you, I sincerely hope karma finds each and every one of you……….disgusting.

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China Food & Drinks

Beijing Medical Graduates Open BBQ Diner, Offer Discount for Every Academic Publication

These Ivy League medical graduate students from Beijing love the academic world and barbecued meat. They will give you a discount if you’re the author of a recent scientific publication.

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Top medical students from Beijing’s Ivy League universities have started their own BBQ restaurant. To ‘encourage research,’ they offer customers a discount if they can show they have recently been published in a scientific journal.

Wang Jian (王建) and Cheng Si (程丝), top medical graduate students from Beijing’s most prestigious universities Beida and Tsinghua, have operated hand in hand with sixteen other former classmates in opening up their own barbecue joint in the capital’s city center.

The restaurant, “The Lancet BBQ” (柳叶刀烧烤), named after one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals, is located near Xizhimen and Beijing Jiaotong University and was opened in April of 2017.

On October 10, the ‘Lancet BBQ’ became a top trending topic on Chinese social media after a WeChat article by the restaurant’s owners received much attention by Chinese media and was read 100,000 times within an hour.

On Weibo, the hashtag ‘Top Students from Beida & Tsinghua Open BBQ Place’ (#北大清华学霸合伙开烧烤店#) received 840,000 views on Tuesday.

The post says:

Since three months ago, we started with a promotion at our restaurant. (..) It is meant to encourage everyone’s research and is also meant for those people who have had their academic paper published and want to celebrate it at our restaurant.”

“Every person who is the author of a publication in an academic journal listed in the SCI, SSCI, or CSSI within the past five years, can come to the restaurant, show us the proof, and obtain a discount.”

The restaurant owners have a special way of calculating academics’ discounts, namely: “Total Bill – Impact Factor * 10 = Discounted Price” (“总费用-影响因子*10=优惠价格). The impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which a scientific journal has been cited.

To give an example, a recent publication in the Cancer Research journal will give you ten points for impact factor, meaning a 200 RMB (30 US$) restaurant bill will get a 100 RMB (15$) discount.

If your publication was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, it will give you a 20-points impact factor. If the total costs at the restaurant are 200 RMB (30 US$) you will then get the entire bill for free (200 – (10 * 10) = 0).

For a publication in the Lancet, that has a journal impact factor of 47, you could get the biggest discount.*

From performing surgery to roasting meat

The idea to start the barbecue restaurant came from Wang Jian. The young doctor and fresh graduate found himself short of money in 2016 and decided he needed a side job. His love for Xuzhou cuisine led him to the idea of starting a Xuzhou barbecue diner.

China Youth Daily writes that it took Wang Jian some time to convince his partner Cheng Si, also a young doctor, to open up the restaurant together. But within a time frame of six months, Wang turned himself into an expert on the restaurant business and was able to gather a group of fellow graduates to raise the capital and start up the restaurant.

Although the 12-table restaurant might seem like any other barbecue place, the medical background of its owners does seep through. Cheng Si will sometimes say: “There are two new patients at the door,” when the restaurant has two new customers.

Besides serving healthy foods, the restaurant reportedly also upholds the best hygiene standards.

Despite the recent attention for the restaurant on Weibo and in Chinese media, some netizens are critical about the owners’ double job. “You’re already doing the brainy jobs, let the common people do work like this,” some say.

“How is being a doctor not enough to provide for your income?”, many wonder.

According to China Medical News, a typical doctor at a large tertiary level hospital in Beijing will officially earn about 46,000 yuan (US$7500) a year. But in reality, they note, doctors earn more than three times that – about 180,000 yuan ($29,000) a year – due to, among others, bonuses and commissions.

But some people do not seem to mind much, saying they would prefer to have a doctor who also happens to be a BBQ cook, than a BBQ cook who also happens to be a doctor.

By Manya Koetse

* The discount explanation on WeChat is as set out here, but in an interview with China Youth Daily the owners say the discount can be up to 30% of the total meal bill, and that this discount can be shared with everyone at the table.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Backgrounder

The Anti “Halalification” Crusade of Chinese Netizens

Discussions on the so-called ‘halalification’ of China have flared up after delivery app Meituan introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries this week. Many netizens see the growing prevalence of halal food in China as a threat to a unified society and feel that featuring special services for Muslims is discriminatory against non-Muslims.

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Discussions on the so-called ‘halal-ification’ of China have flared up after delivery app Meituan introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries this week. Many netizens see the growing prevalence of halal food in China as a threat to a unified society and say that featuring special services for Muslims is discriminatory against non-Muslims.

The “halal-ification” (清真泛化) of food products in China has been a hot issue on Chinese social media over the past two years. Discussions on the spread of halal food in China broke out again this week when food delivery platform Meituan Takeaway (美团外卖) locally introduced a special halal channel and separate delivery boxes for halal food.

What especially provoked online anger was the line used by Meituan to promote its new services, saying it would “make people eat more safely” (Literally: “Using separate boxes for halal food will put your mind at ease.”)

The image of Meituan’s promotional campaign for halal food that went viral on Chinese media: “Make you eat more assured.”

Many netizens said the measure discriminates against non-Muslims. They called on others to boycott Meituan and to delete the app from their phone. In response, the topic ‘Is Meituan Going Bankrupt?’ (#美团今天倒闭了吗#) received over 3.7 million views on Weibo, with thousands of netizens discussing the issue under various hashtags.

 

RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT ISLAMIC DIETARY LAW

“China is a secular country ruled by an atheist Party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws.”

 

In 2016, halal products were already at the center of debate on Chinese social media when officials called for national standards on halal food (definition here).

A popular Weibo imam called Li Haiyang from Henan wrote a post in March titled “Raising Awareness about Islamic Dietary Law” (“关于清真食品立法的几点认识“), in which he discussed the importance of national standards on halal food in China.

Li Haiyang, who is part of China’s Henan Islam Society (河南省伊斯兰教协会), wrote that all Muslims should follow the classic rules and abide by their beliefs, of which Islamic dietary laws are an important part, and that the PRC cannot discriminate against Muslim ethnic groups by refusing to legally protect Muslim halal food.

At the time, the imam’s post was shared over 500 times and besides much support, it also attracted many comments strongly opposing the imam’s views. A typical comment said: “China is a secular country ruled by an atheist Party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws!”

Despite backlash, there are multiple accounts on Weibo dedicated to informing people about halal food, such as ‘China Halal Food Web’ (@中国清真食品网 3100+ fans) or ‘Halal Cuisine Web’ (@清真美食网, 3950 fans).

 

“HALALIFICATION”

“Halalification is not good for national harmony and not conducive to the healthy development of Chinese Islam.”

 

In Chinese, the word for ‘halal’ is qīngzhēn 清真, which also means ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim.’ The two characters the word is composed of (清 and 真) literally mean ‘clean’ and ‘pure.’ The various meanings of the Chinese word for ‘halal’ somewhat complicate discussions on the matter.

In the halal food debate on Chinese social media, the term qīngzhēn fànhuà (清真泛化) is often used – a new term that popped up in Chinese media in 2016. It basically means ‘halal-ification’ or ‘halal generalization,’ but because qīngzhēn also means ‘Islamic,’ it can also imply ‘Islamization.’

And that is precisely what is at the heart of the discussion on the spread of halal food on Chinese social media: those who oppose the spread of halal food in the PRC connect the normalization of Islamic dietary laws to an alleged greater societal shift towards Islam. The spread of ‘Islam’ and ‘halal food’ are practically the same things in these discussions through the concept of qingzhen.

Another issue that plays a role is the idea that ‘qingzhen‘ stands for ‘clean and pure’ food. This distinction between halal and non-halal food implies that while the one is clean food, non-halal food is ‘unclean’ and ‘dirty,’ much to the dismay of many net users. Some people suggest that the name of ‘halal food’ should be changed to ‘Muslim food.’

On Baike, Baidu’s Wikipedia-like platform, the page explaining the term qīngzhēn fànhuà 清真泛化 says: “The term [halalification] originally only referred to the scope of the specific diet of [Muslim] ethnic groups, and has now spread to the domains of family life and even social life beyond diet, including things such as halal water, halal tooth paste, and halal paper towels.”

Advertisement in Ningxia public transport for halal paper towels.

The Baike page explains that halal products are hyped by companies that are merely seeking to gain profits. It also says that halalification is “not good for national harmony” and “not conducive to the healthy development of Chinese Islam.”

Although there are no official government records of how many people practice Islam within the PRC, it is estimated that there currently are around 23 million Muslims in China, which is less than 2% of the total population. According to Pew Research (2011), because China is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.

 

HALAL WORRIES

“State-financed products should not be religious.”

 

Most Chinese food ordering apps now have a special halal section; Chinese supermarkets provide a wide range of products labeled as ‘halal’ and there are ample halal restaurants in Chinese cities.

But many people on Chinese social media feel that the spread of halal products is going too far. Legal service app Ilvdo (@律兜) published an article on Weibo this week that mentions that many Chinese consumers might buy halal products such as halal ice cream or milk without even knowing it: “You perhaps drank [halal] water and indirectly funded Islam religion – because the companies that have halal certifications have to pay Islamic organizations for them.”

On Weibo, there are some popular accounts of people opposing the spread and normalization of halal food in China. An account named ‘No Halal’ (@清真发言) has over 143.500 followers. The ‘No Halal Web’ (@非清真食品网) account has nearly 90.000 fans. These accounts regularly post about halal products in Chinese shops and restaurants and link it to the spread of Islam religion in China.

The account ‘No Halal Web’ recently posted a photo taken at a Shanghai restaurant that shows a table with a sign saying “Reserved for Halal Customers Only.”

“Table reserved for Halal customers only.”

The ‘No Halal Web’ account wrote: “This already is Muhammed’s Shanghai.” They later stated: “In the Islam world, the demands of Muslims are not as simple as just wanting a mosque, they want their environment to be Islamic/halal.”

Verified net user ‘Leningrad Defender’ (@列宁格勒保卫者, 254465 fans) posted photos of a segregated ‘halal’ checkout counter at a Jingkelong supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang area, wondering “is this even legal”?

‘Halal’ checkout counter at a supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang area.

A Weibo user named ‘The Eagle of Great Han Dynasty’ (@大汉之鹰001) posted a photo on July 20 showing a bag of infant nutrition from the China Family Planning Association that also has a ‘halal’ label on it. He writes:

“What is the Family Planning Committee doing? Why is this halal? This is Jilin province, are we all Muslims? What is behind this, can the Committee tell the public? This is financed through the state, the public has the right to know!”

Infant product by the Family Planning Committee that is labeled ‘halal.’

Others also responded to the photo, saying: “State-financed products should not be religious.”

 

THE MEITUAN INCIDENT

“Only when we as the Chinese people integrate together, can our country be unified as an undivided family.”

 

Although there is much opposition to the spread and regulation of halal food in China, the halal food industry also provides many business opportunities for companies who are eager to serve the millions of customers wanting to buy halal.

Popular food delivery platform Meituan faced furious backlash this week when it introduced its special halal food services. The so-called ‘Meituan Incident’ (美团事件) became a heated topic of debate on Weibo and Wechat.

One of the key arguments in the debate is not so much an opposition to halal food in itself, but an opposition to a normalization of ‘halal food’ (with the complicating factor that the Chinese qingzhen also means ‘Islamic’ and ‘clean and pure’), which allegedly discriminates against non-Muslims and increases social polarization. Many netizens said that if there are special boxes for food for Muslims, there should also be special boxes for food for Buddhists, Daoists, atheists, etc.

One well-read blog on Weibo said:

“National identity, in the end, is cultural identity (..). What is needed for the long-term stability of a country is integration [of the people] rather than a division [of the people] – let alone isolation. The national law should [therefore] turn ‘halal food 清真食品’ into ‘Muslim special food 穆斯林专用食品.’ This would make sure that Muslims don’t eat anything they shouldn’t eat, and it also liberates those (..) who aren’t religious. The law could confirm that there is a special kind of food designed for Islamic religious people to eat, instead of asking non-religious people to eat it as well. (..) There are more and more atheists. We should no longer distinguish people by saying he is a Daoist, he is Buddhist, that’s a Muslim or a Christian..in the end we shouldn’t even distinguish people as being Han or Zhuang or Miao or Hui or Manchu. Only when we as the Chinese people integrate together, can our country be unified as a harmonious and undivided family.”

The blog, that was viewed over 88.000 times, received much backing from its readers. One person wrote: “As there is now a national resistance against Islamization and religious segregation, how could the Meituan incident not cause anger amongst the people?”

It is not the first time that the separation of facilities/services for Muslims versus non-Muslims triggers online discussions in China. In September last year, the introduction of special “Muslim-only” shower cabins at a Chinese university also provoked anger about alleged “Muslim privilege.”

 

TRIVIAL MATTER OR SOCIAL SHIFT

“Today it is about separate boxes for food; tomorrow it might be about separate seating areas in restaurants. And what’s next?”

 

On Thursday, Meituan Takeaway officially responded to the controversy through Sina Weibo, saying that the promotion of halal delivery boxes was a local and unofficial activity by one of its agents in Gansu province. It also said it would strengthen supervision of its agents and their promotional material.

But not all netizens believed Meituan’s explanation. One person said: “I am located in Inner Mongolia, and your Meituan [here] also promotes the two separate delivery boxes.”

Other netizens also posted photos of Meituan’s food delivery rival Eleme also using special “Halal only” delivery boxes.

Image of food delivery box that says “special use for halal food.”

Among all the negative reactions and the resistance against the spread of halal food, there are netizens who praise halal food for being tasty and who do not get what all the fuss is about. A female netizen from Beijing wrote:

“Why are so many brain-dead people opposing Muslims these days? How does Meituan’s separation of halal food hinder you? What do you care if your yogurt is halal? If you don’t want to eat it, don’t eat it. There are plenty of people who will. Use your brain for a bit. Not all Muslims are extremists; just as not all people from the Northeast are criminals.”

But there are many who think Meituan’s separate boxes are no issue to disregard. One young female writer says:

“(..) Under the current national policy of protecting ethnic minorities, Muslims enjoy special privileges in the name of national unity. If this continues for a long time, the inequality inevitably will spread to other domains of society. Today it is about separate boxes for food; tomorrow it might be about separate seating areas in restaurants. And what’s next? Segregated neighborhoods? Trains? Airplanes? It might seem like a trivial matter, but if you ignore this, then those who are privileged now will go on and get greater privileges. The distancing of Muslims will only grow. I’m not saying this to alarm you. It’s self-evident that unequal benefits and the privilege of an ethnic group will eventually create conflicts between the people.”

Amidst all ideological arguments, there are also those who say it is all about the money. In the article published by Ilvdo, the author says about the Meituan incident: “Why do the boxes need to be separated? Because in general, Muslims feel that what we eat is “dirty” … but the product increase cost is shared by all the customers – so not only does it make us feel “dirty”, we also spend more money.”

They later say: “What we want is national unity, not religious solidarity. (..) You have your freedom of religion, which app I use is my freedom. Separate boxes and other special services will ultimately be reflected in the costs, and I do not want to pay religious tax. Luckily I have the freedom to delete this app and stop using it.”

By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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