Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Canine controversy: Chinese festival serves up dog meat

By Connie Young, for CNN
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yulin's annual dog meat festival draws controversy
  • Animal rights advocates want people to stop eating dog meat
  • Defenders say eating dog meat is like eating beef

Yulin, China (CNN) -- A mob of people have surrounded a group of animal rights activists protesting in the busiest open market in town. It's the eve of Yulin's annual dog meat festival, a tradition that dates back generations to celebrate the summer solstice.

Arguments ensue among those living in the city and the people who condemn the tradition. "Don't you eat beef? If you stop eating beef, then we'll stop eating dog meat," yells one man frustrated with the intense media scrutiny in the Dong Kou open market, where an array of birds, snakes, cats and livestock are sold as daily fresh fare.

Dozens of journalists, filmmakers and photographers have come to the city in China's southeast Guangxi province to document an event that lies at the center of a battle between deeply-ingrained tradition and the encroachment of the modern world. Activists say dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.

Ask a local when the tradition of eating dog meat began and you'll likely be met with a dumbfounded expression -- it is akin to asking someone when people started eating beef. For many in the city, eating dog meat is a hard habit to break, despite changing attitudes about the treatment of animals in China.

Rising prices

Traders meet on the outskirts of the city to sell live dogs for slaughter. Each dog is sold for roughly $60-$80. Traders meet on the outskirts of the city to sell live dogs for slaughter. Each dog is sold for roughly $60-$80.
Dog meat festival in China
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Gallery: Dog meat festival in China Gallery: Dog meat festival in China
Dog guards owner's grave in China
Stray dog runs 1,000-mile race
Dogs slaughtered for meat in Vietnam

Another man at the market criticizes the media attention for increasing the price of dog meat, which has doubled since 2011 and now goes for $6 a kilogram.

In one stall, a butcher places a gutted and skinned dog on a wired sheath and uses a blow torch to cook a delicacy known to locals as "crispy skin dog meat." As the shop owner butchers a another piece of dog, flecks of flesh flick onto her face. She tells CNN she's been in the trade for over 10 years.

"This is our tradition and we are used to eating dog. It's our culture and we won't change ... It's tasty! But we won't kill our pet," she says, referring to her own dog who is cowering in the other side of the shop. Her dog tucks his head under a freezer, shielding his eyes from the carcasses of the dogs and cats hanging from hooks.

Signs around the market adorned with pictures of labradors and golden retrievers advertise raw dog meat for sale, despite new government regulations that restrict this practice.

Du Yufeng, a 58-year-old animal rights activists from Sichuan in southwest China, has made it her mission to stop dog meat consumption across China. Her protest in 2011 successfully ended the dog meat festival in Jinhua, in Zhejiang province -- and she has now turned her attention to Yulin. It's her fourth year protesting at the festival, and while dog meat continues to be a tourist attraction for the city, Du feels that there is growing awareness of animal rights in this city of six million people.

"I feel like we've had a lot of improvement in public awareness. The first time we came here in 2011 all you could hear were dogs wailing as soon as you entered into the city," Du says, as she picks off ticks from the scruff of a black dog she rescued that morning.

"The biggest change is that the word dog on street signs have to be covered. This means the government has become aware that this needs to be canceled. Many people also realize that eating dog is not an honorable thing," adds Du.

Boycott

Du is one of over 20 volunteers who have descended upon the city from the far reaches of China, to boycott the festival. Many run dog and cat shelters in their hometowns and have spent their life savings to rescue abandoned and diseased animals. But canceling the annual Yulin festival is now their main objective.

Another activist, Zhao Yangsu, said this is her first year protesting against the Yulin dog meat festival. The soft spoken 59-year old, who came to the city from Chongqing, says she's spent her retirement money, roughly $1,000, to save dogs -- a fact she's reluctant to share with her children. She and another volunteer operate from makeshift shelter on the corner of a street in Yulin, only a block from where live dogs are traded on a daily basis.

Though she has come here to fight for the rights of these animals, she's pessimistic about any meaningful change here.

This is our tradition and we are used to eating dog. It's our culture and we won't change.
Butcher, Yulin

"I have no hope that these people will change and our ability to make change is not significant enough," Zhao says. "We have to go through the government to create some laws to protect these animals, but there are no laws and our ability to do anything is insignificant."

Yang Yuhua, a 64-year-old retired steel worker, has also spent her life savings protecting street dogs and cats in Chongqing, and now she says she doesn't even have money to charge her phone. Yang was cradling a dead puppy when CNN arrived at the makeshift shelter. She says the puppy was born after they had rescued a pregnant dog and this one did not make it. Almost all the dogs appeared injured, disfigured and diseased.

"What we need the most now is medicine, but it's the most expensive thing," Yang says as as she tears up. Many of the dogs in her care are in desperate need of antibiotics to fight off infection, but the volunteers don't know where to find them in the city.

Together, the activists say they've saved more than 400 dogs this year alone in Yulin -- yet this number will be dwarfed by the number of animals likely to be slaughtered for food at the festival. Asked what makes this different from eating beef or pork, Du Yunfeng's answer is unequivocal.

"You cannot categorically say that all animals should either be eaten or not eaten," she says.

"Every animal has their its own value and worth. For example, grass-eating animals are meant to be supplied to humans. But these companion animals, such as dogs and cats, they are meant to contribute to human production -- such as drug-sniffing dogs or watch dogs,

"So eating these animals compared to eating pork and lamb are two different things. Their value is not the same."

Smugglers drive Thailand's grim trade in dog meat

In 2011: Animal rights group rescues 800 dogs from China meat trade

Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0707 GMT (1507 HKT)
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT