Chinese animal lovers are banding together to lobby their government for laws that protect animals. The growing number of animal advocates is chipping away at the country’s image as a hotbed of indifference to animal suffering.
The New York Times reports that revulsion at animal abuse is growing among the Chinese. Citizens have been taking matters into their own hands, rescuing cats and dogs headed to restaurants to be slaughtered and served to customers.
They are also pressing the government to take systemic action. No law protects animals from cruelty in China, except for endangered species and animal husbandry situations. Animal advocates have been working for years to change that. In 2009, with the help of sympathetic law professors, activists submitted proposed animal welfare legislation to the National People’s Congress.
The proposed law arose from a swell of public opposition to the government’s mass slaughter of dogs to prevent the spread of rabies. Rabies kills many humans in China, The Guardian reports. Nevertheless, the Chinese people were appalled by the government’s actions. The proposed law would make dog guardians responsible for preventing rabies by vaccinating and registering their companion animals.
The 2009 legislation didn’t get passed, but the spreading pro-animal sentiment has led China to adopt other protective measures, including banning zoos from staging animal performances, pulling baby tigers’ teeth and selling animal parts in zoo stores and restaurants. In another pro-animal move, the government made the study of “animal welfare and protection” a new core requirement for veterinary students, the World Society for the Protection of Animals reports.
Activists are also moving forward on other fronts, like raising awareness of animal cruelty among their fellow citizens. Peter Li, China Policy Specialist for the Humane Society International, told MSN News that animal welfare has gone from being a foreign idea to “a well-known concept in China.”
Businesses that exploit animals, like bear-bile farmers, see that the tide is changing. To quell public concerns about the welfare of moon bears kept in cramped cages and milked for bile, the China Association of Traditional Medicine publicly lied, telling a newspaper that extracting bile is painless and that afterwards the bears play happily. The fact that the group felt that it needed to make this statement demonstrates how prevalent concern for animals has become in China.
Young people and city-dwellers are the most likely to oppose cruelty to animals. Compassion for non-human animals used to be seen as counter-revolutionary and bourgeoisie, Peter Li told China Dialogue. Now, however, some Chinese farmers raise free-range chickens and pigs, demonstrating consumers’ interest in minimizing the torture of animals, including those raised for food.
China has a rich tradition of compassion for non-human animals to draw on for modern reforms, as seen in the religious legacies of Taoism and Buddhism. Many Buddhists today are vegetarian based on teachings endorsing the liberation of animals.
Chang Jiwen, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who headed the team that drafted the 2009 proposed law, said the future of animal rights in China is bright, but cautions against unrealistic expectations: “the path ahead will be tortuous.”
Photo credit: ben yong you