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August 13, 2009

Stop Cruelty to Animals in the Chinese Entertainment Industry

Humane Society International

by Peter Li

Once again, animals have reportedly been brutally treated by the Chinese entertainment industry. According to recent Chinese media reports, six horses died and eight others suffered severe psychological trauma in the production of a television series.

The highly publicized drama, The Three Kingdoms, features events which took place 2,000 years ago during a time of bloody conquest and mass slaughter. To reproduce the battlefields where thousands of soldiers and horses engaged in close-range fighting, director Gao Xixi employed a large number of horses in the many combat scenes. Filming of the 150 million yuan ($16 million) series took a heavy physical and mental toll on the horse actors. In a statement published in the Chinese Commercial News, Gao said:

"There were more than 100 battles fought in The Three Kingdoms. In our treatment of the battles, say our use of the horses, all the horses used were imported from New Zealand. Chinese breeds of horses are like donkeys, too small in stature. We bought 50 purebred New Zealand horses and replenished the losses any time we saw the need to do it. In our shooting of the battlefield fights, we sacrificed six horses. Eight horses were mentally traumatized. You know even the horses could not stand the hardship of the production process. You tell me what kind of a battlefield we have produced."¹

The reported treatment of these animals has electrified the Chinese public, and led to widespread condemnation of Gao Xixi and his production.

Cruelty common in filming

It is relatively common in the Chinese entertainment industry to sacrifice animal actors in order to produce lifelike scenes. According to Chinese media reports,² a cat was suffocated to death in another television series depicting the desperation of the ignored third wife of a businessman. That brutal act almost took the breath out of many Chinese television viewers. While the reproduced scene may have been realistic, it was also shocking and, unlike in similar Hollywood productions where such scenes are simulated, an animal life was sacrificed unnecessarily.

According to Chinese media reports,³ in another hugely popular TV drama replayed many times in the Greater China region, a donkey was killed with an axe and fell into a pool of his own blood. "I could feel my heart pounding, seeing this unnecessary slaughter to create the desired effects," one viewer told the author.

One of the most publicly condemned cases was the alleged use of a trained military search dog strapped with explosives, which detonated while the dog was running, as part of a scene depicting the heroism of the Chinese people against the Japanese aggressors.4 The animal, an award-winning search dog, was reportedly sacrificed in director Yao Shougang's quest for realism.

Time for change

It is time for the Chinese entertainment industry to prohibit animal cruelty in filmmaking. Killing and maiming animals during production is completely unnecessary in an industry where simulated human torture and death is both widespread and very realistic. Chinese entertainers have a responsibility to help foster public awareness of the rights of the weak and disadvantaged. Allowing exploitation and brutalization of animals to serve unnecessary human objectives sends the wrong message to society that we can do whatever we wish and that animals do not deserve our respect. Production studios in many countries have long banned animal killing and suffering; it is time for China's entertainment industry to do the same. Lifelike effects can be produced with computer-aided technologies. The know-how of China's computer graphics experts should be used to help save animal and human actors from acting in episodes that could put them in harm's way.

Appeal for improvements, and apology

We appeal to China's entertainment industry to take action in the following areas:

  • Revise existing regulations to include articles against animal cruelty and exploitation.
  • Create a special committee to evaluate the situations where nonhuman actors must be employed and to set forth requirements for the welfare of the animals in the course of film or television production.
  • Require that arrangements be made for performing animals if their physical and mental health is in any way affected as a result of movie-making.
  • Send a special inspection team composed of industry officials and animal welfare experts to visit sites of movie and TV drama making to ensure that animal welfare rules and standards are faithfully implemented.
  • Have the authority to deny release of any movies or TV dramas found to have abused animals.

HSI has also written a letter to director Gao Xixi asking him to take the following actions:

  • Release to the public the number of horses and other animals used in the production of The Three Kingdoms.
  • If reports are true, apologize to the Chinese audience for the brutal treatment of the horses and commit to no future cruelty to animals.
  • Make financial arrangements for the lifetime care and veterinary support of the eight reportedly traumatized but still living horses at an appropriate sanctuary.

¹China Commercial Daily, "Six horses dead, eight mad in the new 'Three Kingdoms': Use of live horses considered more cost-effective." Article accessible at http://ent.ifeng.com/movie/news/mainland/200908/0812_1845_1297461.shtml, downloaded August 14, 2009.

²Wang Xiaojing, "The controversy of horse abuse by the cast of 'The Three Kingdoms.'" Accessible at http://blog.qq.com/qzone/622006395/1250472732.htm, downloaded August 17, 2009.

³See for example Wen Xin's "How can the rights of the animal 'actors' be infringed upon?: An appeal to animal protection legislation in response to animal cruelty by 'The Three Kingdoms.'" Article accessible at http://xinmin.news365.com.cn/wy/200908/t20090807_2421340.htm, downloaded August 12, 2009.

4Author unknown,"Audience lashes out at the director who exploded a trained military search dog to pieces in his search for life-like effects." Accessible at http://gb.chinareviewnews.com/doc/1008/1/5/8/100815813.html?coluid=7&kindid=0&docid=100815813&mdate=1201103446, downloaded September 12, 2008.