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December 30, 2011

Sowing Seeds of Compassion in China

Humane Society International

  • Presenting to students. Xiao Bing, 2011

  • Meeting with dog-loving volunteers. Xiao Bing, 2011

  • Receiving the HSI award. HSI

by Peter Li

To many outside observers, China can seem hopeless. Street animals are a sad contrast to the shining skyscrapers. Truckloads of dogs bound for slaughterhouses can be seen on the highways. Millions of sharks die a brutal death to serve the demand for shark fin soup.

To make things worse, “immoral foreign businesses have tried hard to introduce cruel products such as whale meat, seal meat, and foie gras to China,” says Dan Zhang, advocate for an HSI partner group in Beijing. To address these problems, Chinese activists are working hard to increase the impact of the nation’s growing animal protection movement.

Humane education

Xiamen Animal Protection Education Committee (XAPEC), an HSI partner group in southeast China’s Fujian province, is one such NGO trying to create lasting change. Under the skillful leadership of Xiao Bing, recipient of an HSI award for animal protection education, XAPEC’s focus has been on outreach to the city’s students.

A milestone effort for that purpose was XAPEC’s publication of China’s first animal protection textbook. In 2011, 19 Xiamen elementary schools adopted the book and so far, more than 22,000 students have taken the class. “The textbook covers a wide range of topics on animal behavior and wildlife habitat, as well as Chinese classical stories of compassion for nonhuman individuals,” Mr. Xiao explains. He hopes that schools in other cities will also adopt the curriculum.

In the last three years, Mr. Xiao has visited classrooms throughout the city to tap into youthful curiosity about animals, introducing ideas of animal welfare, critiquing the various misperceptions about animals and bringing attention to the various ways in which they are exploited. The aim of the program is to drive home the message that people have a moral duty to protect animals and that everyone should care for the weak and the disadvantaged, be they humans or nonhuman animals. What XAPEC is doing is to sow seeds of compassion in the tender minds of the younger generations. “There will be a stronger voice for animals in the not-too-distant future, when these young children grow up,” Xiao says hopefully.

Hands-on participation

Combining animal protection education with entertainment is another approach taken by XAPEC. For the past three years, XAPEC has organized an “Animal Protection Summer Camp,” drawing students and teachers from schools across Xiamen. HSI is a proud supporter of this creative program. The campers spend time reading selected literature on the human-animal bond and interacting with companion animals. They also visit farms to see with their own eyes the problems of an industrialized farming system.

A popular activity is the “Animal Protection Simulation Court,” in which students role-play the prosecution of animal abusers. Through these pretend trials, students come to understand what is wrong, what is negligence, and what should be avoided in the way animals are treated. “The students are very young, but they have a great mastery of the problem of animal cruelty,” Xiao comments.

Message through performance

Outreach to the general public is another component of XAPEC’s education campaign. In early 2011, XAPEC held an anti-seal product trade event in observation of International Protect Seals Day, calling on Xiamen citizens to stay away from seal products and bringing their attention to Canada’s intention to market seal meat to China.

This past November, XAPEC sponsored another event to mark World Animal Protection Day. Held at the plaza of Xiamen’s biggest shopping mall, it attracted more than 1,000 shoppers. Through a rich program of singing, dancing, magic, singing and martial arts, performers called on the public to act as responsible pet owners, care for street animals, oppose bear farming, resist seal trade, and protect elephants and other wildlife. The highlights of the day were the appearance of a police dog named “Nike” and two former stray dogs who were adopted right at the event. Hundreds of people signed a pledge not to consume wildlife or companion animals. At the end, an “Award for Compassionate Citizens of Xiamen” was presented for the first time to five worthy recipients.

Perseverence is key

Humane Society International is proud to have XAPEC as a partner working at the very forefront of the Chinese battleground. We agree with XAPEC and many other Chinese activists that “a 10,000 mile journey starts with the first step” and that China’s hope for building a humane society begins with its youth. HSI shall continue to support XAPEC’s valuable efforts.

Dr. Peter Li is HSI's China Specialist.