Ending the Yulin dog meat “festival”

Humane Society International

  • Dogs in Yulin. AP Images for HSI

Across China, there are many dog markets and slaughterhouses, but the annual dog meat “festival” in Yulin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has come to symbolize the immense cruelty of the dog meat trade.

The “Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival” was launched in 2010 by Yulin’s dog meat traders as a commercial enterprise to boost their flagging sales. Previously, Yulin city had never known a dog meat festival and there was no established tradition of dog eating there; the traders tried to co-opt the idea of local tradition in order to legitimize the event.

The festival takes place every year on June 21/22 (the summer solstice), and sees thousands of dogs—many, stolen pets still wearing their collars—killed for their meat. Local officials originally endorsed the event, expecting it to attract tourists. Instead, the festival has been a PR disaster for Yulin, earning domestic and international condemnation.

Unbelievably cruel

The festival is a barbaric spectacle, but the dogs’ suffering actually starts much earlier. Thousands are grabbed from the streets, crammed tightly into wire cages and piled onto trucks to be driven for days or weeks. They come from as far as Anhui, Hubei and Henan in Central China, up to 1,500 miles away. Denied food, water and comfort, those dogs stacked at the bottom of the truck become drenched in urine and faeces, while those in the middle can suffocate to death. Others die from illness, dehydration or heatstroke long before they reach their destination.

Uploading and unloading of dogs is violent, with cages routinely hurled up to the truck and smashed down at unloading. Bodily injuries from sharp wire, biting, and rough handling cause further pain.

At the slaughterhouse, they will be beaten to death with metal poles.

HSI has played a leading role in shining a global spotlight on the horrors of the Yulin festival through our media exposés and advocacy work. Our evidence of cruelty has helped to lift this issue to global prominence, including a debate in the U.K. Parliament and the first-ever U.S Congressional Resolution opposing the festival and associated trade. Legislative proposals for a ban are regularly put forward by Chinese policymakers, but none has been progressed thus far.

Making progress

In the face of such horror, achieving change in China can seem frustratingly slow, but progress is definitely being made. Since it began in 2010, the Yulin festival has reduced in size and Yulin authorities are under increasing pressure from both Chinese and international protest.

  • In May 2014, Yulin authorities realized that endorsing the festival was a bad idea and issued an internal warning to all government employees and families not to patronize dog meat restaurants. They distanced themselves from the festival, claiming it was a private business event, and while this claim was of course disingenuous, it indicated an important recognition that the festival had become a liability. A live dog market and two dog slaughter operations were also closed in the city, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of dogs slaughtered that year.
  • In 2015, officials ordered all Yulin restaurants to remove tables from outside their premises and, for the second year running, to reduce dog meat dishes. Big public displays of mass dog meat eating were not visible, indicating a recognition that this is an unacceptable sight and likely to lead to conflict. Yulin’s Dong Kou Market had noticeably fewer dog meat stands compared with previous years. We also believe there was a decline in the number of dogs slaughtered.
  • In 2016, the event was once again muted, and for the first time Yulin police erected roadblock checkpoints to stop trucks loaded with dogs from entering the city. Although these roadblocks were implemented too late to stop many of the trucks, they were a significant gesture.
  • In 2017, the Yulin authorities imposed a ban on the sale of dog meat, but under pressure from local dog traders they rescinded the total ban and reduced this to a restriction on the number of dogs for sale per market stall.

HSI has urged Yulin authorities to adopt and enforce proactive and decisive steps to crack down on an industry that kills dogs acquired illegally and sells dog and cat meat that breaches food safety regulations. It is no coincidence that Guangxi province is amongst China’s five worst-affected areas for rabies in humans, and Yulin was recently listed in China’s 10 worst-affected cities for human rabies cases.

China’s foreign NGO law and Yulin 2017 campaign

For the past several years, HSI has been a leading global voice calling for an end to the suffering of animals in China’s year-round and country-wide dog meat trade. Together with our wonderful Chinese partner groups, we have been able to assist with rescues of thousands of dogs (and cats) from the brutal dog meat trade from across China, including at the Yulin festival. Since the introduction of China’s new ‘Foreign NGO Law’ that came into effect on 1st January 2017 (otherwise known as the People’s Republic of China Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations’ Activities within Mainland China), we are now having to operate under new legal restrictions that currently prevent HSI itself from operating on the ground in Yulin.

This new law places all China activities and funding of China activities by foreign NGOs under the scrutiny of the Chinese authorities. As a foreign NGO, HSI has been required to register with the Chinese authorities so that our work program can receive official approval. There are substantial penalties, including for our Chinese NGO partners, for breaching the wide-ranging conditions of this law. We take very seriously our responsibility to the Chinese animal protection NGOs, animal shelters and campaigners with whom we work, and will not place them at unnecessary risk.

We are therefore continuing to work in China in accordance with the new law, and while we will not be permitted to send HSI staff to Yulin, we will continue to have a presence on the ground through our Chinese friends and activists so that we can shine a spotlight on the cruelty as we have in years past.