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Who Pulls the Strings behind the Dog Eating Festival of Yulin?

When it comes to Yulin, people often think of the so-called “Top Eight” natural beauties in China. Formerly a desirable grain hub in Guangxi province, Yulin was once described as “Oriental Ukraine.” However, over the past six or seven years, Yulin’s positive notes have been replaced by the negative connotations associated with the Yulin Dog Eating Festival.

In the past, Yulin, located in Guangxi province, was covered by abundant and fruitful rivers and mountains. Now, the gory and exploited scenes leave people saddened and in shock. Who let this small-scale business practice triggered by a foregone folk tradition and a litchi fruit selling culture became a large “celebration,” which extends from the whole of China to the rest of the world? Who changed the original name of the Yulin Litchi Festival to the Yulin Dog Eating Festival? Also, who trampled traditions and sacrificed respect to drive a large-scale multi-stage market process?

It’s you — those extreme dog lovers with bad intentions! You tease the public’s emotion and let your egocentrism become “pioneering.” It’s you — the unscrupulous media who took the situation out of context and did not investigate the truth! You only want to purse the hot and trendy leads from social media. They are you — those vast spectators who keep reposting and commenting on issues without independent thinking. You are a “Good Samaritan” over your head in the immoral business and anti-market systems.

The Birth of the Yulin Dog Eating Festival

In some areas of China, South Korea, North Korea, Southeast Asia and some parts of Europe, people maintain a custom of eating dog meat. Just as people eat seafood, pork, beef, chicken, and other meats, eating dog meat is an issue of cultural diversity. In Yulin when this folk “ceremony” had not been so widely known, local citizens considered litchi with wine and dog meat as celebrated dishes during summer solstice.

In 2010, Yulin and its dog meat began to appear in public media. The Yulin Litchi Dog Eating Festival was on the radar of several domestic animal protection agencies, and a substantial amount of text messages and incriminating evidence emerged on the Internet. The following year, a few welfare associations organized boycotts of the dog eating in Yulin. They paid for the freedom of dogs that were to be slaughtered and persuaded merchants to stop selling dogs. They intercepted cars on the highway and saved a vast amount of dogs who were at the brink of death. The heroic news quickly spread, and people across the country were touched.

In the years after, mentions of the Yulin Dog Eating Festival became more and more widespread across social media. In 2012, a self-proclaimed dog lover issued a series of pictures with an apology to dogs. In actuality, he was a performance artist who exploited the animals. This event pushed Yulin into the spotlight of scrutiny. Chinese citizens dubbed the festival the Yulin Killing Event. Afterward, the performance artist admitted that his performance was nothing but a hyped spectacle. He wanted to let everyone know that there was a person apologizing to dogs on behalf of human beings. Whether his behavior was right or wrong, this kind of incitement would not solve the problem. Soon after his so-called performance, controversy continued to make its way into animal protection organizations and other types of welfare organizations. Originally a venue for the private sale of dogs among locals, the Yulin Dog Eating Festival kept expanding, boosting profits for unethical merchants and corrupt aid agencies that cheat people out of their money.

Voice from the Western World

Citizens of Western countries first learned of the Chinese dog eating customs from Chinese social media. Protests against the tradition evolved into parades and other forms of outcry by celebrities and welfare organizations. As more and more evidence of cruelty came out of social media, demonstrators pressured the embassy. These non-Chinese advocates got information from biased channels rather than authentic news sources, and eventually the once-small-scale festival turned into a disreputable “dog eating festival” on an international level.

Last year, I joined a cat adoption service sponsored by an animal protection organization. The host had nearly thirty years of dog rescuing under his belt, ranging from governmental aid centers to rural animal protection agencies. He had experienced a variety of ideological struggles and challenges during his career. Throughout his life, much of his time and money went to animal rescue, and he continues to devote himself to the cause to this day. As the only Chinese in the group, I was inevitably asked about the issues in Yulin.

He asked, “As a Chinese, do you agree with the killing cats and dogs?”

I replied, “I’m participating in this activity not because I do not eat meat — and of course, I do not eat dog meat. I’m not a vegetarian. Today is Animal Adoption Day, and I support adoption replacing the purchasing of animals. Therefore, I’ve come to join your activity, and I hope we can change pet owners’ ideas. It has nothing to do with the ideas of the organizers.”

Surprised at my answer, he then asked, “So how much do you know about Yulin Dog Eating Festival? I saw videos and pictures on the Internet. They kill huge dogs every year, and we hope the Chinese government can come forward to solve this problem. Do you think it’s possible?”

At that moment, I became silent. It wasn’t because I couldn’t answer his question. I was surprised that such a trustworthy organization could ask this type of question after opposing a Yulin event even after donations had already been raised. It was the epitome of good intentions and personal perspectives found among Western voices.

After a long time of silence, I replied, “There are one thousand Yulin Dog Eating Festivals in one thousand people’s minds. I visited Yulin only in my childhood, and my impression of Yulin came from its beautiful scenery. I do not remember if the dining table had any dog meat. However, I know it was a local tradition in that area, and the government did not officially support this kind of tradition. It’s just like governmental aid centers and even your organization. Your purposes are both for providing the public a better living environment and addressing social problems. If you cannot understand their behaviors, you should still show respect. I welcome you to visit Guangxi, and I believe you will end up with totally different feelings.”

People in Yulin

People in Yulin explained, “We eat dog meat just like you eat fish. The dogs we eat are fed well and are pets. It’s like you eat carp, crucian carp, and grass carp instead of tropical fish or goldfish. It’s the same for all minorities in the world — we have our own traditions and beliefs. We are the masters of our homes and have lived there for many generations. We choose to live from what the land provides in honor of the natural world.”

Yulin is a place with thousands of years of ancient history. It is the epicenter of bronze drum production, and it has the top four famous towers in the southern region of the Yangtze River. It has one of the most famous natural stone bridges in Asia, the Bobai Tianxian Bridge. It has one of the top four famous villages in China, Luchan Xielu Mountain. The agriculture in Yulin features abundant fruit and vegetables.

Sometimes, the most effective way to oppose something is to ignore it — just like with the Yulin Dog Eating Festival. It was originally an activity among minority groups, but because of the spread of social media, more and more dogs were killed as the festival gained notoriety. If people keep being respectful and rational, a better future will come to both the people and dogs in Yulin.

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