By Dominick Mezzapesa
Eating dog meat is not a Chinese tradition and the Yulin “dog-meat” festival is just a money-making scheme carried out and excused under the banner of culture and tradition
Leading proponents that defend the Yulin Dog Meat Eating Festival proclaim "China has always been a dog-eating nation." This notion is enhanced and made more believable mainly due to the portrayal of the practice in the film Shaolin Temple and helped further by over-promoting Yulin restaurant-owners and local officials. Even China's reluctance to outright forbid dog meat only serves to give their arguments some sort of legitimacy.
During the 1999 move "In China, they eat dogs" The title is a reference to an axiom as one brother explains to the other brother that there is no such thing as moral absolutism, and that whether something is right or wrong depends on the situation.
In 2009, Yulin, a city in south-west China’s Guangxi province created the festival to boost the local economy. To promote the importance of the festival, they claimed that they were honoring China's long history of eating Dog. What they never envisioned was the worldwide debate and subsequent condemnation for their money making scheme.
The local government never expecting that its commercial activities would come under such heavy pressure from dog lovers around the country, let alone the world. The officials tried to backtrack from their participation and this year they even attempted to push the slaughtering of thousands of dogs and cats into the restaurants back rooms and pleaded with management to perform their butchery under the cover of night.
Yulin and China tried to not only cover up the slaughter they went so far as to declare that the Chinese sign for Dog must be stricken from the local restaurant menus and awnings, but when local restaurants started refusing and even outright opposing these restrictions, the Yulin government officials started claiming that the whole affair was run by local business people in an attempt to avoid responsibility.
China’s history of dog-eating
For at least 7,000 years, archaeologists say, Dogs have been a part of Chinese households. The mythological ruler Fu Xi was said to have domesticated six wild animals: the pig, ox, goat, horse, fowl and dog, indicating that dogs were often kept even in ancient times.
Records show that back then dogs were kept not for eating, but mainly to assist their masters with hunting and as loyal companions. As the Chinese people became more engaged with agriculture, the dog’s role as hunter became less important – but it was by no means cast aside, in fact it's loyalty shown to its owner made it valued for its role as a guard dog.
Those who are claiming that eating of dog somehow maintains Chinese tradition, point out that historical documents tell of “dog butchers” who specialized in preparing the meat. Others quote from works by the founder of the Han dynasty Liu Bang and Qing dynasty painter Zheng Banqiao as proof that the Chinese have always enjoyed dog meat – but this is not enough to prove it is a tradition or custom.
The San Zi Jing, written in the 13th century and attributed to Wang Yinglin, In it it reads Horse, ox, sheep, chicken, dog, pig these six animals are those which people raise. This is generally taken to mean that these animals were a source of meat. But as agriculture developed, and eating habits changed cows, sheep, chickens and pigs became the main sources of meat for Chinese people. Dogs gradually stopped being used as food.
Prior to the Qin (256-202 B.C.E.) and Han (202 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) dynasties the combination of primitive agricultural techniques and the chaos of constant war meant that living standards were low and meat a rare luxury, offered primarily to the elderly as a sign of respect. Beasts of burden and guard dogs which died of illness or old age could not be wasted, so our thrifty ancestors would cook the meat and eat their fill.
In China's long history Dog meat was never considered a worthy meat. In ancient times offerings to the Gods were important and great attention to detail was given when any offering was presented. For the grandest of imperial ceremonies a cow or horse would be sacrificed, for less important occasions a pig or sheep, and the ordinary people would offer pork, chicken or fish. But dog was almost never used, and it was regarded as disrespectful to the spirits to do so.
When ceremonies were held or parties thrown in the upper hierarchy of China's society, it was regarded as disrespectful to both the spirits and honored invitees to serve dog. That taboo is still common today, showing that dog meat is not suitable for refined tastes, and certainly not for serving to guests.
Dog fell increasingly out of favor after the Han dynasty. Philosophical Taoism, which arose in the late Han, saw dogs as unclean and consumption of dog was believed to harm efforts to live a simple life. During the Tang (AD 618–690 & 705–907) and Song (AD 960–1279) dynasties dog consumption decreased even further as the range of available meats increased and stories of faithful dogs and Buddhist ideas of reincarnation spread.
In China which has many ethnic minorities, each with its own traditions and culinary customs. But none of them can be described as dog-eating. Further investigation revels these facts.
Even the Zhuang people of Guangxi – where the Yulin “dog-meat festival” takes place - and despite what the festival supporters say about tradition are not recorded in historical documents as being keen dog eaters.
It's all about the money
China evaluates their Local government officials on GDP growth. But remote and poorest regions struggle to meet these growth targets, and the officials responsible are under considerable pressure. This gives rise to various odd money-making schemes, with cultural events designed to boost the local economy a popular choice. It also leads to ignoring laws such as every dog or cat that would be used for food must pass a one week quarantine. Another law that Yulin officials fail to enforce is the documentation of where that animal came from.
Many of the 20,000 Dog and Cats killed during the 2015 festival were stolen from families that considered their pet as a part of the family and never envisioned it as someones meal.
In 2009 Yulin, situated in China’s south-west border province of Guangxi, created this grand festival and tried to reinvent itself and eventually came up with a ”dog-meat and lychee's festival” to attract tourists and investment. When the dog meat eating controversy started to become too big for these local officials, they scurried to claim Yulin as the keeper of Chinese tradition.
Up until 2009 Yulin had never been a part of mainstream Chinese culture and with no famous historical figures or events to make use of it was essentially a no name, town that before 2009 - 99% of the Chinese people never heard about and would never think of Yulin as the standard-bearer of Chinese tradition.
Dog-eaters have, naturally enough, any number of reasons to explain the legitimacy of the practice, some just did it to rebel and with China's strict hold on it's people, many saw this as an opportunity to defy China's ruling party and now the world itself. Some went as far to defend its legality by pointing out that anything not banned by law, is permitted. But somehow all these dog and cat eating people ignore the moral standards as well, higher than legal ones?
Legal standards are designed to protect our basic security. Moral standards, maintain our civilization and ensure we do not sway towards the degenerate. And our own standards push us ever forward to achieve more than our ancestors or even tradition has set for us.
While the dog-eating advocates argue the reasons for their case, they never seem to stop and hear the wails coming from dogs whose head and body are being cruelly pummeled with hammers and sticks. They never seem to hear the whimpering of dogs and cats who know that their time is at hand and their only wish is to be reunited with the loving family that they were stolen from.
These advocates cry about tradition and that the world has no right to tell them how to act or what to eat all the while stepping over the street gutters in order to avoid the continuous and seemingly never ending flow of blood from slaughtered defenseless animals being butchered in the name of the almighty Chinese Yuan.
works cited, references,
"The Myth of Dog Eating in China" by Hu Yifu Beijingobserver.com