Dog meat in China and the Yulin festival

dog meat china
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion article based on contrasting information and personal experience. The comments section is open to discussion. However, just like with any article on SDC, any comments considered to be clearly offensive or insulting will be deleted.

Lately, we received a wave of insulting comments against Chinese people, and strangely on an article dedicated to dog meat in VIETNAM. This fact bugged me a bit, as first of all, I don’t like to spend all day deleting insulting comments and second of all, the comments didn’t have anything to do with the article. Why insult Chinese people on an article on Vietnam?

Regardless, I was curious about the reason for this wave of comments. I found the answer quickly by reading the newspaper. Apparently, people had started a worldwide campaign to stop the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in the Chinese city of Yulin, in Guangxi, which is held every year on June 21.

This is the reason why I have decided to cover this subject in the most objective way possible today.

Truths and myths about the consumption of dog meat in China

Chinese people eat dogs

Yes and no. Is it obvious that in China, people eat dog meat, but contrary to what most people think, the consumption of dog meat in China is not very widespread.

Basically, dog meat is eaten in southeastern provinces, such as Guangdong or Guangxi (close to Vietnam), and in the northeastern area that borders Korea.

In the southeastern part of China, people boast that they eat anything with four legs other than tables and chairs. Culturally, in these areas, people have a predilection for eating “strange things” as they consider that the stranger a food is, the more luxurious it is. In fact, in my opinion, this is the reason why the idea that Chinese people eat everything has become so widespread.

In the northeastern area, the winters are extremely harsh and according to traditional Chinese medicine, dog meat is very warming, and therefore helps to combat the extreme cold. However, except among ethnic minorities, the consumption of dog meat is getting more and more rare.

Only Chinese people eat dog meat

This idea is very far from the truth. In fact, the Chinese are not the biggest consumers of dog meat, by far. And while they may be quantitatively, qualitatively, they aren’t. Let’s take a look at some numbers.

In China, it is calculated that between 10 and 20 million dogs are consumed each year. That’s a lot, isn’t it? However, China has a population of approximately 1,350 million people, and that means, by doing the basic division, that approximately one dog is eaten for every 100 Chinese people in one year. To compare, in my country (Spain), approximately one pig is consumed per person per year.

In fact, in countries such as Korea or Vietnam, the consumption is much more widespread. In South Korea, 2.5 million dogs are consumed and in Vietnam, 5 million dogs. Considering that Korea has around 50 million inhabitants and Vietnam around 90 million, one dog is eaten for every twenty people in Korea and for every eighteen in Vietnam. That means that in South Korea and Vietnam, dog meat is consumed around 4 times more per capita than in China.

In China, you may be eating dog meat without knowing it

It is possible for this to happen, but it is extremely unlikely. In fact it is more likely for the opposite to be true; that is, that they sell you pig saying that it is dog. The reason is very simple: dog meat is much more expensive than other types of meat, as it is considered a luxury. In addition, finding restaurants that serve dog meat is hard, and because of that, it is unlikely that you will order it by mistake.

In China, people treat dogs poorly

This is obvious: what animal destined for human consumption isn’t mistreated?

It is common to see articles on the treatment of dogs in China, with them transported piled on top of one another in cages with no water, etcetera. However, how is this different from how lambs are transported, for example. Personally, I have seen lambs transported in my country in conditions very similar to or even worse than the images of dogs in China.

It is true that legislation on the treatment of livestock is more developed in countries other than China, but this isn’t a dog problem but rather a problem with the treatment of animals in general.

How can they eat man’s best friend?

This is a cultural question. For SOME inhabitants of South East Asia, dog is not man’s best friend but rather a simple food source. However, it is worthwhile to mention that for the majority of Chinese people, eating dog meat is unthinkable. Other examples of cultural differences in this respect could be:

  • In southern Europe, eating rabbit is common, whereas in Anglo-Saxon countries, it is considered a pet.
  • In Italy and other counties, horse meat is considered a delicacy. However, for many Asians, eating the meat of this animal is inconceivable.
  • In India, cows are sacred animals, whereas in Western countries, it is one of the most consumed and well-liked meats.

Just like these, I could list thousands of other examples.

In China they steal dogs to sell their meat

This is one of the most repeated complaints in articles on the subject, as while it may happen, I see it as being unlikely. If there is one thing that stands out among Chinese people, it is their practicality. Because of this, if we consider that in China, the majority of dogs are tiny and those that they sell for meat consumption are normally of a medium sized breed, what would be the point in making the effort to find a dog that is adequate to sell and then “kidnap” it afterwards when its owner isn’t looking. I think that is it much easier to raise the right dogs in large quantities to sell them later.

My opinion on the subject

Before going on, I want to clear up a few points:

1) Despite having lived for almost five years in China, I have never eaten dog meat.
2) I love dogs and in my family, we have one.
3) I am not a vegetarian.
4) When I have seen dogs skinned and hung up to sell their meat, it causes me a bit of repulsion.

Having said this, I think that consuming dog meat is completely respectable and is not at all reproachable, as long as the slaughter is done in conditions that are minimally decent. What I don’t consider respectable is the attitude of considering Chinese people barbarians because they eat dog meat. People, the colonial period came to an end a long time ago; your culture is no better than others, and the sooner you figure that out, the better you will do in the new, globalized world.

Campaign against the Yulin festival

While I respect this, as you may have already figured out, I am against the worldwide campaign against the Yulin festival, especially the part where foreigners travel to the area to try to stop the festival. My reasons are both ideological and practical, and here are the main ones:

  • I don’t like the political connotations behind this movement. It is clear that in this and many other aspects, there are good countries and bad countries. Why Yulin and not Korea or Vietnam? In addition, why aren’t there similar campaigns in my country in which under the name of tradition, animals are tortured in a much more savage way, and to top it off, their meat isn’t even used for consumption?
  • If they do have an effect, these movements will have the opposite effect than they intend. Chinese people are deeply ashamed of their colonial past and hate that other countries, especially Western ones, tell them what they have to do. The only way to change things in China is from within, and the only thing that any movement promoted from outside will do is to detract from the credibility of internal movements.
  • Many of the arguments used to promote protests are false or biased.

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Buddy the Mischievous Pug by Dan Perez

12 thoughts on “Dog meat in China and the Yulin festival”

  1. I’ve travelled several times into indonesia Papua, formerly West Papua now. I love that Count ry I love people and know about thier old arts, taboo, traditions, one of most famous tribe is probably Asmat. Some on them may sound as sexist or cruel but it’s part of thier culture.
    I guess that all people who says that we should respect the right of dog-eater to follow thier traditions and culture will agree that banning CANNIBALISM has been a violation of Asmat’s ( and the other people who included this practice among their cultural traditions and rites) rights while we should respect their choice.

  2. The only thing I would dispute is when you say “I think that is it much easier to raise the right dogs in large quantities to sell them later.” I am living in Guilin, Guangxi Province and that is generally not how anything is done here. Animals are mostly raised in very small scale operations in the villages. There are quite a few “tougos” (dirt dogs, the local dogs) running around in the villages. It seems that most people have only one or two dogs and they are kept sort of like pets or farm dogs but they will be eaten. The butchers selling them in the street markets in my neighborhood (Bali Jie) are not large operations as you suggest but have one or two dogs at a time that they have cut up for meat.

  3. I find your posts very interesting! They show what China really is for people that are not from there. I am traveling to China in a couple of weeks to work and live there for a while. I’ve been using your site and posts to give myself an idea of the things I am going to find there, looking for things and clues to make me understand their culture and anything I have to do to feel myself like home, once I am there. It’s been really useful and helpful! I am from Venezuela and I was raised by an Italian family, so I have a mix of cultures already hahaha. It is really nice to read objective points of view about their culture (something the we must respect even though we don’t like). Thank you very much for all of these information!
    Muchísimas gracias por tus publicaciones!

  4. Thank you, there should be more articles like this one in the nearly sacred and often misleading world wide web. This is an article written by somebody with the right perspective and the judgement of the experience. I hate emotional propaganda movements that develop on social pages without a cause.

  5. I am sure that there are plenty of people in the UK countryside that still eat rabbit.
    During the 1939 – 1945 war time where I lived we eat lots of rabbit and afterwards we often eat it. I would still do if it was for sale. When I came to London in 1980 white imported rabbit was for sale in butchers shops but not any more.

    When home from boarding school in the winter I went rabbiting nearly every weekend – this was to control the rabbits on farms because rabbits eat large amounts of crops later in the year. The dead rabbits were sold to a local shop.

    A few years ago in a farmers market in Chelmsford, Essex I saw rabbit for sale. The carcasses had been skinned and the seller told me that they were not allowed to sell them in the skin. Why?

    Then later in 1953 Myxomatosis arrived and decimated the rabbit population which has now recovered, but at that time rabbiting became unnecessary.

    Dog – I have eaten this twice in China. Both times it was the same cold dish and had a texture and taste very like lamb or mutton and both times near Ningbo. Got to try everything once. Actually difficult to refuse when the person we went to see took us to a dog meat restaurant.

    What I notice in China is that most Laowai seldom eat Chinese food. One working in a western style bar in Zhuhai told me he was frightened of it , this after living in China for about 4 years. He was of course cooking western food for the Laowai.

    I, when in China ( approx 2.5 years on and off visits) since 2003), have always eaten Chinese food and never had any problems with it.

    Here in London the non Chinese in a Chinese restaurant do not eat very much proper Cantonese Food. I am lucky, in so far that a restaurant I have been going to for over twenty years now invites me to eat with the owner and staff between 5.30 and 6.00 pm.
    Often I find there are dishes that I would put on their Menu but when I suggest this to the owner he just says “They will not eat it”.

    1. Funny,

      I’m from Italy and rabbit is food. You see it in any butchery. In many provinces, horse is considered food too (I love horse meat).

      I ate dog once, in Zhejiang. It had so many spices that it tasted nothing!

      3 weeks ago I went to a Xinjiang restaurant in London, it’s called Silk Road. It wasn’t bad; however I was disappointed because they adapted the menu to westerners (many Xinjiang dishes were missing while there were several classical Chinese dishes as gongbao jiding). Also, they put Sichuan peppers into the dapanji, which I found quite disturbing : )

    2. Hi Tom, I had similar experiences in Barcelona (my home town). Once I was in a popular Chinese restaurant with Chinese and Western friends, so we ask the Chinese and the Spanish menu and I realized that many dishes weren’t in the Spanish menu, when I try to ask some of the dishes in the Chinese menu, the people in the restaurant didn’t want saying that “laowai” don’t like it.

  6. A very good article covering well reasoned comments. Having lived in Qingdao for one year now and South Korea for two years I have eaten a number of food items I would not normally in the west, I’m english, and I agree with the points relating to what constitutes a food source in various parts of the world. If I was offered dog I wouldtry it and yes I am an animal lover.

    1. Thanks for the support Kevin, I don’t mention in the article, but probably I would also try dog meat at least once.

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