Controversy dogs popular ancient cuisine

Updated: 2011-11-19 08:17

By Cang Wei (China Daily)

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Controversy dogs popular ancient cuisine

Volunteers unload dogs from a truck in Zigong, Southwest China's Sichuan province, on Oct 15. The dogs, if not saved by animal rights groups, would otherwise have been transported to various parts of China to be slaughtered and served on tables. [Provided to China Daily]

BEIJING - Some Chinese animal welfare groups are challenging an old Chinese tradition that has a history thousands of years old - eating dogs.

Citing health reasons and animal rights, the groups are resorting to advertisements and social campaigns to persuade people from eating dogs - an effort that is, however, irritating meat traders and fans of the cuisine, popular in northeastern and southern parts of China.

Fang Dan, director of the publicity department of Ta Foundation, a private foundation for animal welfare, said that videos calling for people to give up eating dogs are being broadcast 20 times a day on nine of Beijing's outdoor advertising screens and screens of many office buildings.

Celebrities were invited by the foundation to be part of the videos. In one video, Zhang Yue, one of China's most celebrated presenters, said that the dog meat sold in China is "not quarantined and contains large amounts of bacteria", so people should not eat it.

Ta Foundation plans to have more videos broadcast on televisions to change people's "nasty habit" of eating dogs and cats.

Unlike many Western countries where dog meat is banned, eating dogs in China dates back to the Neolithic Age. Eating dogs, especially in winter, is socially acceptable as people believe the meat has medicinal qualities and can help combat diseases such as cold.

In Compendium of Materia Medica, the encyclopedic work on traditional Chinese medicine written during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), four prescriptions containing dog meat were recorded.

Eating dogs is also especially popular among some ethnic groups, such as Koreans.

Jin Meihua, deputy director of Jilin Provincial Academy of Social Sciences' Center for Northeast Asian Studies, said that it is common for people in the autonomous prefecture of Yanbian, Northeast China's Jilin province, to consume dog meat.

"It's a tradition; it's part of life ... it has never caused any controversy here," said Jin, who is from the Korean ethnic group.

But since more Chinese people have been raising dogs as pets and online exposure of cases of torture and slaughter have aroused netizens' ire, the campaign has gained support.

On Oct 15, a Chinese animal protection group, the Qiming Center, saved nearly 800 dogs from traders in Zigong, Southwest China's Sichuan province.

A dog meat festival in Jinhua, East China's Zhejiang province, which had a history of more than 600 years, was canceled permanently in September after animal rights groups launched an online campaign to protest the brutal slaughter of dogs at the festival.

Some restaurants have even given up serving dog meat.

A manager surnamed Shan at a Korean-style restaurant in Beijing's Chaoyang district said the restaurant has stopped providing dog meat after receiving protests from many animal protection organizations.

"Though it has affected our business slightly, we decided not to sell dog meat to avoid frequent phone calls and visits," Shan said.

Now, animal protection groups want the government to join the campaign.

Zhang Dan, co-founder of China Animal Protection Media Saloon, established in 2009, said the government has not promoted the legislation or publicity against eating dogs.

"We understand that the government needs to respect people's traditions," Zhang said. "But some repulsive traditions, such as eating dogs and cats, should be killed."

Fang from Ta Foundation said that next week some Chinese animal protection groups will discuss with the Ministry of Agriculture issues such as the quarantine of dog meat and the market of selling dogs.

However, those who make a living from dog meat do not like the idea of banning the dishes.

"My family ekes out a living from selling dog meat, and I was raised by my parents that way," said Zhang Guiping, the 42-year-old owner of a hotpot restaurant in Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou province, where dog cuisine is famous.

Zhang Guiping said his family has been in the dog meat business for generations, and his small hotpot restaurant was the main source of income for his six employees.

Many Chinese consumers aren't convinced, either, and don't think dog meat is different from pork and mutton.

Huang Xiaoshan, a Beijing resident, wrote on his micro blog that if people stop eating dog meat, animal protection groups may continue to "persuade people not to have beef, chicken and fish".

Qiu Bo and Su Jiangyuan contributed to this story.