China Just Banned the Yulin Dog Meat Festival: What This Means For The Future of Meat
News broke Wednesday that the government of China has temporarily banned the sale of dog meat at the notorious Yulin Dog Meat Festival. The victory is long in the making and validates the efforts of Chinese activists. It’s also a sign that dog and cat meat — and, soon, all products of animal cruelty— are on their way out, both in China and around the world.
Though the Western face of the Yulin campaign has often been attacked as hypocritical and racially-targeted, the important development in recent years has been the rise of animal activism in China. I toured China in 2015 as a Chinese American in solidarity with Chinese activists and secretly went to China in 2016 for an investigation of Yulin’s slaughterhouses on ABC’s Nightline.
The goal was to assist the push for this week’s ban and draw parallels between abuses abroad and here in the States. While the images I saw there still haunt me, the resilience of Chinese activists inspired me.
Here are five lessons animal advocates — in China and around the world — can take from this week’s success in Yulin.
1. The Power of Solidarity
As philosophers Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson point out, animal rights activists have historically created divisions with other social justice movements by ignoring the racial dynamics of campaigns where ethnic communities are targeted. Political scientist Claire Jean Kim chronicles just one of many conflicts between animal rights activists and the San Francisco Chinatown in her book Dangerous Crossings and argues that animal rights activists should seek to acknowledge (rather than disavow) concerns about racism when an ethnic community feels they are in the crosshairs. In particular, empowering voices from within a community is crucial.
In Yulin, Chinese activists have led the way, bravely rescuing dogs from slaughter, protesting in the face of state repression, and crying out that all is not right. Chinese leaders like Peter J. Li of the Humane Society International and Andrea Gung of the Duo Duo Project have been the international faces of the campaign, forcing the government of China to recognize that the Chinese themselves — and not colonial meddlers — were resisting.
2. The Power of the Grassroots
Chinese activists mobilized against the Yulin dog meat trade with few resources or institutional connections. Using tactics available to anyone — holding vigils, stopping trucks, or directly rescuing dogs — Chinese activists built a vibrant movement of nonviolent direct action. As political scientist Erica Chenoweth shows in Why Civil Resistance Works, these are tools capable of overcoming even the most powerful adversaries.
3. The Power of Systems
Chinese activists did not primarily seek to change individuals’ consumption practices one by one, or reform the ways dogs were killed in each slaughterhouse. Instead, Chinese activists mobilized thousands to speak the truth: that dogs simply do not deserve to be killed and eaten. And they made their target, not individual consumers or firms, but systemic decision-makers, such as the local party secretary, who could end the trade in one fell swoop. This not only gave their message mass appeal — ordinary citizens felt they were allies rather than adversaries — but also addressed the root of the problem, rather than its individual symptoms. In the end, they got a major victory, and it’s easy to see a total ban on dog meat before long.
4. The Power of Media
The resistance against Yulin brought international attention to the trade, putting major pressure on the Chinese government to avoid being humiliated as tolerating violence against animals. DxE’s exposé of the trade on ABC’s Nightline brought first-ever hidden-camera footage of the horrors of Yulin dog farms to households around the world.
As media scholars have long recognized, media has a powerful ability to set the public agenda and determine on what issues change occurs. With expert media narratives, activists ensured dog meat remained on the agenda.
5. The Power of Truth
More than anything, the Yulin campaign has rested on a simple idea: torturing and killing dogs is wrong. This idea has been accepted around the world and built a grassroots movement in China. As agriculture of other animals — chickens, pigs, fish, and more — expands in China and fends off animal activists internationally, activists should maintain this bold vision. If the public believes torturing and killing dogs for food is wrong, then how can we not accept that torturing and killing any animal for food is wrong?
The activists of China used these five ideas to achieve one of the more notable victories in the history of animal rights. If we learn from their victory— and we will — then a ban on, not just dog meat in China, but all meat will be coming sooner than you might expect.