China: Traditional Dog Meat Recipes v. New Animal Rights Activism

Dog-as-pet comes to China.
Dog-as-pet comes to China.
Harold Thibault

SHANGHAI — Every summer, the little town of Yulin in southeastern China celebrates the summer solstice by tasting local dishes: lychees (a Chinese fruit) in alcohol, for example, and, perhaps the favorite main course delicacy, dog meat.

Dog carcasses are visibly displayed on street stalls — for now. But last year, animal rights activists began to disrupt such festivities by denouncing the cruelty of keeping dogs in overcrowded cages, and opposing the very idea of eating "man's best friend."

The June festival this year was even more tumultuous. Sales barely reached a third of their 2013 level. Stall owners received threatening phone calls from new Chinese militants and even impromptu visits from members of some 60 animal protection groups. Some of these unwanted guests were in turn surrounded by food sellers angered by the meddling in their business, which they said was no more cruel than eating beef or pork. Police had to step in to separate the dissenting groups.

Animal rights groups have emerged only recently in China, arriving in tandem with a middle class increasingly enthralled by pets. Likewise, the Internet has allowed the Chinese to view certain shocking realities — street gangs stealing pet dogs for resale and pictures of dogs hanging from poles before being cooked in the kitchens of towns like Yulin.

And with such reports, a growing number of Chinese are refusing to eat dogs. In Yulin, local authorities have stressed that they had no hand in organizing the controversial dog fest. Civil servants have been banned from taking part even in a private capacity, and stalls have been asked to remove any mention of "dog meat" to avoid more trouble.

All creatures great and small

This spreading awareness is not limited to dogs. Campaigns against eating shark fins have shown how mutilated sharks are thrown back into the sea to die once their fins were cut off, persuading some restaurants to eliminate fins from their menus. The upscale dish remains widely available in China.

Save our sharks, in Beijing. Photo: Shizhao

In a study published in May, two researchers at Beijing University's life sciences faculty, Li Zhang and Feng Yin, observed that 52.7% of the capital's residents believed people should no longer eat wild animals, in contrast with 42.7% in 2004. But their study also showed that those with the highest incomes were those who most frequently ate wild species, which are expensive.

Growing awareness in some sectors was shown to be offset by the general rise in Chinese incomes. Serving your guests wild delicacies is often perceived as a sign of wealth. And there is a deeper, underlying belief among the Chinese, that they can dominate and exploit nature. Many believe in the benefits of consuming wild species in the context of traditional medicine.

In March, a police raid in the southern port city of Zhanjiang discovered 10 tiger corpses. These had been killed before an audience of businessmen and officials keen to show their rising social status by attending spectacles that included torturing and electrocuting the animals, and eating bits of them.

Tigers are equated with manly vigor in China, and their consumption is a source of pride for some.

Again, changing ideas about animal suffering are prompting some citizens at least to confront such practices. A drugmaking group specializing in traditional medicine, Guizhentang, discovered this in 2013. The firm sells bear bile, which some Chinese believe cures liver and kidney ailments. The liquid is extracted through a catheter implanted in the gall bladder of a bear that is caged for life.

Guizhentang promised to develop this enterprise by buying as many as 1,200 bears, in contrast with the 400 it had at the time. Its website was hacked, and activists dressed as bears attacked its products in shops. Faced with the rage online, and the mobilization of basketball stars such as Yao Ming, the firm had to cancel its plans to go public on the Shenzen stock exchange.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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