WILL CHINA WELCOME CAPITALIST RUNNING DOGS?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:
HONG KONG––Friends of
Animals president Priscilla Feral on June 17
led about 50 demonstrators in protest outside
the embassy of the People’s Republic of China
in Washington D.C., demanding that U.S.
president Bill Clinton add cruelty to animals to
his list of topics for discussion during a late
June visit to Beijing.
“We have documented evidence that
cruelty to animals is so pervasive and conspicuous
that it must be officially sanctioned,”
Feral said. “Much of the cruelty involves the
mistreatment of companion animals destined
The Clinton administration did not
respond, amid conflicting indications of shifting
Chinese views about dogs and petkeeping.
Beginning soon after the 1949 rise of
the Communist regime under Mao Tse Tung,
authorities in Beijing and other major Chinese
cities confiscated and massacred pet dogs in
the streets every few years, as alleged threats
to public health and safety. The dog massacres
often served to warn humans, too, that street
activity menacing the established order might
be met with bloody repression. Dogs were tolerated
mainly as work animals and meat.
The most recent Chinese dog massacres
reportedly came in July 1994.
Animal lovers have long feared that
the British turnover of Hong Kong to the
People’s Republic of China in July 1997 might
bring on a dog massacre––meant mostly to
intimidate citizens who might chafe under new
curbs on economic and political freedom.
Such a massacre seemed imminent
in January 1998, after free-roaming dogs scattered
the carcasses of some of the 1.5 million
chickens killed by Hong Kong civil servants in
an all-out effort to eradicate a variant form of
avian flu which in a handful of cases had
crossed into humans.
But the authorities sent a different
message on February 26, Clifford Lo of the
South China Morning Post reported, arresting
a 52-year-old man as he roasted a dog. “The
man later said he had bought five dogs from a
nearby site two weeks ago,” Clifford Lo continued.
“He had eaten two before being arrested,
and still had two at home. He is separated
from his wife and lives alone. The maximum
penalty for killing a dog or a cat for food is a
$5,000 fine and six months in jail, a department
Translation: dog-eating, associated
by some Chinese with virility, is officially
viewed as deviate conduct, dog-eaters are
losers, and the current Hong Kong authorities
intend to hit them hard.
But again, the Provisional Urban
Council of Hong Kong seemed to help build a
pretext for dog-killing on May 12, with a 28-0
vote in favor of investigating the feasibility of
either washing dog urine off the streets, or
punishing dog owners who allow their animals
to urinate in public.
Even before the turnover of Hong
Kong, the city reportedly planned to mandate
microchip identification of all owned dogs,
which would become both an economic disincentive
for dog-keeping and a carte blanche to
dispose of dogs found at large.
Amid the ominous signs, however,
the calmly humane writing of Clifford Lo
stands out–– and what he finds, as perhaps the
most experienced animal care-and-control
reporter in China, tends to be encouraging,
even in covering disaster.
For instance, battling for their lives
at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong,
after giving their dog an ill-fated flea bath,
policewoman Chong Tak-ying, 38, and her
daughters Lee Sau-chung, 15, and Lee Waichung,
16, on June 1 refuted stereotypes
about Chinese people not loving animals.
“The family bathed their mongrel
Suki with liquid Diazinon,” Clifford Lo and
South China Morning Post colleague Billy
Wong Wai-Yuk recounted. ”The girls’ grandfather,
Lee Ling-cheung, 61, said they took
turns giving the dog mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
after it vomited.”
What the family didn’t know, apparently
due to faults in Chinese household chemical
labeling laws, was that the Diazinon solution
they had was a concentrate meant for use
with cattle, at a dilution ratio of 600/1––and a
previous use had increased the potency a hundredfold
more, said officials of the Hong
Kong Accident and Emergency Department.
The three woke from comas three
days later. Relatives tried to avoid telling
them immediately that Suki had died.
In the same edition of the M o r n i n g
Post, Clifford Lo wrote that “Cheung Ka-yan,
10, could only cry” the day before, when she
found her female chow and four of her six
puppies fatally poisoned.
Even in reporting the June 5 lifethreatening
pack mauling of Leung Wai-ping,
19, Clifford Lo found a trace of caring, noting
that, “The number of stray dogs rounded
up in Hong Kong dropped from 15,791 in
1996-1997 to 13,496 in 1997-1998.”
This might suggest a growing
humane ethic, as more dog owners keep their
pets home and more litters are prevented––or
might hint at negligence by civic authorities.
Another Morning Post c o l l e a g u e ,
Stella Lee, found only suspicion of the latter
on June 1, after another apparent atrocity:
“The roof of a Tuen Mun apartment
block is a temporary pet cemetery,” she wrote,
“because no government staff were available
over the weekend to collect the bodies of 15
She quoted a Mr. Chan, identified as
a friend of the owners. “It doesn’t seem right,”
he said. “The smell may affect the neighbors.”
The purebred show dogs, of seven
breeds, were worth an estimated $150,000.
Stella Lee never said whether they
had names or were mourned, or if anyone
cared at all that they had suffered.
In a February 1998 report for T h e
London Times, Lesley Downer interviewed
Tess Johnston, “a longtime Shanghai resident
and author,” who said that in present-day
China, “Wealthy people have animals as a
hobby, but there are no real feelings. The idea
of treating an animal humanely wouldn’t occur
to them. Birds,” she noted, “are the most
beloved pets in China.”
Observed Downer, “Wherever you
go there are songbirds in bamboo cages, hanging
outside windows and along balconies,
brightening corners in the poorest tenements”
as they sing from miniature prisons, from
which few will ever escape.
The degree of control implicit in
keeping caged birds reflects the authoritarianism
long prevalent in Chinese life.
Orderly as dogs are, in obeying
pack discipline, they defend private property
and individual persons, and thus symbolize a
more free society.
As to cats, Downer explained,
“Under Mao, cats had a good time of it. The
word for cat is m a o, after the sound cats
make, and everyone was careful not to offend
the great man by eating them. And working
cats have always had a place in Chinese homes
These days, Shanghai businessman
Elton He told Downer, “Someone may steal
your cat and sell him to a restaurant. My
grandmother lost three cats in two months.”
The losses, and the suspected reason
for them, were the bad news. The good news
was the grandmother’s evident feeling for
cats––another hint that Chinese society may
yet tip toward an ethic of kindness.
In Hong Kong, Clifford Lo reminded
readers after the dog-eater’s arrest, “In
December 1996, 39-year-old chef Lam Yuitin
was fined $2,000 for killing a domestic cat
That would be an encouragingly
heavy penalty anywhere.