Editorial: How to help animals in China
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:
ANIMAL PEOPLE has received many heartfelt appeals for a boycott of all goods
from China and/or all tourism to China, in response to the recent Humane Society of the U.S.
disclosures pertaining to the use of dog and cat fur by some Chinese garment makers, whose
customers include U.S. retailers.
The dog and cat fur traffic was overdue for exposure, HSUS is to be commended
for doing it, and expressions of outrage are also in order.
But a broad boycott of China would be unfair, ineffective, and self-defeating. The
dog and cat fur traffic is not uniquely Chinese; neither is China the largest supplier. The
largest supplier, our files indicate, is Russia, along with other nations formerly belonging to
the USSR, where animals killed by city pounds have been pelted and the pelts sold since
Czarist times. As ANIMAL PEOPLE has reported, the killing and pelting is often done by
prisoners. The proceeds underwrite both the animal control agencies, such as they are, and
the prisons. Neither have ever approached internationally accepted humane standards.
Most other nations of Europe, both east and west, are also involved, or have
recently been involved, along with many other nations in Asia.
On June 1, 1988, the Editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE personally delivered a 300-
page report to HSUS, commissioned by HSUS, which in reviewing the entire economic
structure of the fur industry, documented the sale of dog and cat pelts by the fur trade in
England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States. In the U.S., the dogs and cats
were “accidentally” killed by trappers; their pelts auctioned along with those of many other
species. In the other nations, animal control agencies were the pelt suppliers.
Circa Thanksgiving, 1988, we supplied this same information to 18 other organizations
which were conducting anti-fur campaigns. None chose, at that time, to act upon it.
Since that time, information has surfaced pertaining to the involvement of many
other nations in producing and selling dog and cat fur––notably, the nations of Asia where
dogs and cats are commonly eaten, including not only China but also Korea, Indonesia,
Vietnam, parts of the Philippines, and parts of Thailand. Dog and cat fur produced in these
nations is a byproduct of the meat industry. The horrific killing methods depicted by the
HSUS undercover video, now widely aired on television, reflect ethnic beliefs about the
value of eating meat saturated by the hormones secreted by animals who are in fear and pain.
In fairness, it must be noted that as result of work by the International Fund for
Animals and other organizations, eating dogs and cats is officially discouraged in South
Korea and the Philippines. Further, it is practiced only by certain ethnic minorities in the
Philippines and Thailand. In Thailand, in particular, dog-eating is viewed with revulsion by
the Buddhist majority. Even in China, the People’s Daily has recently criticized people who
eat animals not commonly regarded as “meat animals” by the rest of the world.
So long as meat is eaten––no matter what animal is the victim––animals will suffer.
But meat-eating will best be discouraged, in China and elsewhere, by giving it up and speaking
out against it right here. And it is far more effective to salute the example of the vegetarian
monks of Shaolin, the inventors of karate, who have maintained their vegetarianism
through centuries of repression, than to condemn all of China. Indeed, Chinese officialdom
has begun to recognize the global prestige of Shaolin, as a leading tourist draw, and to
understand that vegetarian nonviolence is the source of international interest.
A boycott serves no purpose if it does not hit the boycott target. A broad boycott of
China––or any other nation––hits many people who have no say in the matter, over the practices
of the tiny minority who are engaged in the fur trade. This is especially unfair inasmuch
as China is an authoritarian nation with censored media and centralized political power.
As Hong Kong humanitarian Dr. John Wedderburn wrote to us, “The vast majority
of Chinese will never hear about the HSUS report. If they do, it will be as a commentary
derogatory to the investigators. The Chinese people will have no idea why they are being
boycotted, if they ever even hear there is a boycott. The Chinese reaction to a boycott, moreover,
would be to close ranks and defend their country.”
In any event, most Chinese citizens, including the exporters and people working in
tourism who would be hit hardest by a boycott, have little ability to dissent from ruling policy.
Within days of the dog fur expose, China at secret trials sentenced Xu Wenli, 55, and
Qin Yongmin, 44, to 12 years in prison; sentenced Wang Youcai, 32, to 11 years; and sentenced
Zhang Li and Wei Quanbao, ages unknown, to three years each at hard labor. Their
apparent offenses were seeking democracy and freedom of expression, and in Xu’s case,
accepting $500 from foreign supporters. To voice any protest in China can be dangerous;
protest on behalf of animals might not even attract outside notice before being squelched.
In effectively responding to the dog fur expose, one must consider two greater
goals: to further humane ideals in China, and to end the fur trade, worldwide.
Though much repressed, China has a vegetarian and humane religious
tradition––exemplified by Shaolin––which may be traced back more than 2,500 years. A boycott
of all things Chinese is to discourage the budding re-emergence of that tradition, and to
perpetuate the xenophobia of the aging Communist rulers.
Even in strongly disapproving of all aspects of Chinese conduct which are inhumane,
it is essential to recognize and encourage the counter-tendencies––and this is only accomplished
by increasing commerce and contact. Values must be shared, not dictated.
The money in fur comes mainly from western and Russian consumers. The suffering
is shared among all species who are killed for fur or to feed ranched furbearers, including the
whales who are killed to feed the foxes at Siberian fur farms, and the factory-farmed pigs and
chickens whose offal feeds U.S.-ranched mink.
The message which matters is that decent people neither buy nor wear fur. Outcry
over the sale of dog and cat fur is appropriate to the extent that it awakens potential fur customers
to the cruelty inherent in closely confining, killing, and skinning any animal. It is
pointless, however, if the message that comes across is “Don’t wear dogs or cats––wear
minks or beavers or raccoons instead.”
As extreme as was the suffering of the animals depicted in the HSUS undercover
video, they probably suffered no more than most animals who are caught in wire snares or
leghold traps. Neither were they likely to have been kept for longer, in more miserable conditions,
than either ranched furbearers or any pig or chicken whose remains Americans eat.
The most influential and most often effective weapon deployed by animal abusers is
their claim that animal activists dare attack only the abuses practiced by ethnic minorities.
Thus whalers hide behind the Makah tribe, furriers hide behind indigenous Canadians, live
marketers in San Francisco and elsewhere assert that racism is behind the anti-live food campaign,
and similar defenses are brought forth for bullfighting, cockfighting, and animal sacrifice,
among many other forms of animal cruelty.
A boycott campaign targeting China for an offense involving many nations of the
west as well as the east plays directly into that accusation.
To be sure, it is easy to call for a boycott. And calling a boycott enables activists to
blow off steam, perhaps get some publicity, and pretend to respond to an outrage.
ANIMAL PEOPLE, however, is interested in results.
An effective response to the international dog and cat fur traffic will discourage furwearing
in any form; encourage vegetarianism; and will directly help the humane movements
of the impoverished nations most involved in the dog and cat fur traffic.
The surest way to get dog and cat fur out of commerce is to prevent dog and cat overpopulation,
by aiding low-cost and free neutering, to keep animals out of the pounds of the
nations involved. As we often note, publishing their letters of information along with their
addresses, there are already some humane societies in Russia, eastern Europe, parts of China,
Thailand, and the other nations with dog and cat fur sellers. They are working to promote
low-cost and free neutering, often in locales where veterinary care of any kind is scarce,
receiving obscenely little help from most of the wealthy animal protection organizations of the
west. (IFAW, the North Shore Animal League, and the British-based National Canine
Defense League are outstanding exceptions.)
Ask HSUS and any other organization protesting the use of dog and cat fur to meaningfully
sponsor low-cost and free neutering in the dog and cat fur-producing nations.
And ask HSUS et al to take a firm, clear stand against meat-eating right here in the
good old U.S.A.––because much of the abuse of dogs and cats that turns your stomach is closer
to standard practice by the U.S. beef, pork, and poultry industries than most Americans might
ever imagine. HSUS guesstimated that two million dogs and cats per year are pelted, worldwide.
More than nine billion cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys endure comparable suffering
each year, in the U.S. alone, for dinner tables.
All of this suffering makes us sick at heart. And we think we, as Americans, would
be in a far stronger position to criticize cruelty abroad if we were equally vociferous against the
most common comparable cruelties practiced here––which are, unfortunately, perpetuated by
the eating habits of most of our friends and neighbors.