Chinese dog-killer sent to labor camp
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:
BEIJING, HONG KONG– “A Wuhan man was sentenced to 18 months
in a labor camp for poisoning more than 80 pet dogs, the Chutian
Metropolis Daily reported circa December 15, 2003. “The man had
been poisoning the dogs and selling them to local restaurants. A
farmer was detained for supplying the rat poison.”
Reprinted by other news media throughout China, the brief
item indicated the fast-rising status of dogs in much of a nation
which remains deeply divided among fear of dogs, love of dogs, and
the belief that dogs are to be eaten.
The significance of the Wuhan case includes acknowledgement
that enough dogs are kept as pets that a criminal can make a business
of stealing them; acknowledgement that killing pet dogs is a crime
warranting punishment as severe as is typically given for poisoning
pets in the U.S.; and the implication that the dog meat business is
not law-abiding and respectable. Also of note is that the offender
was convicted of killing the dogs, not of harming people who might
have eaten their meat.
In some parts of China a citizen might still be officially
praised for killing 80 pet dogs, but not now in Wuhan– and, since
the state-controlled Chinese media tend to publish news to make a
point, maybe not in the future anywhere.
Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, is located in the
cultural no-man’s-land that separates Cantonese-speaking southern and
coastal China from the Mandarin-speaking north.
The Cantonese historically have kept more dogs, and have had
less fear of them despite endemic rabies, because in the Cantonese
regions dogs are traditionally bred for slaughter.
Officially there are 6.2 million dogs in Guangdong province,
the hub of the dog meat industry and wildlife-eating, and the only
part of China where cats are often eaten. About 4.5 million dogs per
year are raised in Guang-dong for meat. Because government policy
holds that dogs raised for meat are not exposed to rabies, these
dogs are not vaccinated. About 1.9 million Guangdong dogs have been
vaccinated since 1998, and are believed to be pets.
Authorities killed 170,000 dogs in Guangdong during 2003,
purportedly to stop rabies outbreaks, and blamed the outbreaks on
failures of petkeepers to have their dogs vaccinated. However, the
numbers of dogs killed were so much higher than in past years as to
suggest that dog meat farms must have been involved.
Mandarin speakers tend to look down on Cantonese consumption
of dogs, cats, and wildlife, and historically those who could
afford dogs kept them as pets. After 1949, however, the Communist
government instituted frequent dog purges. The initial pretext was
to conserve the food given to dogs. Later the pretext became
preventing rabies. Now, after generations without pet dogs, dogs
are widely feared in Mandarin regions, but fear is yielding to
renewed familiarity, and there is increasingly open acknowledgement
that dog purges may have been used chiefly as an instrument of social
control: “killing the dog to scare the monkey,” as a Confucian-era
proverb describes the tactic.
The Wuhan crime-and-punishment item circulated about two
weeks after the China Daily nationally and globally distributed the
story of Dahuang, or “Big Yellow,” a street dog who for three years
was seen as a neighborhood pet. Exiled from Beijing to rural
Fangshan because of strict Beijing limits on the size of pets,
Dahuang made his way back, starving, bedraggling, and with
injuries from having apparently survived a stoning. Dahuang was to
be exiled again, but the sympathies of the staff and readers of the
China Daily were clearly with him.
The Dahuang story appeared one week after coverage of
disputes over regulations that discourage residents of Nanking and
Shanghai–both in Canton-ese regions–from keeping pet dogs in
subsidized housing. Two residents of public housing were quoted in
favor of the policy, but an official of the Shanghai Civil Affairs
Bureau criticized it, and a university psychologist pointed out the
value of pets to low-income people who may have few other friends.
Since Shanghai is believed to rank second only to Guangdong
in numbers of dogs eaten, the state media defense of dogs as friends
may indicate a significant shift in government thinking.