Progress against dog & cat fur in China

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2006:

“Senior officials in the Chinese
government yesterday vowed to stamp out the trade
in cat and dog fur which they described as
‘illegal and barbaric,'” European Parliament
member Struan Stevenson’s office announced from
Brussels on May 24, 2006.
The announcement appeared to represent a
major milestone in the long march toward the
passage of humane laws in the world’s most
populous nation.
According to Stevenson, the officials he met
with described the cruelties of the cat and dog
fur trade as violations of general humane
statutes which do not yet exist.
From a western perspective, pledging to
enforce laws which do not exist might be taken as
an empty propaganda ploy. In the Confucian
context of Chinese government, the ploy might be
as much toward the Chinese public as toward the
Either way, the Chinese officials
reportedly acknowledged the importance of humane

At the State Forestry Administration
headquarters in Beijing, Stevenson met with
deputy forestry administration chair Zhao Xuemin
and five other senior officials, including Chen
Runsheng, secretary general of the China
Wildlife Conservation Association.
Chen Runsheng has already facilitated the
phase-out of many of China’s oldest and most
abusive bear bile farms. He has also enabled the
Animals Asia Foundation to operate a sanctuary
for retired bile farm bears near Chengdu, has
curtailed feeding live prey to large carnivores
at zoos, has worked to suppress the use of rare
species in traditional Chinese medicine, and has
pursued many other actions seeking to reduce
animal suffering and exploitation.
“The State Forestry Administration in
China is the government department responsible
for all animal welfare issues,” Stevenson said.
“I met with the top officials who deal with these
policy areas, and gave them a copy of a graphic
DVD filmed recently at an animal market outside
Beijing, which shows dogs and cats being skinned
alive. They were horrified by this evidence.
“Mr Zhao said to me, ‘Chinese law
prohibits the barbarian practice of skinning
animals alive or indeed any kind of cruelty. We
have no tradition in China of wearing fur made
from dogs and cats and for centuries have
regarded such animals as friends and pets.
However, we cannot deny that incidents of
cruelty do occur, such as those you have brought
to our attention. Sadly this barbaric trade is
driven by economic factors. But, these cases
you have mentioned have made a strong impression
on us and we will make renewed efforts to stamp
out these barbaric practices.”
Zhao Xuemin, Chen Runsheng, and the
others were almost certainly already aware of the
actions shown on the DVD, first exposed to the
world on February 2, 2005 at press conferences
convened by Swiss Animal Protection, the
Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan, and Care
For The Wild, of Britain. The video actually
depicts the Shangcun Market in Hebei province,
relatively far from Beijing. The market
reputedly handles about 60% of the Chinese fur
On April 5, 2005, Beijing News
photographer Chen Jie and reporter Wu Xuejan
unflinchingly affirmed the authenticity of the
video, after visiting the market themselves.
They added critical coverage of the conditions
under which tanuki dogs and foxes are raised for
fur. “At present China has no national animal
welfare legislation,” Wu Xuejan wrote. “Only
the China Wildlife Protection Law and the
Regulations on the Licensing of the Rearing and
Breeding of Protected Wildlife of National
Importance contain some sections covering the
management of wildlife breeding.”
The Beijing News exposé of live skinning
was only one of many exposés of cruelty published
in Chinese government media in recent years,
with escalating frequency since the Sudden Acute
Respiratory Syndrome epidemic of 2004 brought
home to many officials that ill treatment of
animals has effects that ripple destructively
throughout human society.
The emergence and rapid suppression of
so-called “crush” videos at a Chinese web site
earlier in 2006 was especially noteworthy for the
public outrage roused by the torture killing of
just one kitten. Twenty-three delegates to the
National Committree of the Chinese People’s
Political Consultative Conference cosponsored a
resolution by member Han Wei calling for the
passage of national anti-cruelty legislation.
The Hainan Animal Protection Association
announced amid the furor that it expects the
Hainan government to introduce the first humane
law in China before the end of the year. Similar
reports indicate that the city of Beijing may
have a humane law in place before the 2008
Olympic Games. The official Xinhua News Agency
prominently mentioned both the Hainan and Beijing
legislative interest.
Cats have been boiled and eaten in
Guangdong since circa 1350, but the practice did
not catch on elsewhere in China. The public
response on behalf of the kitten killed in the
“crush” video may have significantly strengthened
Beijing in dealing with Guangdong, the economic
hub of southern mainland China, but a city whose
globally notorious treatment of animals has long
been a national embarrassment.
Historically, the Guangdong attitude
toward direction from Beijing, on any topic,
has been that “The mountains are high, and the
emperor is far away.” Managed famines meant to
starve Guangdong into submission killed millions
of people as recently as the 1950s, and helped
to reinforce the regional habit of eating
“everything with legs except the table.”
Now that Guangdong has become among the
most affluent parts of China, dictating policy
to the region has become especially sensitive,
lest orders be defied and the defiant attitude
spread. Thus, before Beijing moves against
anything Guangdong does, the rulers like to be
sure that the Beijing recommendations have broad
national support.
Both SARS and the H5N1 avian flu are
known to have jumped into humans from the
Guangdong region. The dog meat and fur farms of
the region appear to be the last major reservoirs
of canine rabies in China, and conservationists
have charged for more than 15 years that the
Guangdong live markets are sucking wildlife out
of the whole of South Asia, even depleting
turtle populations as far away as the Carolinas
in the U.S.
All of this, however, was beyond the scope of Stevenson’s meeting.
Summarized Stevenson, “I will now report
to Commissioner Kyprianou, the European
Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, that there
will be no opposition in China to his proposed
directive banning the import, export and trade in
cat and dog skins across the European Union.
Indeed, the senior government officials in
Beijing made quite clear that they would regard
an E.U. ban as helpful in their fight to stamp
out this cruel trade. Commissioner Kyprianou can
now proceed with all possible speed to get
approval for an outright ban.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE received the Struan
Stevenson e-mail first from actor/director Dennis
Erdman, whom we knew as a committed animal
advocate long before becoming aware of his
celebrity status.
“I just received this and wanted you to
see it immediately,” Erdman said. “As you know,
I have been working on this with the McCartneys
[Paul and Heather] and Struan Stevenson for about
three years. My trajectory started with my
correspondence with you. Let’s hope this is the
real thing.”
Minutes later, Erdman forwarded
Stevenson’s complete minutes of his meeting in
Beijing, which provided more about the larger
Zhao Xuemin “thanked me for my concern which, he
said, the Chinese share,” Stevenson began.
“‘In China, plants and animals have
rights,’ he said, ‘just as they have in the
E.U. We have laws to protect and preserve them,’
he said. ‘Cats and dogs are our friends, and
many families in China have these animals as
pets. But we have never encouraged farming cats
and dogs for their fur. However, there is
clearly demand in the EU for these products,
which encourages illegal smuggling.
“I am against the export of such items,”
Zhao Xuemin told Stevenson, “but although our
law strictly prohibits this trade, market demand
in the EU keeps it going.”
Added Chen Runsheng, “In the media we
occasionally see cases of animals being skinned
alive. These are isolated cases, because
skinning an animal alive negatively affects the
quality of the fur, so it is a practice which is
simply avoided by people in the fur trade. It
could be that some of these films and stories in
the media are made for some ulterior motive,”
Chen Runsheng suggested. “But even for these
isolated cases the Chinese government takes
action and has laws to solve these problems. We
carry out spot checks and inspections of fur
farms, and we prosecute anyone transgressing the
“In China,” Chen Runsheng continued,
“cats and dogs cannot be reared for their fur.
Only specified animals are approved for this
purpose. I reiterate, cats and dogs are our
friends and pets. There is no market for these
cat and dog fur items in China. Coats and other
items made from cat and dog fur are against our
tradition. You should do something in the E.U. to
outlaw this trade.”

What the announcement means

The Zhao Xuemin and Chen Runsheng
statements, while welcomed globally, were
somewhat perplexing to much of the animal
protection community, including the Animals Asia
Foundation, founded by Jill Robinson in 1998,
after she had spent 12 years as Hong Kong
representative for the International Fund for
Animal Welfare.
“We called Chen Runsheng yesterday,”
Robinson e-mailed on May 25, “and confirm the
positive news that China welcomes the E.U. ban of
trade in dog and cat fur. This means that the
government does not encourage the industry. The
sticking point,” Robinson anticipated, “will be
banning such trade within China. Whilst Chen
Runsheng stated that [the government] is against
animal cruelty and abuse, and therefore strongly
against the live skinning of dogs and cats,
there is no law or regulation prohibiting the use
of their fur. It seems that this issue does not
fall under either State Forestry or China
Wildlife Conservation Association remit and there
are no moves to implement any action within the
country at all.
“What is particularly worrying are the
stories coming out of this where ‘humane
slaughter’ is raised,” Robinson continued. “If
China brings in ‘humane slaughter’ of dogs and
cats for food or fur, we have lost everything,
and compromise decades of work by groups in other
countries of Asia.”
“China exports the vast majority of the
world’s fur,” added Animals Asia Foundation
executive director Anne Mather. “Currently there
are no animal welfare laws [in China] to protect
fur-bearing animals, including domestic dogs and
cats, from the most barbaric treatment
imaginable. The Animals Asia team have routinely
witnessed first hand unbearably small barren
cages, violent handling, inhumane transport,
and brutal slaughter.”
Contrary to several of Zhao Xuemin and
Chen Runsheng’s statements, there has been a
secondary market for dog and cat pelts in parts
of China for centuries, as a byproduct of the
dog and cat meat industry. Recently the demand
for cheap fur has allegedly expanded enough that
some producers are now raising dogs and cats more
for pelts than for meat.
But Zhao Xuemin and Chen Runsheng were
both right on the money in pointing out that this
development was fueled by European demand.
European indulgence in cheap fur has been fed in
the past by the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt in
the 1970s, muskrats and nutria trapped in the
U.S. in record volume during the 1980s, dog and
cat fur from the pelt-selling budkas [pounds] of
eastern Europe, and the live markets of China
after most of the old-style budkas were replaced
in recent years by western-style humane societies
and animal control agencies.
“Cheap Chinese fur, including the pelts
of cats and dogs, is flooding into Britain and
the E.U.,” Care For The Wild charged on April
15, 2006. “The rise of Internet shopping and
the anonymity it affords have led to a shocking
increase in the availability of Asian fur
online.” Care For The Wild chief executive
Barbara Maas claimed she was “able to purchase
the skins of household pets over the Internet,
paying less than £10 for a dog pelt.
“We were also offered skins of domestic
cats for less than £2.60,” Maas testified.
“In a two-hour snap survey conducted this
spring, I found more garments and accessories
made from, or containing Chinese fur than I was
able to carry home,” Maas continued. “They
included coats, shawls, t-shirts, handbags,
shoes and scarves. Some items were on sale for
as little as £5.00. Despite industry denials,
one retailer admitted that “Everyone sources
[fur] from China now–it is much easier and
cheaper to obtain.”
British Fur Trade Association figures
show that Britain has in recent years imported
more fur than any other nation, Care For The
Wild charged. British retail fur sales fell from
£80 million in 1984 to £11 million in 1989,
bringing the closure of 175 of the then-200
British retail fur stores. Britain eventually
banned mink farming. Yet the British Fur Trade
Association claimed a 35% sales increase in
2000-2001, seemingly reversing many years of
pro-animal progress.
The partial recovery of the British fur
trade illustrates the difficulty of lastingly
changing human behavior toward animals in either
Britain, widely considered the most
animal-loving of nations, or China, parts of
which may be among the most animal-abusive.
Even though the overwhelming majority of
British people don’t buy or wear fur, and never
did, fur is again seen in London because
fur-wearing is an entrenched habit among a high
percentage of those who ever wore it, reinforced
by the approval of their peer group, little
affected by the norms of society beyond their
Fur-wearing might be suppressed in
Britain if the non-fur-wearing majority chose to
outlaw fur, including imports of real fur
products that are mistaken for fake, but while
most British people have already been moved to
not wear fur, for various reasons of culture,
compassion, and economics, the number of
fur-wearers probably still exceeds the number of
voters and taxpayers who would commit government
resources to putting the British fur trade out of

Confucian approach

It is axiomatic in politics that a
candidate may be elected with only 51% support
from a constituency, and legislation may be
passed with only 51% support from a governing
body, but legislation cannot be effectively
enforced unless fewer than 5% of the public are
either actively violating it, or are inclined to
ignore and even assist violators. Otherwise the
enforcement burden becomes much greater than the
society is willing to sustain.
Few governments are more aware of this
reality than the rulers of China. While China is
far from a democracy in any respect, including
outward pretense, it is a “People’s Republic” in
the sense that almost everyone in political
authority understands that the people must be
willing to cooperate with any sort of successful
change. Most Chinese old enough to hold senior
governing positions have personal memories of the
Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward,
as omnipresent reminders of what can happen when
a government tries to impose sweeping change by
mandate, instead of allowing the society to grow
into it.
If there is one political consensus in
China, shared by both the most ardent proponents
of democracy and the most conservative wing of
the Communist Party, it is that no one wants to
live through those “interesting times” again.
Post-Mao tse Tung, the once radical and
fanatical Chinese variant of Communism has
morphed back toward the Confucian philosophy of
governance which has historically been the only
approach to succeed in a geographically unified
China. Characteristic of Confucian government is
day-to-day rule by bureaucracy, which prevents
instability through regulating the pace of change.
The goal of Confucian rulers is not to
deny change, but rather to introduce it element
by element, bringing the pieces together at just
the right time to avoid resistance. The
institutional goal is to facilitate change,
which Confucianism sees as inevitable, without
provoking conflict.
As an authoritarian system of government,
Confucianism expects laws to be obeyed. Yet
because Confucianism seeks to impose only laws
which will be obeyed, it shares with democracy
an inclination to draw authority from what the
U.S. Declaration of Independence calls ‘the just
consent of the governed.”
All of this is context for understanding
the importance of the Chinese federal government
response to the live skinning of animals for fur,
farming bears for their bile, and the rising
clamor from individual Chinese for the passage of
national anti-cruelty legislation.
Western animal advocates are often
frustrated by Chinese leaders who speculate about
whether China is “ready” for an anti-cruelty law,
because from the western perspective, the mere
existence of an abuse is reason enough to pass a
law now, and worry about enforcement later.
From the Confucian perspective, however,
an unenforced law is a demonstration of
governmental weakness. When a law is introduced,
Chinese leadership wants to feel assured that the
overwhelming majority of Chinese citizens will
obey it, will put peer pressure on those who do
not, will cooperate with law enforcement in
crackdowns against scofflaws, and will not
complain that the enforcement effort is drawing
attention and resources away from other serious
The latter is relatively more important
in China than in western democracies, because in
western democracies the existence of
institutional opposition accommodates perpetual
dissent. Incorporating dissent into the
governing structure may be the most stabilizing
aspect of western-style democracy. There is no
similar feature in Confucian government, which
treats dissent as a potential prelude to
conflict, either to be suppressed if the
dissenters are few, or avoided if they are many.
In this light, the statements of Zhao
Xuemin and Chen Runsheng that live skinning and
other forms of cruelty to animals are already
illegal in China bear further scrutiny. From a
Confucian perspective, Zhao Xuemin and Chen
Runsheng may have been saying that China is ready
at last for humane legislation to be enforced.
By claiming that humane legislation already
exists, Zhao Xuemin and Chen Runsheng may be
creating the expectation of enforcement. Their
remarks might be taken as implying that any new
legislation will be to reinforce existing norms
and values, not to change them.
By portraying a big change as no change,
Zhao Xuemin and Chen Runsheng defined those who
practice cruelty as the people who dissent from
the norm and introduce conflict.
This, in a Confucian society, is a
great leap forward in achieving a genuine
cultural revolution.
From a western perspective, there is reason for anxiety and mistrust.
Around the world, animal advocates have had
decades and in some nations centuries of
experience with laws being passed with so many
structural weaknesses that they either codify the
status quo or cannot be enforced–like the 1991
South Korean law against public consumption of
unsightly and disgusting foods. Supposedly
passed to curtail dog and cat eating, the 1991
law preceded booms in both, driven by rising
The boom has now receded, as the
dog-and-cat-eating portion of the South Korean
population ages and diminishes. Yet there are
still enough dog and cat eaters in positions of
influence to have stalled efforts to pass a
stronger general humane law for more than three
years. At issue is whether the new law will
distinguish between dogs and cats raised as pets
and those raised as meat. Recognizing a
distinction would in effect legalize eating dogs
and cats.
The 1996 Philippine law against
dog-eating, providing an exemption for
traditional Igarot ritual practices, is another
example. Although authentic Igarot dog-eating is
rare, as Igarot guest columnist Bing Dawang
explained in the November 2003 edition of ANIMAL
PEOPLE, the exemption became a pretext for the
continued existence of a dog meat restaurant
trade which was never part of Igarot culture. In
April 2006 the Animals Asia Foundation helped
Philippine groups to fight off an attempt by dog
meat restauranteurs–who should have been long
gone–to repeal the 1996 law.

Implementing change

Jill Robinson is accordingly rightly
worried about the Chinese discussion of “humane”
methods of killing dogs and cats for fur and
meat. The Chinese government might compromise to
avoid conflict with the relatively small but
influential dog-and-cat-eating population,
strongest in southern regions and coastal
provinces close to Korea. A Chinese humane law
might accept that dogs and cats may be killed,
skinned, and eaten, if the killing is done in a
prescribed manner.
Robinson’s concern is that this might
legitimize a trade that animal advocates would
prefer to see abolished.
Public opinion surveying in both China
and Korea has already established that the
numbers of dog and cat eaters in both nations
have already fallen close to the threshold at
which abolition could be enforced in a western
But the same could be said of wearing
fur, sport hunting, and fur trapping in the
U.S. and Europe.
While as few as 6% to 10% of South
Koreans and Chinese eat either dogs or cats, and
under 6% of Americans wear fur, hunt, or trap,
these activities are still culturally accepted by
most of the friends and family of the
With the base of acceptance at 30% or
more of society, and with many of the
participants (including fur buyers) tending to be
older males, holding disproportionate political
influence, abolition may still be a generation
Only with active participation down to
about 1%, and with cultural acceptance down to
5%, is overt prohibition of anything really
likely to succeed.
What may be accomplished, meanwhile, is
reducing the levels of cruelty involved in
dog-eating, cat-eating, the fur trade,
hunting, and trapping, while continuing to
expand awareness that these are all inherently
cruel practices, no matter what may be done to
mitigate the suffering they cause.
This is a gamble. In China, as Robinson
and others fear, there is the risk that the
economic interest of dog and cat meat and fur
marketers will prevail over humane considerations
if laws exist which say that what they do is
In the U.S., we have had 47 years of
precautionary experience with the never
adequately enforced Humane Slaughter Act, and 40
years of comparably sobering experience with the
often amended Laboratory Animal Welfare Act,
which became the broader reaching Animal Welfare
Act of today in 1971.
The Animal Welfare Act is among the most
successful national humane laws worldwide,
rivaled only by the laws of Britain and India.
Yet the standards it enforces are so low and so
limited that many animal advocates tend to see it
as a failure. Overlooked is that it has been
invoked thousands of times to help put out of
business more than 90% of the sellers of dogs and
cats to laboratories, traveling circuses and
animal shows, and substandard roadside zoos that
existed when it came into effect. Eliminating
most of these obvious repositories of
institutional animal neglect has in turn
contributed to raising public expectations of
other animal use industries–and has enabled
animal advocates to challenge forms of use and
abuse which were scarcely noticed a generation
Whatever anti-cruelty legislation is
eventually adopted in China will almost certainly
exempt much that we wish to prohibit, with
frustratingly long phase-ins of enforcement and
much need for strengthening amendment. Like the
Humane Slaughter Act, it may be ineffective, or
like the Animal Welfare Act, it may seem to be
enforced so slowly that the real changes it
brings about are almost invisible from year to
Yet the Confucian way is to take the long
view. As ANIMAL PEOPLE editorially pointed out
in March 2006, there are already believed to be
more than one million pet dogs in Beijing alone,
an estimated 150 million dog-keeping homes
throughout China, and up to 300 million total
pet dogs, according to the highest official
estimates. That would be 30 times more dogs than
are eaten–and almost five times as many dogs as
there are in the U.S., which has the third
largest dog population of any nation. The
Chinese ratio of pet dogs to humans is already
not less than the ratio in Britain, and may be
comparable to the ratio in the U.S. and Costa
Rica, the most dog-friendly of nations.
Pet cat-keeping, while less documented,
is believed to be likewise rapidly expanding.
Cats even seem to be achieving new status in
Guangdong, according to a Times of India news
brief issued on April 14, 2006, which recounted
that “Residents of Sanjiang, in Guangdong
province,” held a ceremony “to thank cats for
eradicating rats from their farms. The village
committee spent about $860 to purchase cats,”
the Times of India recounted, “whom they
released to control the rats. The move was a
success and villagers decided to reward the cats
for the good harvest they expect this year as a
The rats arrived, necessitating the cat
release, “after snakes were caught and
slaughtered by local residents in previous
years,” the Times of India concluded.

Agrarian utilitarianism

Agrarian utilitarianism is the official
Chinese policy toward all animals other than
endangered wildlife.
One recent example would be the defense
of the bear bile industry issued on January 12,
2006 by Wang Wei, deputy director-general of the
Chinese department of wildlife conservation,
after the European Union passed a resolution
asking China to end bile farming.
Another example of agrarian utilitarian
thinking would be the recent move of the foie
gras industry into northeastern Jilin province.
The Chinese industry leader, the Jifa Grou,
partners with Delpeyrat, the second largest foie
gras producer in France, which keeps about 4.5
million ducks.
“For the past two years we have produced
about 100 metric tons of foie gras in our
Changchun factory,” Jifa Group managing director
Qi Mingce told Agence France Presse in April
2006. “That’s about two-thirds of Chinese
production, force-feeding some 200,000 geese.
Our aim is to reach 1,000 metric tons over the
next five years with two million geese.”
Endangered species appear to have been
protected in China during the past 20-odd years
largely as a matter of pragmatic choice:
westerners were willing to foot the expense–
creating jobs, introducing technology, and
bringing foreign exchange to China.
While endangered species received special
status, with poachers in some cases getting the
death penalty, ruthless crackdowns on
unauthorized dog-keeping repeatedly reiterated
the “Great Leap Forward” view of pets as
As keeping pet dogs becomes ever more
popular, however, while recent dog purges have
produced increasing internal dissent, the
Confucian way would be for Chinese leadership to
accept that pet-keeping is rapidly transforming
Chinese life and attitudes, just as occurred
earlier in the U.S. and Europe, when economic
growth enabled ever more of our populations to
distance themselves from agrarian utilitarianism.
The Confucian way would be to strive to
integrate the new paradigm with tradition,
while letting obsolescent practices wither.
There is much work to be done in China to
end dog and cat slaughter, and to outlaw extreme
forms of cruelty to other species as well, but
there is reason to be hopeful.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.