Guangzhou bans eating snakes– ban helps cats
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2007:
GUANGZHOU–Guangzhou bureau of forestry director Guo Qinghe
suppressed human consumption of cat meat during the first weekend of
November 2007 by announcing on local television his intent to enforce
a four-year-old Guangzhou city ordinance against eating snakes. “It
is illegal for companies, restaurants and individuals to sell live
snakes, snake meat, and related foods,” Guo said, not mentioning
cats, but in case there was any doubt about what he meant, Zheng
Caixiong of the official government newspaper China Daily spelled it
“The popular Cantonese dish longhudou or ‘dragon duels with
tiger’ has been banned,” wrote Zheng Caixiong. “The delicacy
derives its name from snake and cat meat. Apart from having their
snakes and snake products confiscated, those caught flouting the ban
will be fined between 10,000 yuan ($1,300) and 100,000 yuan
The minimum fine was set at approximately 1,000 times the
current restaurant price of longhudou, according to information
e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE by Anhui Medical University professor of
epidemiology and social medicine Zu Shuxian.
“The Guangzhou city government banned the sale of snake and
snake-related dishes in the wake of the Sudden Acute Respiratory
Syndrome outbreak in 2003,” Zheng Caixiong reminded, “following
revelations that the corona virus might have come from snakes, civet
cats and other wild animals used in Cantonese dishes. Many
restaurants subsequently resumed serving longhudou when the health
threat receded. Demand for the dish peaks between September and
December,” Zheng Caixiong said, “when snakes take on more flesh for
Longhudou has been served in Guangzhou, the capital of
Guangdong province, since circa 1350. Guangdong is the only part of
China where cats are often consumed. Published estimates forwarded
by Zu Shuxian project the sale for consumption of from 3,000 to
10,000 cats per market day, from the end of October through the end
of March, for an annual total of about five million.
The longhudou ban did not totally halt cat consumption. “I
suspect that another popular dish–Dragon (snake), Tiger (cat),
Phoenix (chicken) soup–will still be sold, minus the Dragon,”
e-mailed Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson.
Guo acted at a time when snake consumption has not been
controversial, but less than a week before Guangzhou hosted the 2nd
China Companion Animal Symposium, organized by the Animals Asia
Foundation, funded by the Humane Society International division of
the Humane Society of the U.S., and attended by representatives of
39 humane societies from around China.
Guo also acted as China moves toward trying to eliminate
potential embarrassments during the run-up toward the 2008 Olympic
Games in Beijing, and after three and a half years of unprecedented
activism against cat consumption appeared to demonstrate broad public
support for a ban, even in Guangzhou and other nearby cities.
A dramatic series of cat rescues began in Shenzen on June 17,
2006, when Shenzhen Cat Net web site founder, identified by China
Daily only as “Isobel,” carried a white rose to the newly opened
Fang Company Cat Meatball Restaurant. Starting with “more than 10”
supporters, according to China Daily, including Gao Haiyun, Miss
Shenzhen for 2005, “Isobel” had about 40 cat-lovers with her when
she reached the restaurant, backed by “a large crowd including
children,” China Daily reported. Storming the restaurant, they
extracted a pledge from the owner that he would not sell cat meat any
In early 2007, recounted Zhang Kun of China Daily, “a truck
packed with cats was stopped in Suzhou, where two crates of cats
were rescued. A train car was found to be loaded with live cats in
the Shanghai South Railway Station, but left despite protests from
local animal protectors.”
Then, in July, “cat lovers in suburban Shanghai’s Xinzhuang
area stopped a truck carrying 840 cats to diners in Guangdong
Province,” Zhang Kun wrote. Activists as far away as Beijing teamed
up to relay the cats to safety, provide veterinary care, and place
them in adoptive homes.
The rescues began about two years after the formation of the
Chinese Cats Protection Network, now called the Chinese Companion
Animal Protection Network.
Expanded to 26 member societies, CCAPN in January 2006 began
organizing well-publicized protests against dog and cat eating,
starting in Guangzhou, following up in four other cities “with very
optimal response from public,” according to Jia Meng of the Centre
for Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Queensland School
of Veterinary Science in Gatton, Australia.
Why did Guo reiterate the existing prohibition on eating
snakes if the real intent was to ban cat consumption?
Observers of Chinese politics often note that Chinese
official pronouncements tend to avoid any hint of being made in
response to pressure, either from outside China or from within. To
appear to act under pressure, in classic Confuscian political
thinking, is to show the possibility of governmental weakness,
perhaps leading to disobedience.
However, Confuscian political theory also calls for
introducing change by taking the path of least resistance, seeking
to bring about voluntary conformity to the new norm before attempting
to compel it. This is typically done by invoking recollection of an
existing law, custom, or tradition.
Does Guo’s action hint that Guangzhou may soon introduce an
actual ban on eating cats? Only time will tell, but of note is that
the Chinese federal government and Beijing municipal governments have
in recent years been markedly more tolerant of animal advocacy and
even of protests such as the Shenzhen. Suzhou, and Shanghai cat
rescues, than of activism in other causes.
The China Companion Animal Sym-posium attendees on November
11 unanimously approved resolutions against cat-eating, dog-eating,
killing dogs and cats for fur, and the sporadic mass round-ups and
massacres of unlicensed and free-roaming dogs that many Chinese
cities conduct–often in response to rabies outbreaks–instead of
maintaining standing animal control departments. The China Companion
Animal Symposium attendees also urged the Chinese government to
improve access to dog and cat vaccination and sterilization, and to
veterinary drugs, and asked universities to add companion animal
medicine to their veterinary curriculums.
But the conference resolutions, though covered by Chinese
media, were up-staged in reportage distributed by the official
Xinhua news service by a press conference held in Beijing by the
national Ministry of Health. Without directly criticizing municipal
dog purges, Ministry of Health spokesperson spokesman Mao Qun’an
pointed toward a surge in canine rabies cases in recent years, and
recommended strategic changes.
“When medical experts judge that an epidemic has become very severe
and constitutes a threat to many people, killing dogs is an important
measure to safeguard health and contain the epidemic,” Mao Qun’an
said. “But this measure should be adopted in a prudent way,”
avoiding harm to healthy pets.
“Most rabies cases occur in rural areas,” Mao Qun’an noted,
citing the Bijie area in northwest Guizhou province, Guigang in the
southeast of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Nanchong in
northeast Sichuan province as the three largest cities with
significant rabies outbreaks.
The most afflicted provinces, Mao Qun’an said, are the
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hunan, and
Guangdong–all among the southern provinces where dogs are commonly
eaten and are often raised in factory farm conditions. Dogs raised
for consumption are not required to be vaccinated.
Mao Qu’an said that rabies had killed 8,403 people in China
in 2004-2006, accounting for 30.1% of the total deaths in China from
infectious diseases, and that rabies occurred in 910 counties in 23
provinces in 2007, up from 98 counties in 1996. Through October,
2,717 human rabies cases had been reported in 2007, 2.4% more than
Guangdong, the longtime hub of dog-eating as well as
cat-eating, has historically sought to suppress keeping pet dogs.
This has been in part to protect the dog meat industry from rabies
outbreaks, and may also have been to avoid having dogs become
generally perceived as pets rather than food. The Guangdong pet dog
licensing fees until September 2007 were the highest in China:
10,000 yuan for initial registration, plus an annual management fee
of 6,000 yuan.
In September, however, Guang-dong reduced the fees 90%, to
1,000 yuan for initial registration plus an annual management fee of
600 yuan. “Blind people who need guide dogs are exempt,” wrote Liang
Qiwen of China Daily. “Widows, widowers or elderly people with
little financial support can request a reduction or exemption.
People who have infertile dogs will be allowed to pay half the fees,”
a strong incentive for dog sterilization.
“The old fees had little effect in controlling the number of
pet dogs,” Liang Qiwen observed. “In fact many people continued to
keep dogs secretly, ignoring the fees.”
Of the officially estimated 100,000 pet dogs in Guangzhou, Liang
Qiwen wrote, “only 842 were registered by the end of last year. Many
people do not have their dogs inoculated against diseases because
they are afraid of being fined for not registering them.”
“We are changing the old policy of controlling pet dogs in
the hope that the new one will be more effective,” said Guangzhou
mayor Zhang Guangning.