Why the controversial Yulin Festival may be going to the dogs

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

A recent study by Chinese state-registered charities and the Yulin Municipal Government showed that dog meat was actually not popular in Yulin. ©Wikimedia Commons
A recent study by Chinese state-registered charities and the Yulin Municipal Government showed that dog meat was actually not popular in Yulin. ©Wikimedia Commons

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The Yulin Dog Festival, the highly polarising annual celebration of dog meat in southern China, took place as usual last month, albeit to even greater protests from critics and mounting disapproval from locals.

Officially known as the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, the 10-day event which begins on June 21 each year sees thousands of dogs eaten, with cat meat and lychees also popular items for consumption.

It has prompted tens of millions of petition signatures in recent years from foreigners appalled by the so-called tradition.

Organisers and supporters claim that dog meat has been a delicacy among the Han Chinese for generations, something that the popularity of the festival reflects. In reality, few people regularly consume it, and those who do it for sustenance are mostly ethnic Koreans.

Half of China's annual slaughter of 30 million dogs is used to make health tonics that are thought to 'cool' the body.

Waning approval

The event itself was inaugurated only in 2009 to mark the summer solstice, so it is far from longstanding. And in recent years, official and civil society approval of it has waned, even if it still attracts healthy numbers of visitors.

Last year, traders were warned by local authorities that they faced steep fines and even arrest for selling dog meat, though this was relaxed before the event began, to the disappointment of anti-dog meat campaigners.

"The traders had threatened civil unrest if it went ahead, and so the ban was watered down to a restriction on the amount of dog (meat) that could be sold​,"​ said Wendy Higgins, Humane Society International's director of international media.

"If only the authorities had held their nerve last year, we could have had a very different Yulin festival. They clearly acknowledged that they needed to do something, and they would have won the praise of campaigners around the world, but they just didn't follow through, unfortunately​."

A recent study, by Chinese state-registered charities and a team of officials from the Yulin Municipal Government, showed that dog meat was not popular in Yulin. The poll revealed that 72% of Yulin residents rarely ate dog meat and 12% had never tried it.

Popular outside China

Yet dog flesh is becoming increasingly popular elsewhere in Asia. In Vietnam, it is a growing business, prompting the slaughter of some 10 million dogs a year. Demand there can no longer be met by local dog farms, according to the World Dog Alliance (WDA), a non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting for a worldwide ban on eating dog meat.

In South Korea, the country that is probably most widely recognised for having a taste for dog meat, 60% of people eat it regularly, said the WDA.

This may be liable to change, however, after a court in the country ruled in April that killing dogs in order to sell and eat them is illegal. The verdict now paves the way for the trade to be outlawed altogether, ending the slaughter of an estimated two million dogs a year.

"It is very significant in that it is the first court decision that killing dogs for dog meat is illegal itself,"​ said Kim Kyung-eun, a lawyer for CARE, a Korean animal rights group.

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