Chinese City Defends Dog Meat Festival, Despite Scorn
YULIN, China — It was the night before the summer solstice, and the tables at a streetside food stall here were set for the annual feast: steamed pumpkin, sautéed morning glory, smashed cucumbers and cold-skin rice flour noodles. At the center of each table were the two traditional dishes most essential to the celebration here: fresh lychees and heaping bowls of stewed dog, pungent with ginger, garlic, dried orange peels, bay leaves and fennel.
It is this last dish for which Yulin has become notorious, thanks to an annual dog meat festival that ended Monday, and the locals have heard enough, thank you.
“Why do people always pick on Yulin?” asked Tang Chengfei, 24, a recent university graduate who was sitting at one of the tables. “Haven’t you seen how the Japanese eat live bullfrog sashimi?”
Indeed, it is the perceived hypocrisy of the critics that seems to most annoy residents of this bustling city of seven million in the southern region of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam.
“I understand the other point of view,” Mr. Tang said. “Many people feel a special bond with dogs. But we grew up around dog meat. For us, it’s normal.”
Yulin, whose lush subtropical surroundings are said to be the birthplace of the legendary imperial beauty Yang Guifei, has become the target of a fast-growing animal rights campaign, which has made its residents feel increasingly under siege and at times defensive.
Led by domestic and international activists, animal lovers have called on local government officials and the Chinese public to put an end to eating dog meat and to the often gruesome practices that accompany the nation’s largely unregulated dog meat trade. More than 10,000 dogs are said to be served at the summer solstice celebrations in Yulin each year.
Celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Gisele Bündchen have rallied behind the viral social media hashtag #StopYulin2015, while an online petition addressed to the Guangxi governor and China’s minister of agriculture had gathered more than four million signatures by Tuesday.
“Dear Morons: Stopping the #YulinDogMeatFestival is less to do with them being dogs & more to do with them being tortured and skinned alive,” Mr. Gervais wrote on Twitter last week.
In China, where the issue of animal rights is given more space for debate relative to most grass-roots causes, opposition to the festival has become increasingly vocal.
Over the last few weeks, millions of messages condemning the culinary tradition have flooded Chinese social media. Protests and vigils organized by animal rights advocates were held across the country over the three-day holiday weekend, while more than 40 activists from around the world traveled to Yulin last week to champion the cause, many for the second or third year in a row.
The campaigners notched a big win last year when the Yulin city government, in the face of mounting criticism, distanced itself from the festival by declaring that it was not a sponsor and that it would strictly enforce food safety regulations.
Despite the rapid growth of the movement, however, animal rights advocates say they are encountering increasing difficulties communicating their message to the people who matter most: the residents of Yulin.
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