This past week I took the trip to 玉林中国 (Yulin China) to experience the 狗肉节 Dog Meat Festival. From what I had read about the place and from my own personal feelings towards dogs I expected to see and meet a bunch of brutal, heartless people. I thought they would be monsters.
That’s not what I experienced at all. I met the most heart-warming, friendly, kind, welcoming people I have encountered in my 10 months in China. Everyone wanted to make sure I felt welcomed in their home town. It was a trying experience for me all around since I have only been studying Chinese for 9 months and I traveled alone for 6 days. In my entire 6 days I only met 4 people that could speak even a few words of English. So I was dealing with the stress of knowing I was about to see fresh dog and cat meat in an open-air market and I could barely communicate with anyone.
Travel time to Yulin from where I live in Xi’an is 36 hours by train plus a layover. One 24 hour train, a several hour layover and then a 12 hour train. I arrived very tired very late at night. The taxi driver screwed me on the fare but honestly I was so tired at that point I didn’t even care. I arrived at my hotel and while no one spoke a word of English they tried their best to communicate with me and I got checked in.
The next morning was the big day. It was the day before the festival and I was going to go to the meat market to see what it was like. It was a 20-minute walk to the market. When I arrived the first thing I saw was a butcher shop with dead cats and dogs hanging on racks. It was shocking. I attempted to take pictures but an old woman yelled at me so I moved on.
The place is huge and I had no idea where to go and I wound up in the fowl section. There were hundreds, no thousands, of cages of birds of all kinds for sale. There were chickens, ducks, and pigeons, and geese, sparrows, some birds I had never seen before all ready to be bought by you, killed and plucked for eating.
Next I saw goats. There were whole goats hanging on hooks at stalls. There was goat heads lying about on tables. There were big piles of goat legs. There were various parts of goats lying around and happy, cheerful women chopping them up.
Then I saw several tables of pig and one table of cow meat. Everyone was friendly to me. All the butchers wanted to know who I was, where I was from, why I was there, and if they could get their picture with me.
Westerners have a real disconnect about knowing where their food comes from. We don’t like to think about the fact that my burger was once a living animal. We don’t even like to eat fish with bones in it and the idea of getting served a chicken with it’s head still on it is the stuff of nightmares for many. It’s not like that here. The people know where their food comes from. When they want meat they go to the butcher and they see the whole dead animal hanging there on the hook. And if you buy a chicken in the supermarket it still has it’s head and feet.
To them dog is just another livestock animal like a goat. They’re not eating people’s pets. They’re eating dogs raised to be food. Now I can’t say that I know 100% that no pets are stolen and sold to be eaten but I didn’t see any of it and I asked several people and they had never heard of that happening.
Sure there are pictures of dogs with collars at the market but it’s very different here. Most dogs in China are kept only as protection and they are on short chains tied up somewhere out front of the house and they’re lucky when someone throws them a little food. They are miserable beings in poor health that no one ever touches. They live from puppy to death on a 6-foot chain with no protection from the elements, and no affection. They eat and sleep in their own shit. They are not considered, or even called in their language, pets. In the Chinese language they have completely different words for a dog that lives in your home with you and a dog that’s tied up out front. The one in your home with you may be considered part of the family but the one tied up out front is given no more consideration than a goat in a pen.
The dogs with collars are often people’s old guard dogs that have never been touched by a human in their lives. The owners have decided the dog is too old or not good at its job for some other reason and they’ll take it to the market like a pig or a goat and try to make some money on it. These are not dogs that run and play with children, these are not kind house pets, they are livestock.
A friend we’ve made that lives in a rural village about an hour away has one of these dogs. We went to visit and of course I wanted to play with the puppy dog! I asked the dog’s name and my friend just looked at me funny. Name? Then when I went to pet the dog our friend freaked out and told me not to touch the dog, it’s not a pet, and it’s dirty. Of course I didn’t listen and when I could sneak out of the house without being seen I went to pet the dog. We’ve been back 2 times and each time I give the dog as much love as I can. It looks to be about 10 years old and I’m the only human that has ever touched it. These are the kinds of dogs with collars that you see in the pictures of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival.
Honestly, I think these dogs are better off dead. What kind of an existence is that? Living their entire life on a short chain? Living in their own urine and feces? Constantly on the verge of starvation because the only food they get is the occasional scraps thrown at them. No affection at all ever. I’m bothered by eating dog, I am, but for these poor creatures I see their death as a mercy killing. I am far more disturbed by the way that these dogs live their lives than I am by what happens to them after their deaths.
That’s that for the ones in collars. But the vast majority of the dogs are raised as livestock on farms. They grow them in pens just like pigs and goats. While it’s hard for Westerners to think about dogs being raised like that it’s just a matter of fact in Yulin. They don’t see any difference in the dog on the pen than a goat in the pen.
I spent my entire day in the market. I saw hundred of dogs butchered and sold in front of me. I saw a dog killed. They slit it’s throat humanely just like they do the goats. I had many conversations. Many people wanted to know the same things from me: Why do Westerners come here and get mad at them for eating dog? They eat cow, they eat pig, they eat chicken, why don’t they eat dog? And why do they not want us to eat dog? It was a great point. It’s the same argument vegans make when they post those pictures on Facebook with pictures of cute puppies saying you won’t eat this but you’ll eat this with a picture of a piglet. I explained to them that in American culture dogs are part of the family and eating a dog would be likened to eating a child.
Every person I told that to was shocked. It was an ah-ha moment for them because now they understood why the foreigners that come are so angry but they were always quick to explain that they weren’t eating pets. These dogs have never slept on a couch, and sat in a lap, or licked a face, these dogs were raised as food. I told them I understood that but most Americans don’t.
The most surreal experience I had was sitting and petting a cocker spaniel while a woman was chopping up dog heads right there next to me. I was so close that little bits and blood were splattering on my leg. I asked the woman how she could do this all day and have a pet dog at the same time and she didn’t understand my question. Once again she made it clear to me that her cocker spaniel is a pet and this dog she’s cutting up is food. They are not the same.
Almost everyone I met was incredibly warm and friendly. They were leery of me at first but when I explained that I was not here to protest them they opened up to me and welcomed me. The woman with the cocker spaniel invited me for dinner with her family and they took me out that night. They drove me around in a car and showed me the town. They took me to a fancy teashop and we had a tea ceremony. Then at 12:30 at night we went out for a midnight snack. They were nothing but laughter and warmth the whole time. They weren’t heartless monsters at all. They were the nicest people I’ve met since moving to China.
I was there in Yulin for 2.5 days. I met more friendly people and felt more welcomed there than I have felt anywhere else in China. I loved the people there. Sure, some people didn’t want their picture taken and I respected that. Many of them know that foreigners come to protest them so they are very defensive about having their picture taken. More than once I had old men or women shake their fists at me but it was like the stereotypical old man yelling “Get off my lawn” it wasn’t as if they were really going to hurt me. Most of the time after talking to them for a moment they turned all smiles and let me take all the picture I wanted. Some simply requested that I not get their face in the picture. There was one time that I was somewhere I didn’t exactly have permission to be and I was shooting video and a guy got mad at me and sprayed me with a water hose. If I were a CNN reporter I would claim I was assaulted.
I have read all the articles and seen all the coverage just like you have and I can honestly say that almost everything CNN and other news reporters say is sensationalism looking for ratings. An old man shaking his fist and yelling at kids to get off his lawn is not “threatening” those kids. A butcher with a knife in his hand yelling at me to not take his picture is not threatening me with a knife. He’s a butcher and he’s at work of course he has a knife in his hand. I never once felt threatened or in danger in the slightest while I was there.
I met happy, kind, friendly, loving, smiley people that wanted nothing more than to make me feel welcomed. There was one woman that was really excited to have me take her picture. She wants me to put it on the Internet because she wants to be famous! I’m torn about whether I should actually post her picture here or not because she was so nice to me I don’t want people to use her picture against her on activist sites.
One more thing: the Dog Meat Festival is a pretty small thing. It’s not a big deal in town at all. It’s like when any big city in the States has a festival of some kind. Sure people go but it’s not like everyone does. The population of Yulin is one million people. That’s roughly the size of Dallas, Texas. There were maybe 5,000 people at the festival. I met people all over the city that don’t eat dog, don’t go to the festival, and couldn’t believe that I had come all the way here just to see it.
The protesters have been really good for their business. Apparently ever since activists have been drawing attention to the festival it is getting more and more popular every year! In Yulin dog meat is available in the market 365 days a year there and it’s eaten all the time but the festival itself is only becoming more and more popular and they believe it is the activists that are bringing them the business.
In the end, they’re not monsters they are wonderfully kind people. They don’t view dogs the same way we do and they don’t understand why we’ll eat pig but we won’t eat dog. If you’re reading this unless you’re a vegan it’s hard argue with them on an objective level. Humans have been raising dogs and breeding them to look exactly how we want them to look for tens of thousands of years. We selectively breed them to make them cute and cuddly, to watch us, to obey us but ultimately they are animals. We have real emotions and feelings towards dogs. These people don’t have the same feelings. In the end pigs are highly affectionate and highly intelligent animals as well. How can you eat a pig with no problem but never consider eating a dog? Where are the activist starting petitions and paying to save hundreds of pigs from slaughter? We’ll save the dogs because we are emotional about them but what about the chickens?
Here are my best of photos. You DO NOT have my permission to use my photos elsewhere.