Some people have asked me in earnest.
“Have you ever…you know…eaten one?”
Some people think they’re the first special snowflake to ever make the joke.
“DON’T EAT MY DOG! I see you looking at him!” [Cue riotous laughter]
Some people have personal offense locked and loaded.
“I have no problem with the Chinese, but I just don’t know how your people can eat dogs. I mean, I love my dog.”
If you live in the western world and you identify as a Chinese person, or a person of Chinese descent, there’s no doubt that at some point in your life someone will ask you about your appetite for dogs. Or cats. But mostly dogs.
It doesn’t help that in recent years the Yulin Dog Meat Festival has gained prominence in western consciousness. The ten day festival, which happens every June in the southern region of Yulin, Guangxi, China, is a celebration during which hundreds, potentially thousands, of dogs are consumed by locals and tourists.
While the festival relates to southern China’s history of eating dog meat (as well as Korea’s, Cambodia’s, and Vietnam’s history), many people are enraged over the cruelty of the festival in Yulin. Thousands of dogs are beaten and abused, kept in disgusting and overcrowded pens while they await an inhumane slaughter. A chilling number of the dogs are stolen from dog owners or strays scooped up off the street. Though claims have been made in the past that the dogs for consumption are shipped in from breeding farms, proof of such farms in China or surrounding countries have been little to none.
The inhumane treatment of the dogs has led a number of animal rights groups, charities, and animal lovers to protest the festival and fight to stop it. Unbeknownst to many protesters from America, the campaign against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival started in China.
Dr. Peter Li, a policy advisor for China and a Humane Society International activist, told Business Insider, “China has a huge number of pet owning families who see dog eating as an outdated eating habit that does not belong in the new century. The campaign against the Yulin dog meat festival was started by the Chinese themselves. They have received international support.”
Many of the most vocal protestors of the Yulin festival, and of dog eating in general, are Chinese people, many from Yulin (over 51% of Yulin residents support the ban of dog meat). Many Chinese groups and activists infiltrate the festival to rescue dogs, then rehome them. These are individuals who risk their own safety to save the lives of as many dogs as possible. In fact, the public outcry in China has been so intense that the government no longer sanctions the festival and “officials are banned from eating the meat”.
While the festival has not yet been stopped, the numbers are declining; the majority of Chinese people do not condone the cruel treatment of the dogs (and cats) at the Yulin festival. However, this does not stop many westerners from conflating a relatively small number of Chinese “dog meat enthusiasts” with all Chinese people everywhere.
Just this past June, activists from the animal rights group Global Strays took to the streets of New York City’s Chinatown to protest the Yulin festival. Targeting restaurant owners and patrons, the protesters made it clear to the Chinese of Chinatown that dog eating was NOT acceptable. “That’s not how we roll in our country. If they … bring that tradition to our country, they’ll be investigated and will go to jail” one protester told the New York Daily News.
“We don’t believe torturing an animal for food is acceptable so we’re trying to bring awareness to this,” said Global Strays founder Elizabeth Shafiroff. She also stated, “We are calling for a ban on dog meat in China.”
Though this is just one incident that caught national attention, it speaks to the problem of America’s ignorance, racism, and savior complex.
The protesters made the assumption that the actions of a small group of Chinese people in Yulin were representative of Chinese immigrants from across the entire Chinese mainland, immigrants from Chinese territories like Hong Kong, and Chinese Americans. Chinese American restaurant owners and workers are not serving dog, have most likely never eaten dog, and most importantly have nothing to do with the Yulin festival.
By protesting in Chinatown, Global Strays, whether they realized it or not, acted upon the ingrained racist belief that because a person is Chinese or of Chinese heritage, they must have a connection to cruel dog eating practices. I doubt this needs to be said, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Chinese American who has eaten dog meat or who actively supports the Yulin festival.
Though the actions of the New York protesters are in a way laughable, an impotent attempt to effectively impact the festival (donations, letters, volunteering with groups that are actually spurring change – anything would have been better), it does add to the rising xenophobia in America. Using the language of “our country” and “We don’t..” and “We are calling for…” immediately transmits the idea that America belongs to some more than others; the “others” (immigrants, minorities) being subject to the superiority of American popular morality.
Such language about “dog eating” and “not in our country” gives misguided credence to anti-Chinese American and anti-Asian sentiments. It allows room for the thinking, “How can we respect or be sympathetic to Chinese or Chinese Americans if they accept such barbaric practices?” It sets up Chinese people to be “heathens” and Americans to be the voice of reason and humanity. Not to mention, it gives permission to racist aggression, “They are cruel to dogs! They eat them! I am justified in my hatred!”
Thinking that a group of minority Americans have any say in the goings-on of a larger foreign population is a slippery slope America too often finds itself racing down. With anti-POC attitudes escalating in America, even something as absurd as “All Chinese slaughter and eat dogs” is enough to give rationale to hate-speech, even violence. Some people are just looking for a reason.
“Chinese people are dog eaters” may seem to be a rather played-out, antiquated racial stereotype, but apparently it isn’t – to many their “suspicions” about the “backwards” Chinese were finally confirmed. The protest in New York’s Chinatown may be just one instance, but fueled by its example and “protests” like it, many Americans are emboldened to spew anti-Chinese American or anti-Asian speech. One need only to follow the Twitter hashtag “thisis2016” for examples of such hate.
So while the Yulin Dog Meat Festival may be reprehensible and horrifying to many, its ramifications don’t end with issues of animal welfare. For many, the Yulin festival is just the push they needed to be set racing down that slippery slope of racism.
Photo: Anja Pietsch/Creative Commons