“Do You Eat Dogs?”
As a Chinese citizen this question seems to always pop up. I’ve never eaten dogs before, nor have my family, my friends or anyone I have ever known in my life. However, after moving to the UK, I kept receiving questions like this from my British friends. This was not something that particularly annoyed me before, until I recently discovered these questions are largely due to the “myths” that are overstated by the British tabloid press about ‘heartless’ Chinese people slaughtering dogs and eating them especially during festivals, which is totally untrue for the majority Chinese people.
Since 2010, Daily Mail and The Independent have released an average of three articles each year with the headline containing words like “horrifying moment”, “dogs destined for the table” and “Chinese meat festival”. Most of these articles went viral online and gained thousands, if not millions, of shares and comments, but what they rarely mentioned nor explained in these reports are the cultural and historical reasons for these cultural differences and “customs”, which are only followed by few Chinese people today.
Unlike Westerners- who have always seen dogs as their pets and friends- dogs were considered no different to cows, pigs and other animals that could be eaten by humans in Ancient China. Just like Dai Wangyun said in Sixth Tone, back into the old times when ordinary Chinese people frequently suffered from wars, famines and natural disasters, they ate dogs only for surviving. Dogs were seen in the same light as other animals before Chinese people started to adopt them as pets hundreds of years ago, and began to grow special bonds with them.
Since then the custom of eating dogs has not faded entirely with the development in modern Chinese society but there has been an increase in the number of organisations, charities and celebrities in China who have risen up, calling for a protection for dogs. The report in 2015 from Animals Asia revealed that on average 90% of Chinese people showed their concerns about dog eating in China. Moreover, an online “flame war” which took place on the popular social network Weibo brought about social awareness and put pressure on banning dog-eating. Together, they have already put a stop to one 600-year-old dog-eating festival in Qianxi, China.
After I came to study in Britain, I have become more aware about this issue. I have joined the Shelter for an animal’s community in my hometown during the first Christmas holiday, where I took care of two homeless puppies. Even though it used to be a Chinese custom to have dog meat, and some people from rural areas still follow the custom today, the cultural differences that led to this situation should be explained properly in the UK, with a decline in the number of sensationalist articles from mainstream media in Britain. After all, the situation with dogs in China may become better if we continue to raise awareness of the culture and the history behind it.
With the increasing number of Chinese students that come to study in Britain, the prejudices and misunderstandings can be lessened through the interaction between students from two countries. With the majority of Chinese citizens saying no to dog-eating customs, along with more British people understanding Chinese culture and history, and less prejudice reported in the British press; I believe the custom will eventually fade.
The process might need time, but the differences can bring us together.