Yulin dog meat festival which has seen 10,000 to 15,000 dogs slaughtered in celebration of the Summer Solstice in Southern China has drawn heated controversy across the world, putting the Chinese culture of dog eating under global scrutiny. The festival sparks outrage on social media, with millions of Westerners signing petitions to stop the festival.
To Westerners who believe dogs are man’s best friend, slaughtering and eating dogs symbolize cruelty. But for local residents and many Chinese people, dining on dogs is a tradition and culture that has been carried on for over thousands of years.
While Westerners love dogs for their loyalty and obedience, these same traits only elicit hatred and contempt from Chinese people. In Chinese terms, ‘dog slaves’ are frequently used as derogatory remarks to refer to those who suck up to the powerful and the elite. In certain parts of China, dogs are believed to be vicious animals that attack human beings.
Dog meat also serves as a delicious Chinese delicacy. According to Chinese lore, eating dog meat stimulates internal heat, making it a food that wards off the winters’ cold. But on this inaugural day of summer, the meat is also believed to bring good luck and health.
Defiant organizers and supporters believe that the Westerners’ moral imperialism on dogs is unjustified and hypocritical. If eating dogs are cruel and evil to Westerners, what about the tens of millions of cows, chickens and pigs slaughtered and eaten by North Americans every year? Their outrage against the festival is just a mere reflection of their biased preferences toward dogs and insensitivity towards other animals– they consider dogs cute and friendly animals.
As such, the event does not warrant the outraged emotions and fierce backlash from Westerners. At most, the controversy stemmed from the event has only highlighted different cultural attitudes between Western and Chinese people towards dogs.
I’ve seen first hand the differences of cultural attitudes towards dogs from Chinese and Westerners. My 80-pound dog Fluffy, who follows a stringent daily walk routine, is a living testament of this different cultural attitude. In a multicultural city Toronto, she is often quite unwelcomed and sometimes perceived as intimidating to a lot of minority residents, mostly newcomers from China, who sometimes express hatred and distaste towards her. I frequently receive complaints from neighbours of how Fluffy is intimidating to their children and at one point, a Chinese man even demands me to lock Fluffy up during school rush hours – for the safety of his children.
Growing up in Asian culture myself, I can see where the attitude is coming from and felt at ease at their rejections. But to most local Canadians, Fluffy is a very well liked dog. They greeted her amicably and treated her as an adorable pet. And an incident two years ago led me feeling deeply shocked by this different attitude.
During a morning rush hour on a cold morning, Fluffy suddenly ran off my leash and dashed across a busy street. Her unpredictable action caused the abrupt stop of a black van and vehicles behind, causing a temporary traffic jam. As Fluffy’s owner, I expected yelling, blames or even scolding from an Asian driver, only to hear apologies from a white woman with tears streaming down her face. She kept apologizing for almost hitting Fluffy and insisted to accompanying me to see a vet immediately. My assurance that Fluffy wasn’t hurt seemed to give her some comfort, and as she reluctantly walked away, she left me a card for emergencies.
The incident has left me shaking my head in disbelief, and I think shedding tears for an unharmed dog was definitely an overreaction. And I also believe that the backlash and fierce protests against Yulin dog festival is also an overreaction that underscores this Westerners’ dog obsessed culture. My experience and Yulin dog festival serve as a best opportunity to explore our cultural difference toward dogs.
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