Yulin, a city in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi and home of the dog eating festival, witnesses a surge in the number of tourists from all corners of the country and the globe during the summer solstice every year. Every year controversy surrounds the event with photos of dogs being subjected to some of the illest forms of cruelty and others being fried on the streets. An American congressman and animal rights activists have been demanding that China bans the practice of eating dogs and cats and follow in the footsteps of Taiwan. The local government of Yulin has been making strides to hide and restrain some of the heinous acts involving dogs and selling dogs in food markets. This year the festival was packed, and the controversial culinary habit continues to become popular despite the controversy surrounding it.
Dog meat has not always been a common feature in the Chinese diet, but unlike in the West, it has never been taboo. How did the practice become so common? According to Guo Peng, from Shandong University, the Han population consumed dog meat because they believed it to be of medicinal value. The Han believed that dog meat would warm the body in winter and cool it in summer, hence the timing of the Yulin festival at the mid-year solstice. Mrs. Guo further remarks that most people only have dog meat once a year, if at all they do.
A survey conducted in 2016 by Dataway Horizon, a polling firm, and Capital Animal Welfare Association revealed that almost 70% of the Chinese population have never eaten a dog. Of those who ate, most claim they did so by accident upon invitation to a social or business dinner.
In light of these findings, many would ask why the Yulin festival is packed? And why do most Chinese restaurants put dog meat on the menu? The answer-criminality. Similar to drugs, dog meat has become a lucrative source of criminal income. Mrs. Guo has been traversing Shandong in a bid to find out what has been happening to their animals. One of the village inhabitants reported that close to a third of their dogs had been stolen between 2007 and 2011. She discovered that hunters had been roaming the country side in vans, killing dogs with poisoned darts and selling them to intermediaries. Hunters got about 10 yuan ($1.30) from a kilogram of dog meat. Hunted dog meat had in recent times increased the supply and lowered prices boosting the size of the overall dog meat market. Mrs. Guo is of the opinion that Shandong and neighboring Henan form the bulk of suppliers of dog meat in China.
The fact that these provinces are still lagging behind in terms of modernization favors the dog meat trade. Dogs are still used as guardians in villages and therefore allowed to roam around freely, whereas in big cities they are used as pets and are confined to houses and gated environments. The number of dogs registered as pets has been growing and so has been concerns for animal welfare as evidenced by the increasing number of animal hospitals, animal-rescue, and dog adoption agencies.