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A Festival of Death

A festival is celebrated by a community, centers around some characteristics of that community or its religious and cultural beliefs. Sometimes, a festival is also celebrated to mark the beginning or end of a particular season. In a normal course, the thought of any festival brings to your mind the joyful feelings of togetherness and gaiety, but there is one festival which makes most people feel otherwise. 64% of the country’s population, let alone the animal rights activists around the world, condemn this festival, and want it banned. That is the despicable ‘Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival of China’.

Every year, in the city of Yulin in the Guangxi province in China, famous for its many mineral hot springs and one of China's oldest towers, Shiyi Tower, a 10-day festival is held to celebrate the beginning of the summer solstice. The arrival of the longest day, sadly though, is marked by the brutal slaughter of thousands of dogs and cats. Selling dog meat is a tradition in this southern Chinese city which attracts a large number of people. According to Chinese folklore, eating dog meat during summer brings luck and good health. It is also said to be an effective way of cooling the body down during the summer heat. This year too, the festival is held from the 21st of June, despite the devastating waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is estimated that over 10,000 dogs are killed at this festival for human consumption. But, where do these dogs come from?

On average, the ‘dog farms’ in China do not have more than 30 dogs. This lays it bare that most of the animals killed during this festival are either snatched from the streets or stolen from the otherwise safe backyards. As most of the dogs had collars on, it can be concluded that this cruel game is the handiwork of dog thieves. The dogs are transported vast distances, crammed in rusted iron cages, left dehydrated and given barely enough food to keep them alive. At the destination, the dogs, most left with broken limbs, are gruesomely bludgeoned to death in full public view. Sometimes, they are boiled alive to remove the skin after burning their fur with a blowtorch. Sometimes the throat is slit to drain all their blood. Every year, dog meat lovers come in large numbers to witness these abominable procedures.

Did the world react to these atrocious acts?

Yes, it did and continues to do. The festival receives a lot of outrage from people, both from China as well as overseas each year. The festival even attracted widespread Hollywood scrutiny in 2015 and 2016. Many petitions were signed across the world to compel the administration to ban the festival. Along with the global outrage towards the torture and slaughter of the ‘companion animals’, the festival is now receiving copious backlash in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which originated from the country. Being a ‘wet market’ makes the location a breeding ground for pathogens and spread of zoonotic diseases like rabies and cholera, due to the streams of blood flowing throughout the area. But sadly enough, at the ground level, no palpable change happened.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) does not include dogs in the livestock list. This year China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs followed suit by declaring it illegal to breed dogs for slaughter. Increasing number of Chinese and international celebrities are publicly expressing their disfavor for the festival. It is also reassuring to observe that a growing number of people visit the festival and pay thousands of Chinese Yuan, not to eat, but to save the dogs from the sellers.

Authored by Ananya Thomas