Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017, 6:40 AM CST – China


Animal Welfare

Saving Nature

The concept of animal welfare is yet to be widely acknowledged by either academics or the Chinese public

Captured bear paws seized by customs agents in Manzhouli, northeast China June 15, 2013 Photo by CFP

A bull elephant charged trash-throwing visitors to Wuhan Zoo, February 26, 2007 Photo by CFP

A caged dog en-route to a restaurant in Kunming, April, 2012 Photo by CFP

Stolen pet dogs freed by animal rights activists were sent to a rescue center funded by the China Small Animal Protection Association in Beijing on April 16, 2011 Photo by CFP

“Curator” in the Tsinghua college library, in happier times Photo by Huo Yu

The death on July 5 of a well-known stray cat nicknamed “Curator” at Tsinghua University shocked the campus and quickly became national news. On July 13, a seminar chaired by Associate Professor Jiang Jinsong of Tsinghua University was held in memory of the cat, calling for “proper education on animal welfare” and “legislation on the protection of animal rights in China.”

After the seminar, Jiang and a dozen fellow animal lovers gathered under the ginkgo tree in front of the library to pay their respects at Curator’s graveside.

Curator, once a stray cat, had been reportedly living in the Tsinghua library for three years, roaming the collections freely and sleeping on the stacks, even on students’ open textbooks. The animal was called “China’s Dewey,” and became an unofficial mascot for Tsinghua. However, Curator was found dead on the lawn outside the library July 5. Those who discovered the corpse said the cat seemed to have been tortured to death.

Animal Cruelty

Animal abuse is commonplace in China, despite a growing legion of animal lovers committed to naming and shaming those who torture and kill animals for sport. On February 23, 2002, allegedly aiming to prove that bears have a keen sense of smell, Liu Haiyang, a senior student from Tsinghua University threw liquid sulfuric acid directly into the faces of bears at Beijing Zoo. Nobody lifted a finger to stop him.

In recent years, videos featuring the torture of dogs, cats and other pets have surfaced online, with some of the more extreme examples resulting in “human flesh searches” aiming to track down and punish the perpetrators (see “Human Flesh Search Orgy,” NewsChina, March 2009).

In 2005, a postgraduate student at Shanghai’s Fudan University tortured to death over 30 stray cats on campus. According to Liu Yanli, founder of a Beijing-based animal aid NGO, in 2012 alone there were at least four publicized cases of the torture and killing of stray animals on the country’s college campuses.

“Since there is no animal abuse law in China, student Liu, the bear torturer, was put into custody for one month on the preposterous charge of ‘suspected intentional criminal damage to property’,” Professor Jiang told the audience at Curator’s memorial seminar. “This indicates the embarrassing situation in our judiciary. In China’s legal system, since there is no punishment for animal abuse… animals cannot gain the legal protection that they deserve as living beings.”

“Without legislation, there is no way to curb such behavior,” continued Jiang.

This line of argument – that it is down to the judiciary to prevent animal abuse – is a common one among China’s animal protection activists. In a joint letter drafted by 64 animal rights organizations across China obtained by Jiang, Su Peifen, executive director of ACT Asia for Animals said that witnesses to animal cruelty are likely to become perpetrators themselves. “We look forward to the Chinese government passing a law on animal protection, and putting a stop to animal abuse.”

In the letter, Professor Tian Song from Beijing Normal University said: “Cruelty to animals is the manifestation of a person’s inner void, aloofness and fear. If a person loses the ability to care for other lives, he loses the ability to get along with others. Frequent animal cruelty cases are a reflection of the severe defects in the mental state of young people, even the flawed psychological state of Chinese society.”

Yu Fengqin from the China Wild Animal Protection Association also believes that the root of China’s animal cruelty problem lies in society, not the courts. “It is a top priority for anima protection activists to go into schools and teach our children about healthy attitudes towards animals and life,” he told NewsChina.


Animal cruelty is an increasingly prominent feature of China’s online media. From dog fighting (see: “Dog Soldiers,” NewsChina, February 2013), the commercial farming of bears and rhinos (see: “Too Much to Bear,” NewsChina, May 2012 and “No Introduction Necessary?” NewsChina, June 2013), as well as the practice of eating dog meat (see: “Keeping Dogs off the Menu,” NewsChina, June 2011), China’s developing love affair with pets has seen support grow for measures to protect furry friends from exploitation. Even the government’s usually draconian restrictions on the establishment of NGOs seem to be softened when it comes to animal protection.

“In the past decade, a total of over 1,000 animal rights organizations on various scales were set up across the whole country,” Qin Xiaona, the director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA) told NewsChina. In Beijing alone, she claimed, there are already over 100 animal aid groups.

CAWA has over 60 active members and has set up links with the Beijing municipal authorities, even campaigning to prevent the introduction of bull fighting to the capital in 2011. In mid April 2011, CAWA members forced a truck carrying over 500 caged dogs off a highway in eastern Beijing, rescuing the animals which had been destined for slaughterhouses in Jilin Province.

A coalition of over 40 domestic animal rights organizations also derailed the Canadian government’s 2010 bid to sell seal products to China, and has thwarted subsequent attempts to reopen negotiations.

“If the deal is signed between China and Canada, there would be an increase of the annual cull of 300,000 seals, and 500,000 would be killed,” said Qin Xiaona. The campaign against Canada’s seal exports to China continues, and so far over 95 animal protection organizations have joined the nationwide movement calling for consumers’ awareness in banning seal products. On July 17, a three-hour formal dialogue between Canadian Ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques and animal activist representatives was held in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.

Even major Chinese celebrities such as Yao Ming, Jet Li and Jackie Chan have thrown their weight behind campaigns to ban certain animal products such as shark’s fin, ivory and tiger bones from the Chinese food and pharmaceutical market. The concerted campaign against shark’s fin in particular, a delicacy prized for its expense that is obtained through the annual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of sharks simply de-finned and thrown back into the ocean to die, even resulted in the government banning shark’s fin from official banquets.

Animal Testing

Many argue, however, that China’s scientific and political authorities continue to set a poor standard when it comes to attitudes toward animals and life in general. The widespread habitat loss caused by logging and construction, the pollution of China’s waterways, and a continued fondness among the rich for controversial products such as elephant ivory, turtle shell and medicines derived from wild animal parts are all particular bugbears of the activist community. One area of particular concern is vivisection, which has boomed in China even as it has faded from many overseas markets.

Animal testing, a sensitive issue strictly regulated in most developed countries, is a legal requirement for any company wishing to market a drug or cosmetic product in China, with even international giants falling in line.

“While there are written guidelines for animal experimentation in China, scientists rarely put the globally adopted ‘Three Rs Principle’ [Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement], standards relating to the care and management of laboratory animals, into practice,” Jiang Jinsong told our reporter, “Due to a lack of awareness, most Chinese scientists do not obey these principles at all and thus have become leading opponents of the animal welfare movement.”

Laboratory animal farming has even been hailed by the government as a pillar industry in some parts of China. Yunnan Province in particular, with its abundant wildlife, is looking to roll out a major expansion of its lab animal farming operations. According to research by the Yunnan Academy of Science and Technology Development, by mid-2010 a total of 35 private companies or research institutes in the province had been issued certificates to produce or utilize laboratory animals including macaques, guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs.

“Yunnan is a hotspot not only for animal testing but also for meeting demand from inside and outside of China,” Jiang told our reporter. In March 2013, after 30 years of campaigning, the European Coalition to End Animal Experimentation pushed through a ban on the use of animals in cosmetics testing in all European Union member states. Israel enforced a similar ban in January 2013. In late June this year, following intense public campaigning and legislative advocacy by the Humane Society’s Cruelty-Free India campaign, India banned cosmetics testing on animals. While the US and South Korea are staying “neutral,” neither requiring nor penalizing companies for conducting animal testing, animal rights groups are growing in strength in both countries, with many companies keen to publicly distance themselves from all forms of vivisection.

All this has pushed up demand from developing countries for Chinese-farmed lab animals, while foreign companies are also outsourcing their animal testing to China.

China, the world’s fourth-largest cosmetics market, legally requires all cosmetics companies to test their products on animals. Nominally cruelty-free brands such as Estée Lauder, Mary Kay, Shiseido, Urban Decay and many more openly engage in animal testing in China simply to access this growing market, making a mockery of their proclaimed opposition to animal testing.

According to Troy Seidle from the Humane Society, hundreds of cosmetic companies worldwide have already phased out animal testing from production. “The industry estimates at least 5000 existing ingredients are safe to use,” said Troy. “They could simply use methods such as cell cultures and computer models.”

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) launched a program titled “Alternative Methods to Cosmetic Animal Testing Research” in August 2011, yet so far no tangible progress has been made. He Zhengming, who chairs the official program, declined to be interviewed for this report.

Animal right organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is financially supporting the efforts of the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS), which is putting together a coalition of corporate experts to provide training for scientists in China in the use of non-animal testing methods, and working with officials to promote the acceptance of methods already used in the US, the European Union, and much of the world. However, it is slow going.

According to Brian Jones from IIVS, the institute has provided training to scientists from related government organs including General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). “So far, we have given basic laboratory training to approximately 70 Chinese scientists and students,” Dr Jones told NewsChina in early July. Tens of thousands of scientists currently work in China’s vast cosmetics industry.

Jones told NewsChina that China is still lagging behind in terms of equipment and expertise, and that many Chinese scientists resist the notion that animals should not be used for non-essential scientific experimentation. “An area that has been slowing the process is that there have been frequent changes in the cosmetics regulatory and few ‘champions’ for non-animal-testing within the Chinese regulatory community.”

So far, only one non-animal testing method has been submitted for approval from the CFDA, however no response has been forthcoming. Jones hopes the process, a photoxicity test, will be approved sometime this year, however he admits this is only a small step forward in an ongoing fight.


Despite years of calls for legislation on animal protection and animal cruelty law, no real progress has been made. Even as pet ownership has soared, pets are viewed as property, and it is rare to see anyone step in to prevent animal abuse – though plenty continue to record incidents on smartphones and post them online.

Pet owners even feel targeted by legislation – a recent ban on “fierce” dogs and all dogs exceeding 35cm in height from Beijing’s city center, has provoked fierce opposition from the capital’s dog lovers, despite the action being a response to an alleged rise in the number of dog attacks and rabies infections in the city. However, no government program to mandate vaccinations for household pets or issue pet-owners with an animal license has been tabled, with some critics claiming that the government continues to see animals, at best, as a potential problem.

“The mainstream ideology of the government still regards animal abuse as simply a fact of life for animals, rather than a reflection on society,” said Qin Xiaona. “On the one hand, there are more and more animal activists, but on the other, more and more animal abuse cases – some of them part of high-profile commercial enterprises such as the forcible extraction of bear bile and the slaughter of dogs for meat.”

For years, an underground network of people stealing pet dogs and cats for slaughter and processing into meat products has persisted in China, yet no official ban has been issued against this practice, preventing any legal action from being taken against those responsible.

Liu Yanli from the Together Animal Aid Center, a Beijing-based NGO that finds homes for stray dogs and cats told the reporter that the center has established contacts with potential foster homes in the US. “People outside China know the cruelty these animals are going to face, thus they want to save their lives.”


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