Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a Chinese student activist

Post author: Ouyang Huiyu. Huiyu is President of Student Vegetarian Association of Tsinghua University and Co-convener of China University Vegetarian Association Network.

Jamie, I broadly agree with your three focuses in your post. The method of legislation to restrict factory farming is often overlooked, but I will point out some possibilities. And hopefully I will briefly introduce the efforts and challenges in advancing such legislation in China in my report at International Animal Rights Conference next month.

For Max’s post, let me first point out some mistakes of little matter. Chinese people don’t use HappyCow, so you simply can’t find many places with veg options on HappyCow. In fact there are as many veg restaurants in Shanghai as in Tokyo.

The situation in Japan is also not necessarily better than China. Society there does not respect personal choices. Many young people follow the western trend, but the trend might be unpredictable. I learnt from one Chinese report that not hiring vegetarians is a hidden rule for many Japanese companies. When I traveled to Tokyo in the winter of 2017, which was an exchange program with Meikai University, the teachers just didn’t know much about vegetarianism or veganism and they would not ask me questions to learn about it. In China, when a teacher knows that I am vegan, he or she would often be very open minded to talk with me about this topic.

We probably don’t have many dog farms in China. The dogs seem to be mostly stolen, mainly from rural areas. We’re unsure what portion of Chinese dog meat comes from farms. But there are many dog/cat shelters, estimated several thousand across the country. I went to a typical one in Chengdu earlier this month; they spent 9 thousand yuan (including the salary of 18 or 19 staff) per day to take care of 4 or 5 thousand dogs and cats. And they feed the dogs and cats meat (mainly animal organs) and expired milk.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that “the level of respect the general public holds for animals like pets seems barely present in China”, using the Yulin dog meat festival as evidence. Many people are mobilized to fight against the dog meat trade (Yulin is a typical case). People are organized to stop the vans on highways to save the dogs, demonstrate or give speeches at the dog festival, which can be seen as a beginning of the animal rights movement, or even the forming of a civil society, considering such assemblies are not allowed in China. I think such direct actions have the potential to be connected to the worldwide network the Save Movement (I talked with Anita Krajnc about this). And hopefully people will start to care about not only companion animals but also farm animals. I heard a lecture from an activist with years of experience challenging the dog meat trade, which suggested that a considerable number of people who have participated in dog rescue have turned into vegetarians or vegans within a year.

Lawyers play a vital important role in dog rescue actions. Since we don’t have laws against animal abuse, legal mobilization strategy transforms into real opportunity space, together with other activists’ work. In the case of dog rescues, lawyers help to defend the legitimacy of the actions. Collaboration between animal rescue organizations, volunteers, lawyers and animal hospitals constitutes the movement foundation, during which the courage of citizen is essential. In this process, animal activists learn to cooperate with lawyers to protect animals by law, which is why I say that there could be possibilities on your second suggestion, that “animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming”. But I’m not sure how the overall process of promoting legislation would go, as the rule of law in China is getting worse these years.

A short update what the Student Vegetarian Association of Tsinghua University (SVATHU) and the China University Vegetarian Association Network (CUVAN) have been up to.

Here is a post of what SVATHU did in the Spring Semester. I will update the post next month to add our progress after June. You will see that SVATHU avoided the environment and health causes being emphasised too much in the past. But we will try to advocate from the environmental perspective (on our vegan starter kit) whilst not to increase the suffering of small animals.

CUVAN more widely has been busy. We’ve been working hard to reach out to veg associations of several universities in major cities in China to expand our network. We participated in the Good Food Hero Summit organized by Good Food Fund (China), where we had roundtable conference with catering directors from two of China’s top universities. Last week we hosted a lecture by Peter Singer in Tsinghua University where he talked about Effective Altruism.

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