What Is The Yulin Dog Meat Festival?

A look into the so-called tradition of this 'festival' and why it continues.

What you need to know
  • The Yulin Festival began in 2009 as a way to boost sales of dog meat
  • Animal rights groups believe the pets are stolen
  • The local government does not condone or organise the Yulin dog festival

Warning: Confronting Images

Every year thousands of dogs are slaughtered and served as a delicacy in a town called Yulin in southeast China.

For 10 days an event is held that includes dining on dog meat and downing lychee liquor to celebrate the beginning of Summer.

Celebrities have added their voice to animal rights campaigns to stop the practice which horrifies and confuses most westerners. So what is the Yulin festival and why does it happen?

The cast of The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills protesting the Yulin festival.
Image: Getty

Animal rights groups believe the pets are stolen. Dogs (and cats) are transported illegally in horrendous conditions, with some dying from suffocation en route.

Once they're in Yulin, they are crammed into small and filthy areas, and eventually beaten to death. Rescued dogs are terrified and malnourished.

Dog meat has also linked to the spread of rabies as well as strong links to crime

The History Of Consuming Dog Meat
Puppies await their turn to be sold in Yulin. Image: Getty

Eating dog meat isn’t new in China, but it isn't widespread either.

Dr Pan Wang, Senior Lecturer in Chinese studies at UNSW, told ten daily it could be traced back to the Neolithic age.

"At that time people started to eat domestic animals and archaeologists found cooked dog bones in some of the cultural heritage sites,” Dr Wang said.

Animal activists attempt to rescue dogs about to be sold for consumption.
Image: Getty

There is a misconception that all Chinese people eat dog meat regularly, and that the population of Yulin support the festival, Dr  Wang said.

"72 percent of Yulin residents do not regularly eat dog meat and 12 percent of the Yulin population have never tried dog meat," she said.

Dog meat has also been served as a delicacy in parts of east Asia such as Japan, Vietnam and Korea where the meat is consumed in banquets.

“Symbolically, it can represent a higher social class, wealth and power,” Dr Wang said.

Enter The Yulin Lychee and Dog Festival
A vendor waits for buyers as he closes a cage with a dog for sale at a market in Yulin city, southern China's Guangxi province, 20 June 2016.

In 2009 local traders in Yulin began an event to celebrate the arrival of Summer Solstice and to boost sales of dog meat and lychee liquor, dubbing it the ‘Yulin Lychee and Dog Festival’.

Dr Wang said it’s more of a business promotion, and the word ‘festival’ has become lost in translation.

“It’s an activity where you see owners promoting their trade, you can’t really translate that activity as a 'festival' in English” she said.

Humane Society International (HSI) spokesperson Wendy Higgins told ten daily the majority of the dogs sold for consumption are strays and stolen pets.

"Yulin, like all of China's dog meat trade, would not exist without crime," she said.

Image: Getty
Does The Chinese Government Condone Consuming Dog Meat?

There is no law banning the consumption of dog meat in China.

“Eating dog meat is a free right (in China), just like eating chicken or pork, it’s a cultural norm,” Dr Wang told ten daily.

The only evidence of a ‘legal’ ban on dog meat is during the Northern Song Dynasty between 960 and 1126, when an emperor was born in the year of the dog.

The popularity of consuming dog meat didn’t return again until the late 1950s. “During certain famines people were running out of food, so they started to eat dogs again,” Dr Wang said.

Small strides are being made, with the number of dogs slaughtered during the event lowering yearly from a height of 10,000 to "around 2000 to 3000 now," Dr Wang said.

READ MORE: Yulin Dog Meat Festival: Animal Groups Urge Authorities To End "Gruesome" Practice

Contact the author: ncarroll@networkten.com.au