Yulin dog meat festival sees a low-profile year as govt tries to keep lid on tensions

2016-06-28 01:11:47 GMT2016-06-28 09:11:47(Beijing Time) Global Times
A dog seller haggles over the price of a dog at the "Big Market" in Yulin,the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Photo: Li Hao/GT A dog seller haggles over the price of a dog at the "Big Market" in Yulin,the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Photo: Li Hao/GT

Before leaving Yulin, a 1-million-people city in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region that has become infamous around the world for its annual "lychee and dog meat festival," I visited again Jiangbin Road and Yulin Road on Wednesday morning.

The two roads are filled with dog meat restaurants. The street projects an atmosphere of calm in the early morning, a world away from the night before when the street was crowded with people looking to get a bite of dog.

Restaurants were still closed. The passers-by who gathered to film the revelry on their phones were long gone, as were the lychee vendors.

There were still some traffic officers standing at a nearby crossroads. Their colleagues who had worked the previous night were presumably getting some well deserved rest after spending hours yelling at car drivers not to block the road and urging onlookers to keep moving.

Some restaurants used to set up tables on the main roads but as the local government banned them from doing so this year, they all had to move their tables to the sidewalks.

Meat lovers from nearby cities in Guangxi, Guangdong and even as far away as North China's Hebei Province sit in the dim light, eating dog meat hotpot and drinking Chinese baijiu liquor with lychees in it.

When my colleague and I walked past these tables and tried to find a place where we could have a meal that was dog meat-free, we felt the gaze of the diners.

This suspicious looks were familiar to us by then. I encountered many of the same stares at the city's "Big Market" on Tuesday morning.

The Big Market is a vegetable and meat market on Baishiqiao Road in Yulin and is one of the favorite  places for those looking to consume canines.

We arrived at the market before 7 am and some peddlers were already there with caged dogs to sell. The police came around 8 am and asked the sellers to move into an alley.

The second we appeared in the alley, people around began to stare at us. They fixed their eyes on us without saying a word as we fetched out our cameras and took pictures on the caged dogs.

I tried to strike up a conversation with a dog seller who looked at me for more than five seconds before he replied in a slow, low voice.

He said that he hails from a nearby village and began to sell dogs two years ago after he lost his job in a garage. He has a daughter and a son who both have no jobs and sells dogs to "earn money for the family."

During our conversation, three small dogs lay down in the cage around his feet. Two young men started to shout at me, saying "Buy some dogs or we will kill them mercilessly!" and "Why don't you kiss these dogs if you love them so much?"

Animal activists

Their resentment toward animal rights activists and media was even clearer when Yang Xiaoyun, a well-known "dog lover" from Tianjin Municipality came to the market around 10 am.

Yang once created a stir in Yulin, after paying 150,000 yuan ($24,000) for nearly 360 dogs and dozens of cats in 2014. 

Dog sellers and reporters all followed around Yang from the moment she appeared in the market. Local residents also followed her, taking out their phones and filming.

I heard a voice said that "Yang, you came to Yulin to make a show again. How about the dogs you brought last year? Are they still alive?"

Yang seemed not to be offended and kept talking with dog sellers. She did not buy any dogs on June 20 and before leaving the market she told reporters that the lorry she ordered from Tianjin has not yet come to Yulin and she will keep buying dogs till her last breath.

After Yang left, three dog lovers from Guangdong, Chongqing and Canada respectively came to the market and brought three dogs. They took a cage with two dogs in it, put it on a car and ignored the questions asked by reporters and locals.

A few minutes before the three dog lovers left, a car which had a banner reading "dog lovers = cult" hanging from it appeared. I heard someone applaud and yell at the dog lovers to "go back to your places, you are not welcomed in Yulin."

Police officers came and told the driver to leave.

None of these confrontations turned into serious incidents. A man who works for the local government surnamed Yang told the Global Times that this year has been "quite peaceful," compared to the clashes he witnessed between dog lovers and local residents in 2014 and 2015.

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is an annual event held during the summer solstice. According to a report by West China Metropolis Daily, some 10,000 dogs are consumed during every dog meat festival.

My colleague who visited Yulin to report on the dog meat festival in 2014 told me that all parties involved in the festival kept a low profile this year - no dog sellers publicly slaughtered dogs near the market, no dog lovers loudly denounced locals, and the local government deflected media inquiries and deployed extra police officers on the streets.

I wonder whether the tensions I experienced were the result of everyone holding back but I am quite sure that the tradition of eating dogs will not die down in Yulin for decades despite all the criticism and disputes.

But locals do seem to be at least considering whether or not their tradition is something they really want to continue.

As a resident surnamed Song said that "whether to eat dog meat is our choice … they (the outside world) should give us time to think about it."

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