A proposed animal-rights law, circulated in draft last September by Chinese activists and legal experts, would be the first of its kind in a country where animal welfare rarely seems a priority. Pigs destined for slaughter are often seen crammed excruciatingly tightly in cages on the backs of lorries. In safari parks visitors happily pay to dangle live chickens into lions%u2019 dens, or even to have a live calf dragged by its legs behind a jeep past ravenous tigers. But a fast-growing middle class, despite enjoying gory outings, is also fond of pet dogs and cats.
This creates conflict with ancient eating habits. Dogs are a popular dish in many parts of China, not least among ethnic Koreans in the north-east. Dog restaurants are also common in Beijing. Many believe that eating dog helps keep the human body warm in winter. Cats are popular in southern China. The sweet-tasting meat has been served to your correspondent, diced into small cubes reassembled in feline form with fur-stripped paws sticking in the air. The wretchedness of its foreshortened life was left to the imagination.
Dogs were once banned in many urban areas, but in recent years the government has caved in to soaring demand. For each household Beijing still has a one-dog policy and decrees that they must not be taller than 35cm (14 inches). They are nonetheless ubiquitous.
The proposed law would make the %u201Cillegal consumption or sale%u201D of dog- or cat-meat punishable by a fine of up to 5,000 yuan ($730) or imprisonment for up to 15 days. But opponents are still many and vociferous both in the press and online. Dog-eating, they argue, is a time-honoured tradition and China is not yet ready for Western-style prissiness about consuming such animals. Perhaps, they suggest hopefully, the word %u201Cillegal%u201D could be taken to mean that there might still be a legal way of killing cats and dogs for the table. The Congress admitted two years ago that better laws were needed to prevent cruelty to animals. But this one is not yet on the agenda.
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