Monday, September 04, 2006

Animal Wrongs

Whilst I come from the UK, I've often disagreed with people there over animal rights issues. OK, since moving to China I'm no longer vegetarian so my perch isn't as lofty as it once was, but I still find fox-hunting to be unnecessary, breeding and shooting slow-moving birds to be unpleasantly unsporting and fishing from a pond or canal to be one of the dullest 'sports' known to mankind. And this in spite of the fact we are "A nation of animal lovers" (TM)

When it comes to China there are obviously greater extremes - many of which are way outside of average British sensibilities.

It's hard, for example, to imagine how in any modern city, that people could respond to a crazy local government announcement that dogs should be culled by going out with their whacking sticks and doing just that. Even worse, that vigilantes would, allegedly, stop people out walking their dogs and beat the dogs to death in front of them. Clearly, if the response of a former colleague of mine to witnessing this sort of behaviour is accurate, the Chinese need to accept that whatever they think is right and wrong, this sort of behaviour creates a negative assessment of the Chinese as a whole and adds to the list of things that makes 'China bashing' easy for people with a political agenda.

Chinese cuisine is always a challenge for the British business person. I've never given into this crazy idea of giving face to people by eating the horrors placed in front of me - I'm still not going to eat a hairy crab, or a turtle. I understand what's going on (unlike a client of one of my family members who complained that the Chinese always 'have a joke at their expense by serving all this horrible stuff') and the problem with food is that it's at it's very worst and most inedible when the Chinese are trying to be really, really nice to you. It's not just the British but that find Chinese banquet cuisine more than a little inedible but Chinese attitutes to food seem to be one of the most unbending on the planet - particularly amongst the older generations (if you haven't read this account of an American guy's Chinese in-laws visiting the states you should, then you'll know what I mean).

There is a not unreasonable argument that attitudes to food, animal welfare, etc. can all be forgiven when you consider that within the lifetimes of many of the older Chinese there have been (whatever the history books say) periods of tremendous famine and hardship but part of becoming a great civilisation is, er, civilisation. Clearly anyone who has seen a period in their life when they've eaten tree bark and grass to survive would be less likely to have any problem eating a dog then someone who's had several meals a day prepared with no risk that those meals will stop coming. But that still doesn't really explain the barbarism with which people would go order a massacre of dogs (many of which had been vaccinated against Rabies - the reason for the cull) or people would go out of their way to track down dogs now and beat them to death or hang them.

Clearly many children are hardened up by watching their parents commit these barbaric acts so continue to think it's reasonable, but it seems likely that a lot of city dwellers don't do these things themselves so their children will become more squeamish over time. I'm told the Hangzhou safari park has stopped feeding live animals to the larger animals over public pressure to stop (presumably from parents of shocked and distressed children) - I can say that just from watching the TV last night, when they were showing tigers in a safari park chasing after a landrover, I was shocked (and YY was nearly sick) when instead of a chunk of meat being thrown out of the back of the truck, a chicken fluttered out to be instantly pounced upon by a tiger.

I can't imagine what the defining moment was in British culture when we generally decided that chicken heads and feet weren't food and I don't think we've every been desperate enough to eat dogs and cats so its hard to work out if these things will ever disappear from Chinese culture.

My own, personal point of view isn't to suggest that it's 'wrong' for people to eat these animals but in many cases the treatment is truly reprehensible. Hopefully people will at least start to imagine that, yes, animals can suffer. Once that leap is made, even if people still continue to eat them, I can only hope they will stop to treat them like inanimate objects. The reports of animals being skinned for their fur and the bodies discarded - still breathing and blinking are truly abhorrent and worthy of the world's scorn.

Before any of this could happen, though, the first leap that needs to be made first is for the Chinese to treat the Chinese with more respect. The culture book I read before I ever set foot in China mentioned that Chinese people are all about guanxi and what matters is whether you are inside or outside of someone's 'circle'. The truth of this, in its implementation, is that many people (again, typically true of the older generations, less so of the younger) genuinely wouldn't be moved if the person crossing the street 5 feet away was run over and killed - except that they would stop to gawk at the carnage. In the UK, I would expect the initial reaction to be screaming, panic, people calling the police and ambulance service. Here, ambulances get abused on the roads by buses and taxis just like any other vehicle does!



JP said...

Really good article D but could you include approximate net and gross (ha) word counts to allow for the massive amount of article links; I can't plan my day.

HistoryElephant said...

My theory for why Chinese cuisine is do broad in what it considers to be appropriate inputs, is that for at least 2 thousand years China has had a very large rural population existing on the small percentage of Chinese land that is actually productive (as opposed to mountains or deserts); of necessity they have had to explore many alternative sources of nutrition.

HistoryElephant said...

of course, to put it in perspective, the medieval English poor would have to eat umble pie ( and a popular 'sport' for medieval apprentices was getting a load of stray cats and tying them all up together in a bag so that they tore each other apart. And it was only a few hundred years ago that they used to hang cats because the word catholic begins with 'cat'.

dB said...

Yes, but my point really is that even the fact people can compare 21st Century China with Medieval England is a sign that there is significant work to be done.

Some random dictionary on the web defines 'Civilised' as "having an advanced or humane culture, society, etc." - I don't believe that the treatment of animals by a lot (but not all) people in China can lead to any claims that China, in this respect, is a civilised society.

罗裔纬 said...

Well, I have to agree again, especially to this point: "Before any of this could happen, though, the first leap that needs to be made first is for the Chinese to treat the Chinese with more respect."

Before they even learn how to respect other biological lives, they should respect the people around them.