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The fight to protect China’s cats

Guangdong’s taste for cat meat drives a brutal trade, laid bare in a new documentary from filmmaker and animal rights campaigner Guo Ke. Zhou Yiyan reports.

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Every day before dawn, there is a flurry of activity in the alley behind Shanghai’s Jiangsu Hotel. One by one, scooters laden with heavy sacks pull into the narrow lane. If it wasn’t for the city’s “cat-rescuers”, no one would know that their packs are full of live cats.

Guo Ke, who wrote and filmed San Hua, China’s first documentary on the country’s cat-meat industry, learned from these merchants that Shanghai’s biggest cat trader is an elusive figure named Zhang Zhen’an. At 6am every morning, the sellers arrive in the alley to deal with his underlings. This is where the documentary starts.

At the end of July, San Hua, which was seven months in the making, premiered in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Guo Ke says his aim is to “let more people know the truth – to spread the news as far as possible”.

Filming began in December 2009, when a team of “cat rescuers” blockaded a truck loaded up with cats. One of the cat traders had told Guo Ke that the animals bought in the alley would be taken to a fruit market in Shaoxing in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang. They would then be loaded onto a truck along with cats brought from other cities, including Suzhou and Wuxi, and taken to Guangzhou.

On December 18 last year, Guo Ke and a group of activists followed one of the small trucks heading from Shanghai to that fruit market. The group originally planned to get out and speak to the driver, but the truck suddenly turned around. The driver had been on the alert and, as soon as he noticed he was being followed, had fled. A high-speed chase ensued and ended with the animal welfare campaigners blocking the truck at a toll booth.

Inside the lorry, Guo Ke saw more than 300 cats crammed into cramped wooden cages, unable to move. They were mewing pitifully, some bleeding where they had lost their tails, some already crushed into unconsciousness.

One of the volunteer cat-rescuers, Liu Xiaoyun, once bought a truckload of cats for 5,000 yuan (US$747) and found another job for the cat trader. But the man in question quickly went back to his old trade. “It’s good work, with hardly any outgoings. I couldn’t get used to any other job,” he said.

In San Hua, one anonymous cat trader asks: “What’s the use of liberating one load of cats? Even if you set all the cats in Shanghai free, you’ve still got Beijing, Tianjin, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi. As long as there’s a demand, there will be buyers, and someone will go out snatching cats.”

The core demand is in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in south-east China. The cats conveyed into the city are turned into delicacies such as soy-stewed cat, dragon-fighting-tiger (a dish combining cat and snake meat) and live-boiled cat. “Cat meat is a common dish in Guangzhou, I saw it at the Song Restaurant and Jiahua Seafood,” says Guo Ke.

According to local paper Yangcheng Evening News, the people of Guangdong eat 10,000 cats a day in the winter, a large number of which are bought or stolen in other provinces. In May, Guo Ke visited Guangzhou and used a hidden camera to film scenes of cats being slaughtered.

At Fa’s Cat Restaurant in Guangzhou’s Kaiping district, he captured boiled cat being prepared. The cook throws cats – too exhausted to struggle – into an iron bucket and beats them with a wooden stick. Five minutes later, the already-stiffening cats are tipped out of the bucket into a cylindrical fur-removing machine. The machine screeches into action and shortly the bloodied corpses are removed and taken to the kitchen for boiling.

The cook explains: “The worse you treat them the better they taste. It makes sure the blood gets into the meat and it tastes delicious.”

At Song Restaurant, Guo filmed a young chef skilfully removing cats’ heads with a single blow of his cleaver and then gutting the animals. For soy-stewed cat, the heads and guts aren’t needed, and they get thrown into an iron pail. The camera captures the still-blinking eyes of the severed heads.

“I couldn’t look when I started killing small animals – puppies, new-born calves. I used to cover my eyes with a cloth, but then I got used to it,” says the chef as he slices meat off a cat. 

Two clients of the restaurant were happy to be interviewed; for them eating cat meat is completely normal. “The next generation, they’ve loved animals since they were small, and I’d tell them not to eat cat meat. But our two generations have had different educations. I don’t think there’s anything to it,” says one bookish middle-aged man.

“Cat casserole – ah, it’s delicious. You can’t get cat anywhere else. So if a friend visits, you get a lot of kudos if you take them out for cat, and they’ll remember you for it,” enthuses one somewhat rougher man as he drinks.

“Aren’t you worried about diseases, like from the civet cats?” asks Guo. [Civet cats were implicated in the 2003 SARS outbreak] “I haven’t thought about it,” the man responds. “We just want the flavour, we don’t worry about anything else.”

At the San Hua premiere in July, cat-protection campaigner Zhu Qian proposed a new idea: instead of trying to protect cats as “life”, treat them as “products” – and campaign for the prohibition of cat meat on food-safety grounds.

Zhu Qian, from Suzhou, has been rescuing stray cats for a decade and has forty at home. She has also, on three occasions, reported cat traders to the Ministry of Agriculture for forging hygiene certificates.

According to the reply from the Ministry’s Livestock Bureau, China does not yet have health standards for dog and cat meat. Zhu says: “If there aren’t any standards, then there aren’t any tests to pass, and the certificates they show are meaningless.” Animal protection societies from Suzhou and Shanghai are preparing to use the Ministry’s reply to report cat traders in Shanghai, Suzhou and Wuxi. Even if China has no animal-protection law, the responsible parties can be pursued for forging government documents, which carries a penalty of three to 10 years imprisonment.

China does not yet have a specific animal-protection law. In September last year, legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Chang Jiwen and others drafted proposed legislation to include a ban on the eating of cat and dog meat and punishment for animal cruelty. Huge controversy ensued. In January this year, Chang and others published a proposal for another law against the mistreatment of animals, proposing fines of up to 5,000 yuan (US$747) or detention of 15 days for illegal consumption or selling of cat and dog meat. Again, there was a strong reaction.

An Xiang, a Beijing lawyer and author of A Compilation of Existing Animal Protection Law in China, believes Zhu Qian’s approach is somewhat cold, but adds: “Without an actual animal protection law, all we can do is regard ‘companion animals’ as ‘meat products’ if we want to make any progress.”

Some animal-protection activists have high hopes for Guo Ke’s documentary, believing it will prompt legislators to reconsider. Guo himself says that humans have a natural affinity with cats, and he hopes to encourage legislation. For him, the issue is simple: “You can’t just decide an animal’s fate according to your own will,” he says.


Zhou Yiyan is a reporter at Bund Pictorial. An earlier version of this article was published by Bund Pictorial. It is edited and reprinted here with permission.

Homepage image from Mop.com

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Cats and dogs

Cats and dogs aren't going to cause a big uproar. This is nothing more than a few people who were not brought up well and keep thinking about the years when the forefathers developed Guangdong and Guangxi and the difficult times of not having enough food or clothing, which is just a contrast between past misery with present happiness.

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Cats and dogs: related to the environment

Relating this to the human environment is a little far-fetched, let alone the natural environment. On this, chinadialogue cares too much.

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re Zhou's comment

I am not sure why you say this is just about the past.. this is going on now. treating other living creatures well is part of being a civilised nation?

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Human Being first

A civilized nation first treats its people well enough and in a humane manner.The past is important because the future is one natural extension of the past, shameful or glorious one. By the way, if cat could satisfy their eager for meat, especially beef, that is a great green way: to cut green house gas emissions.

By another way, "gourmets" who favor cat and dog eat fish head, lunger, liver , or everything of animals and fish, dismissed by many western environmentalists. It is a Chinese merit should be credited by climate change advocates.



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Why is cat different from chicken or cow?

I don't see any problem with cat eating or dog eating. Some may consider cat as food. Others may consider it as friend. It is not a matter of right or wrong. It is just different culinary taste and tradition. If you really want to be humane, please give up eating any kind of animal carcasses. If you can't do that, you are not too much more advanced in the food ladder comparing with those cat meat lovers. Maybe a difference of one or two rungs, big deal!

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Cats ARE different

... in that many view them as pets. Whether eating them is ethically different from eating any other animal is up to the individual making that distinction. However, in the article, it specifically points out that many of these cats are "bought and stolen from other provinces" - so the origins of these cats are highly suspect. I would not be surprised if a number of the cats that ended up in the restaurants were once beloved family pets that were kidnapped. And that very much disturbs me.


… 很多人认为猫是宠物。对待吃猫和吃其他动物的态度取决与个人。然而,这篇文章特别强调了很多猫是从”其他省份偷来或运来的“。所以这些猫的来源就十分可疑。如果你告诉我餐厅里的猫肉不少是绑架二来的别人的宠物,我一点都不惊讶。这才是让我闹心的点。

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cruelty, not consumption, disturbs me

Personally what bothers me about this is the cruelty, not the consumption, of cat meat. With most livestock, such as pigs and cows, it is generally accepted that bruising and stressful conditions makes meat less healthy and tasty, and so there is some incentive to treat the animals better before slaughter. Yet in this article, the chef explicitly says that cruelty improves the flavor. I wonder if anyone has done a blind test to see if people can taste the difference between a well- and poorly-treated cat.

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这个和猫有什么关系呢?你看啊,如果你认为吃猫很残酷,可是如果颁布禁吃猫的法令,也许很多你现在意想不到的事情会发生,并且肯定会发生,搞得你下不了台。当然了, 我申明,我非吃猫辈。

Wild pigs, rabbits and chickens in the Chinese countryside

Many people are perhaps unaware that in order to protect wild animals, our government has enacted a very strict anti-hunting law. This forbids the hunting of all wild pigs, rabbits, and chickens in the countryside. All shotguns have been confiscated, and the hunters are now all unemployed. These measures have been highly effective, and these animals are now very numerous in the countryside, especially poorer areas in the mountains. This has harmed the local harvest. Recently I heard that in my hometown (of course, I know lots of people) two police officers were on night patrol (ie, going for a stroll) when they thought they heard some unusual activity somewhere off in the pitch black hills. Due to their professional alertness, they cautiously set off to investigate, and found that someone had fallen into a net set by a hunter without a gun. He was severely disabled by this, and I heard that he is still in hospital now.

What does this all have to do with cats then? Well, if you believe that eating cats is brutal, and then enact a law forbidding cat-eating, many unexpected things can and will happen, putting you in an awkward poisition. Of course, I must declare that I am no cat-eater.

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flooded with boars in Fengjie, Chongqing

To prove the reliability of my words, please go to this link.

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Unintended consequences

Bear in mind that cats provide many beneficial services, separate from companionship. They are natural hunters and will kill agricultural pests like mice, rats, and rabbits. So one unintended consequence of outlawing cat consumption may be a decrease in animals that go after the food supply.

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It will improve

I grew up in Guangdong, no one I know eats cats nor have they even heard of it. Many Guangdong internet users have also replied to chinadialogue on the Sina microblog, saying that eating cats is not a common phenomenon, and is becoming less so.

In the article, one of diners interviewed said that because the next generation has loved animals since they were young, in the future they won't eat cats and dogs. From everyday observation, that is exactly how it seems. With the bitter sufferings the last generation experienced, don't even talk about animals. During the three years of natural disasters and the cultural revolution, the shocking "things" they ate...interested people can google it for themselves. Their relationship with animals obviously is not like the how the Westerners call them "companion" or "friend."

This gives Chinese people a bad image, just like the Japanese and whaling. But compared with the Japaneses deep-rooted tradition with whale meat, in China's situation, it is not as serious as people think. I am thankful the publicity of these kinds of articles and videos. I believe that in 10, 20 years, cat and dog meat will have no market.

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Look on the optimistic side

Although I am anxious for our nation to be at the top of the world and so I've always been critical about its development, we can actually also look on the optimistic side. After all, the world is much the same everywhere -- there is always a black sheep. As for China's image, this is not a problem that you and I can solve. Now that even the rich and the powerful do not care, why do we bother? We just need to behave well ourselves. As an ancient saying goes, "Mind your words."

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The environment of cat-eating

I'm changing my mind, the cats and our interest in them don't really line up. What's the relationship between cats and the environment? This is one of the world's major problems, too.

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Food and Global Health

What humans eat (and how we produce what we eat) has direct linkages to human health. There is evidence that the higher up the food chain we eat, the more likely we are to contract dangerous diseases to the human population (look at bushmeat in Africa).

I too am concerned about the descriptions of how the cats are gathered, transported, and slaughtered. There is no oversight into the health of these animals. And they are transported in high-density conditions, facilitating the spread of disease among them. Eating and handling ill animals directly links to human health. Avian flu, SARS, and mad cow disease are clear examples of this. So yes, I do see a clear relationship between this article and potential threats to global human health, which I consider part of the environment.

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没有理由不考虑猫到底吃不吃得,我同意这样的说法。但对于“残忍”的说法却很对。一个社会如何对待其他生物,吃不吃它们都是人性和文明的标记。工厂农业 -- 以及此处提到的对待动物 -- 都是不文明的。


I agree that there is no reason not to consider cats edible. But the point about cruelty is exactly right. How a society treats other creatures, whether it eats them or not, is a mark both of humanity and civilisation. Factory farming -- and the kind of treatment described here -- is not civilised

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Being cultured is from what we eat

We should learn from Korea. It's not that dogs shouldn't be eaten, but what kind of dogs can and cannot be eaten. What you eat is not wrong, but the way you explain it to someone is wrong. Publicity is important, which we are not good at. In addition, what we eat reflects how cultured we are.

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Eating cats and the environment

A poster above says "Relating this to the human environment is a little far-fetched, let alone the natural environment." I don't think this is far-fetched at all.

I think that people eat cats and dogs in China because there is no recognition of how precious animal life is in the public consciousness, so naturally there is no awareness of animal protection. Just think, how does someone like this understand the importance of protecting biodiversity?

Also, there are some people who put food above all else, and are willing to risk being poisoned in order to eat animals. For example, people risk mercury poisoning to eat whale meat and sharkfin, and risk infectious diseases in order to eat cat, dog, and civet. With their awareness of hygeine so low, how do you talk to them about protecting the environment?

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How can we even talk about environmental protection?

We don't even have an enforcable environmental protection law; how can we talk about environmental protection? We don't even have the cultural environment in which to discuss the environment; how can we talk about environmental protection? Our environmental protection office only has 300 staff; how can we talk about environmental protection? Our population is so large, how can we talk about environmental protection? Reasons for environmental talks being an awful lot, but how on earth do we talk about environmental protection? In politician-speak: The future is glorious, the road is winding. Environmental protection has not yet succeeded. Comrades, you must carry on!

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What is environmental protection: info from Baidu

Environmental protection is the conscious protection and reasonable use of natural resources by humans, preventing pollution and destruction of the natural environment; polluted and destroyed parts of the environment must be dealt with comprehensively, creating a suitable environment for human living and work. Environmental protection is the actual or potential environmental problems that humans need to resolve, while coordinating the relationship between humans and the environment and ensuring the continual development of the economic society and using various actions. These methods and tools include engineering technology, administrative, legal, economic, publicity and education, etc. The main content is:
(1) Prevent and control environmental pollution that comes from production and everyday activities, including, the "three wastes" emitted by industrial production (water waste, air waste and product waste), dust, radioactive substances and noise, vibrations, odor and electromagnetic radiation; harmful gases, liquids and noise produced through transporting activities; pollution discharge from marine shipping; the use of toxic and hazardous chemicals in industrial and agricultural production and human life; pollution from dust and smoke, sewage and garbage in urban life;
(2) Prevent environmental destruction caused by construction and development activities including, large-scale water conservation, railways, highways, major ports, airports and other large industrial projects; agriculture and activities that turn lakes into fields, offshore oil fields, the development of coastal zones and wetlands, the impact and damage to the environment caused by forest and mineral resources development; the damage, pollution and impact to the environment caused by new industrial zones and new urban settings and construction;
(3) Protect the special value of the natural environment, including, providing effective protection for rare species and their living environment, special natural history sites, geological phenomena, landscapes, etc. In addition, the urban and rural planning, controlling soil erosion and desertification, afforestation, controlling population growth and distribution, rational distribution of production forces, also belong to environmental protection. Environmental protection has become one of the main movements and tasks shared by the world's governments and people. China has publicised environmental protection as a basic national policy and has developed and promulgated a series of environmental protection laws and regulations to ensure the implementation of this basic national policy.

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Eating Cats and Saving the Environment

I see a poster above saying, the topic of Chinese people eating cats, seems to have little to do with saving the environment.

I think, paying attention to the topic of Chinese people eating cats, means discussing the meaning of animals' life, only when people respect the lives of animals, can we protect them, love them, and carry out the the promotion of biodiversity.

Second, eating cats concerns the issue of hygiene and safety, a point that is also related to the environment.

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环境保护(environmental protection)涉及的范围广、综合性强,它涉及自然科学和社会科学的许多领域,还有其独特的研究对象。

The intention of environmental protection

Environmental protection is the generic term for using the theories and methods of environmental science to coordinate the relationship between humans and the environment, solving various problems and protecting and improving all human activities in the environment.

This includes taking administrative, juristical, economic, scientific and technological measures, reasonably using natural resources, preventing the pollution and deterioration of the environment in order to maintain and develop ecological balance, expand reproduction of useful natural resources and guarantee development of the human society.

The scope of environmental protection is broad and comprehensive. It involves many areas of natural science and social science, as well as other unique objects of study.

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We need action, not excuses

Just because the political infrastructure is lacking to deal with environmental protection, and there are societal hurdles does not mean that action should not be taken. There are other vehicles than just the government. Public will is a very powerful force.

The environment is such an important entity which is the very foundation of human society that it must be protected, whether government prioritizes it or not. The government is by no means infallible, and just because the political will is not there at the government level does not mean that environmental issues should just be ignored. Environmental issues end up being social issues in the end.