Activists push for animal protection law in China

Activists want tough penalties for the mistreatment of animals, as current laws are lacking  

From the extraction of bile from live bears to the keeping of endangered species such as Siberian Tigers as pets, one of which jumped from an apartment window in Shandong Province last month, it’s fair to say that animals are not treated well in China.

Chang Jiwen, deputy head of the Resources and Environment Policy Institute, part of the State Council’s Development Research Centre, told chinadialogue that the frequency of such cases show relying on people’s morality isn’t working. “China needs a prevention of cruelty to animals law,” he says.

In 2009 Chang headed up a group of experts drafting just such a law. The document was submitted to the National People’s Congress, but to date there has been no response.

During this year’s assembly meetings in Beijing, calls for an anti-animal cruelty law were heard once more. Tenger, an Inner Mongolia singer and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, put forward a proposal calling for a law to be implemented as soon as possible. In an online poll 550,000 internet users showed their support.

He Hairen, a deputy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Law, agrees with that approach. But he wants to see cruelty towards animals treated as a crime of violence – as it is a violent act, which in a sense makes it appear violence is legitimate and legal. “The state should not regard violence towards animals as beneath its concern,” he says, adding that research has shown those who are violent to animals are more likely to harm people.

An Xiang, public interest lawyer and head of the Beijing Dexiang Law Firm, said that if that amendment to the Public Security Administrations Punishments Law is made, cases of cruelty to animals would be be included on the perpetrator’s files – and this would discourage those inclined towards cruelty from acting on their impulses.

Zhang Yue, chair of the Ta Foundation and CCTV host, said that globally the animal conservation movement grew out of anti-cruelty efforts, and that some nations have already moved from the stages of preventing cruelty and ensuring animal welfare to that of animal rights. “And it would be lamentable if we can’t even get started on preventing cruelty,” he says.
Pre-revolutionary laws
He explains that some people assume protection of animals is a foreign idea, because Western nations countries are more advanced in this respect. But in fact China has a long tradition of treating animals well. In imperial times there were rules against killing young animals or taking bird eggs. In the time of the legendary emperors Yao and Shun it was forbidden at certain times of the year to fell trees or catch fish. In 1934 China had detailed rules, with full legal force, on preventing cruelty to animals.
Chang Jiwen said that much of the content of those rules, the 1934 Nanjing Regulations on Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was “in historical terms, unprecedented.”
The regulations defined types of cruel treatment of animals used for food such as horses, mules, cows, cats and dogs. For example cats and dogs were not to be underfed, hit, injured, or left untreated while ill or injured.

China’s political tumult, civil war and revolution put paid to these laws, and in China education has been more concerned with class struggle than the morality of looking after animals, says head of the Capital Animal Welfare Association Qin Xiaona. 

Social conscience

Qin spends her time trying to save small animals such as cats and dogs. On April 15, 2011, there was a high-profile case when she and other dog-lovers saved 500 dogs packed into a truck on the Beijing-Harbin expressway.
“When we saw how the dogs were being treated, we had no choice but to buy them. The traders weren’t punished though, and would just have been encouraged to go and catch and steal more pets.”

She added that the lack of a law on animal cruelty has caused problems for her organisation when attempting to rescue animals, as there are no punishments even in obvious cases of cruelty.

According to Qin the frequent cases of animal cruelty over the last decade or more are both an attack on and a challenge to China’s social conscience.
“I hope to see a law to protect the animals that live alongside us, rather than allow us to be constantly faced with scenes of cruelty.”