Animal welfare and rights in China

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Animal welfare and rights in the People's Republic of China is a topic of growing interest. China has had limited animal protections by international standards, and animal-rights activists have condemned the treatment of animals in the country. Movements towards animal welfare and animal rights are expanding in China, including among homegrown Chinese activists.


There are currently no nationwide laws in China that explicitly prohibit the mistreatment of animals.[1][2][3] However, the World Animal Protection notes that some legislation protecting the welfare of animals exists in certain contexts, especially ones used in research and in zoos.[4]

In 2006, Zhou Ping of the National People's Congress introduced a proposal for a nationwide animal-protection law in China, but it didn't move forward.[5]

In September 2009, the first comprehensive Animal protection law of the People's Republic of China was drafted, but it hasn't made any progress as of 2013.[3]

In 2014, China received an E out of possible grades A, B, C, D, E, F, G on World Animal Protection's Animal Protection Index.[4]


Several traditional Chinese worldviews emphasize caring for animals, including Taoism and Buddhist vegetarianism.[1] Taoist Zhuang Zhou taught compassion for all sentient beings.[6]

In more recent times, Prof. Peter J. Li suggests that many in mainland China have become possibly indifferent to animal suffering, because of Mao Zedong's campaigns against bourgeois sentiments, such as "sympathy for the downtrodden".[1] Caring about animals was regarded as "counter-revolutionary".[7] Since 1978, China has emphasized growth and avoidance of famine, which the government considers important for political stability. Local officials have often been evaluated based on local jobs and revenue. This, Li claims, has led to less concern for animal welfare. However, he also notes that the younger generation who are not so influenced by the past ideology and hardship during the time are generally far more sensitive to suffering, including those of animals.[1]

Animals used for food[edit]


Livestock farming has grown exponentially in China in recent years, such that China is now "the world's biggest animal farming nation".[8] In 1978, China collectively consumed 1/3 as much meat as the United States. By 1992 China had caught up, and by 2012, China's meat consumption was more than double that of the U.S.[9]

A 2005-2006 survey by Prof. Peter J. Li found that many farming methods that the European Union is trying to reduce or eliminate are commonplace in China, including gestation crates, battery cages, foie gras, early weaning of cows, and clipping of ears/beaks/tails.[1] Livestock in China may be transported over long distances, and there are currently no humane-slaughter requirements.[1]

Marine animals in a market in Hainan Province, China

Almost 3/4 of China's meat is pork, and China's 476 million pigs comprise half of the world's pig population.[9] China produces 37 million tons of farmed fish—more than 60% of the world's total.[9] In 2017, one of the country's largest agricultural producers, Da Bei Nong, signed an agreement with the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Warfare to improve the quality of life for its millions of pigs through increased roaming space and better flooring. A 2016 survey from the committee also suggests that two thirds of Chinese shoppers would pay more for pork that had been treated well while another one from the World Animal Protection indicated that almost 90% of respondents would be willing to change their purchasing habits for pork from pigs that had lived better lives.[10][11]

Controversial practices and incidents[edit]

In 2008, more than 40 animal activists in Beijing gathered to protest skinning and cooking live cats in Guangdong province.[12] A 2010 article featuring content from Tiexue and Mop news sources showed pictures of skinned cats being submerged in boiling water.[13]

The 2010 documentary San Hua by Guo Ke is the first to depict China's cat-meat industry. In one scene, Guo and fellow activists stop a transport truck and find "more than 300 cats crammed into cramped wooden cages, unable to move"—some missing tails and others "crushed into unconsciousness". In another scene at Fa's Cat Restaurant, Guo used a hidden camera to film cooks beating cats with a wooden stick, dumping them into a fur-removal machine, and then boiling them. The footage included a cook claiming that worse treatment of the cats improved the taste, claiming that "the blood gets into the meat and tastes delicious".[14]

Pictures have also circulated featuring two dogs in boiling water in China. It is claimed that this is because some locals prefer the taste of adrenaline-soaked meat.[citation needed] Growing publicity around such incidents, as well as increasing pet ownership, has led to disapproval of the dog and cat meat trade amongst most surveyed Chinese[15][16], with supply and demand of those markets on a steady decline.[17]

Yin Yang fish involves deep-frying fish while it is still alive. The practice has been condemned by animal-rights activists. Many chefs in Taiwan are no longer willing to prepare it, but according to the defunct China Post, it has been popular in mainland China.[18] In 2009, a video of diners consuming this dish went viral on YouTube and provoked an outcry from PETA.[19]

Some food markets in China include live animals, such as live scorpions.[20]

Non-meat farming[edit]

Bile bears[edit]

A black bear inside a "crush cage" made for bile extraction.

China farms about 10,000 Asiatic black bears for bile production—an industry worth roughly $1.6 billion per year.[1] The bears are permanently kept in cages, and bile is extracted from cuts in their stomachs.[1] In Jan. 2013, Animals Asia Foundation rescued six bile bears, which had broken and rotted teeth due to gnawing at their cages.[21]

Jackie Chan and Yao Ming have publicly opposed bear farming.[21][22][23] In 2012, over 70 Chinese celebrities took part in a petition against an IPO application by Fujian Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Co. due to the company's selling of bear-bile medicines.[24] In 2013, the company pulled its IPO application.[25]

According to Jill Robinson, over 1,000 Chinese medicine stores have committed to not selling bear bile, but this compares with over 40,000 such shops in all of China.[26] A 2016 online survey indicated that 98% of the Chinese respondents regarded the bile farming as cruel, with 90% saying they would never use or buy the product and 84% supporting an outright ban.[27] It was also reported on Tencent back in 2011 that online opinion polls generally had 90% of respondents supporting the elimination of bear farming.[28]


China is the biggest fur-producing nation. Dr. Peter Li noted that as of 2012, fur animals are sometimes beaten to death with sticks on small farms and there were instances where animals have been skinned alive.[1] However, he also noted that the Chinese government had been working to standardize slaughtering procedures.

In Nov. 2013, PETA released a video of a live angora rabbit in northeastern China having its fur torn off. The video received 200,000 views on China's video site Youku within a month and prompted UK retailers like Primark and Topshop to stop imports from China of products using angora wool.[29]

Animal testing[edit]

In 2006, China issued the Guidelines on the Humane Treatment of Laboratory Animals. These guidelines mention, for the first time in China's formal policy and regulations, the words "animal welfare".[30] This regulation was issued in addition to other laboratory animal-related policies in China like the 1988 Statute on the Administration of Laboratory Animals, 1997 Laboratory Animal Development Program for the Ninth Five-Year Plan, the 2005 Guidelines on Beijing Municipality on the Review of Welfare and Ethics of Laboratory Animals.[31] Unlike the 1988 Statute on the Administration of Laboratory Animals which focuses solely on controlling the quality of the laboratory animals being tested on, the Guidelines on the Humane Treatment of Laboratory Animals officially expands into the realm of animal welfare and protection through addressing problems in procurement, husbandry, environmental conditions, experimental usage and transportation.[30]

A particular focus that the Guidelines on the Humane Treatment of Laboratory Animals has is on animal suffering. Concerning the level of pain that laboratory animals feel during the experimental process, the Guidelines require that pain and panic be inflicted as little as possible. Pain relief medication and anesthesia must be prescribed to laboratory animals undergoing procedures like surgery and dissection.[30] When the animal is deemed unusable for further testing, the Guidelines also require that the lives of the animals be ended humanely.[30]

Many scientists like Jianfei Wang, the director of laboratory animal science at GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development Center in China, maintain that China has made considerable progress to work towards animal protection and welfare, especially considering that the concept of laboratory animal science did not exist in China until the late twentieth century.[32] According to Wang, international collaboration with research institutions have brought animal welfare concepts from abroad back to China.[32] Additionally, as China gets more involved in international trade, there are many pressures placed on China throughout the world over concerns for animal welfare and protection. For example, organizations like PETA were instrumental with stopping a shipment research primates from Chinese laboratories to Los Angeles, the U.S.'s largest port of entry for research primates.[33] Major airlines such as Air China and China Eastern Airlines have also joined in on the global challenge of stopping laboratory tests on animals like primates and rodents.[33] China's entry in the World Trade Organization could also be stymied if adequate progress is not made towards pressuring Chinese laboratories to follow international regulations for laboratory animal welfare.

China has also felt domestic pressures to give laboratory animals more protection. In 2007, a photo taken by Li Feng depicting captive primates in cages waiting to be tested on won prizes in the economy and science categories in the China International Press Photo Contest.[30] Such glimpses into the conditions that laboratory animals in China are subject to have sparked outrage amongst the Chinese population and cries for further reform.

Despite foreign and domestic pressures, the country still uses, on average, about 12 to 13 million laboratory animals every year, with many being used towards making advances in drug and medical discovery.[30][33] Because international research institutions and companies face strict laws regarding ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals, many of these institutions and companies look towards China as the place to outsource animal testing and as a market for buying research animals.[30]

However, some animals are also being tested for cosmetic purposes as well. China has a $32 billion beauty market, and over 300,000 animals are thought to be used each year for required product tests.[34] China is the only major buyer where mascaras and lotions need to be tested on animals.[34]

"Our R&D isn't as sophisticated, and the consumer here doesn't think as much about ideals such as animal testing. They care about the price, the brand, and the product."

Xu Jingquan, secretary general at the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, Beauty Culture & Cosmetics Chamber[34]

In 2013, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) relaxed its testing requirements by allowing Chinese companies to verify safety using data from overseas tests, including non-animal tests. Foreign companies are still required to perform animal testing, but Humane Society International was hopeful about further humane reforms to come.[26]

On 30 June 2014, CFDA eliminated its requirement for animal testing of "ordinary cosmetics" like shampoos and some skin-care items as long as companies provided alternative data showing safety. This change does not extend to imported cosmetics or to "any special-use products, including hair dyes and sunblocks".[35]

Some animal tests are likely to continue for now even on exempt products because some testers do not have the technology for alternative in vitro methods. Animal activists were excited by the announcement, and over 50 of them took to the streets of Dalian in northeastern China to celebrate, wearing bunny ears.[35]

Current regulations already required groups conducting research on live animals to procure a permit from the authorities, however so far few if any facilities have been punished for animal welfare and ethics violations. A rising number of multinational pharmaceutical companies are outsourcing their animal testing to China, in part due to pressure from animal rights groups in their home countries.[36]


According to Prof. Peter J. Li, a few Chinese zoos are improving their welfare practices, but many remain "outdated", have poor conditions, use live feeding, and employ animals for performances.[1] Safari parks have fed live sheep and poultry to lions as a spectacle for crowds.[5]

There have been times in which local and international online pressure have prompted zoos to improve their animals' conditions voluntarily.[37] Organizations such as the Animals Asia Foundation have frequently worked with zoos to improve housing and enrichment programs for their animals, as well as spread education to public awareness. Recent major examples including Grandview Aquarium (2016)[37] the closing of the Hanoi Zoo Animal Circus (2016),[38] and various campaigns backed and publicized by the Beijing Zoo.[39]

Other animal-rights issues[edit]

In Beijing, vendors sell fish, turtles, and amphibians as key rings and mobile-phone decorations. This practice has received condemnation both within China and overseas. Animal-rights activists condemn the practice because the animals may run out of air and die quickly, and they may also pose hazards to human health.[40][41]

Animal activism in China[edit]

Ideas of animal welfare and animal rights were further introduced to mainland China in the early 1990s.[42]

"In many ways, the animal welfare movement in China is maturing far faster than it ever did in the West."

Jill Robinson[2]

China's animal-protection movement is growing,[42] particularly among young people,[43] especially those in urban areas and on the Internet.[7] International NGOs played some role in igniting China's animal movement, but local groups are increasingly taking over.[23]

China is home to 130 million dogs, mostly pets.[1] As China becomes wealthier, more people are owning pets, which increases opposition to animal cruelty.[44] In April 2012, activists rescued 505 dogs that were headed to slaughter from a truck where they had endured harsh conditions.[44]

Chinese activists prevented introduction of a bullfighting project in 2010 and rodeos in 2011.[1] Activists have pre-empted a foie gras factory, ended live feeding in zoos, and rescued thousands of dogs and cats from being killed for meat.[2] Vegetarian restaurants are increasing, though partly because of fashion rather than ethics.[5]

A 2011 survey of about 6000 Chinese found that while about 2/3 of respondents had never previously heard of "animal welfare", 65.8% expressed at least partial support of animal-welfare laws (while 81.6% found them necessary in another question), and more than half said they were fully or partially willing to pay more for humane animal products.[45] Two surveys back in 2002 and 2003 of Chinese college students also found that respectively 95% and 93.7% of them philosophically supported animal protection work, although only 48.2 and 51% of them were planning to actively participate.[46]

Tsinghua University professor Zhao Nanyuan argues that animal rights represents a form of Western imperialism ("foreign trash") that is "anti-humanity". He argues that animals are not sentient and therefore don't have rights. He encourages China to learn from the example of South Koreans who refused Western protests of its dog-meat traditions.[47]

Critics have pointed out that while non-human animals are not as advanced in their needs and desires as humans, they do share some basic needs, such as food, water, shelter and companionship.

Some claim that it is contradictory for the U.S. to condemn China's mistreatment of animals while engaging in its own forms of animal cruelty. Chinese animal-welfare groups censured an American-style rodeo, as well as Jackie Chan's support for it. One Chinese commenter said of Chan: "You made a video about the protection of bears, and now you're promoting the mistreatment of cattle, it's a massive contradiction. Brother Chan, you've hurt me deeply."[48]

See also[edit]


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