“Many Chinese scientists are more opposed to animal protection than the general public.”
NewsChina talks to Jiang Jinsong, associate professor of the Institute of Science, Technology and Society of Tsinghua University and one of China’s most prominent animal rights activists
For years, apart from lecturing on courses including Philosophy of Science, Natural Dialectics and the Philosophical Trends of Western Postmodernism, Jiang Jinsong has chaired a forum at Tsinghua University entitled “Animal Ethics and the Culture of Protection for Living Beings.”
In Jiang’s point of view, animal activists in China lack the theoretical knowledge system to effectively champion animal protection. Instead, he argues, there is undue focus on “rescuing” animals or launching uncoordinated single-issue campaigns. He believes these tactics are fruitless as, in his own words, “academics, grounded in theory, do not care about animal welfare.”
Jiang’s aim, therefore, is to establish a forum as a platform to exchange information and create the theoretical knowledge base to truly create a focused movement to support animal welfare. He has also invited dozens of researchers and animal rights activists to Tsinghua to give lectures.
The Saturday afternoon on July 13, NewsChina caught up with Jiang after he led a group of students in a memorial for the recently-deceased informal mascot of the Tsinghua University Library, a stray known as Curator who was allegedly tortured to death.
NewsChina: Is the root cause of animal abuse the same in China as elsewhere?
Jiang: Yes, there is animal abuse in other parts of the world, however, the only difference between China and many other countries or regions is legislation. For example, in Taiwan, abusing a dog can land you with a seven-year prison sentence. Nobody would dream of abusing an animal in public. In Chinese mainland, however, animal abusers might even brag about their cruelty online. As long as there are no laws restricting this behavior, it is hard to control.
NC: Along with the boom in domestic animal rights NGOs and rising awareness among the general public, the incidence of animal abuse also seems to have risen. Why do you think this is?
Jiang: Animal abuse can be profitable. There are commercial pornographic websites depicting animal abuse. Without an animal protection law, China can easily become an ethical low pressure zone, feeding the global demand for animal cruelty. For example, animal testing has been strictly controlled in many countries, so Yunnan [Province] has stepped up to fill demand.
Another example is the dog meat trade. Only a few places in China used to have this tradition. Now, driven by the market economy and the obvious profits, other places have established dog meat festivals simply to draw revenue.
Animal NGOs can reflect the animal welfare awareness among the general public. Yet the problem they face, like most Chinese NGOs, is that 95 percent of them cannot officially register, thus making them unable to receive donations.
NC: Is it true that the campaign to introduce animal protection legislation in China has struggled?
Jiang: A nationwide animal welfare law is difficult to pass. However, it is possible to create similar laws at the local level. One county in Hebei has already banned the selling of dog meat. In my opinion, Beijing, which authorities call China’s ‘top philanthropist,’ can and should be the first to regulate animal protection as an example to the rest of the country.
The Ministry of Agriculture issued a circular on April 22 requesting local governments strengthen quarantine regulations applied to cats and dogs. The regulation requires all domestic dogs and cats to be quarantined prior to transportation, with serious punishments for violators. Why can’t this be turned to combat the illegal cat and dog meat trade?
NC: To raise awareness of animal welfare, which is more important, education or legislation?
Jiang: In China, law is very important in regulating human behavior. However, it is still a short-term solution. Academics need to be patient in educating and enlightening people, so I think both are equally important.
NC: Does China lack a culture of animal protection?
Jiang: Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, the three pillar philosophies of China, all emphasize husheng - protection for living beings. Devout Buddhists and Taoists also practice vegetarianism in line with this principle. Historically, even ordinary people traditionally were vegetarian on the first and fifteenth day of the lunar month, as a mark of respect to living things. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in particular, during important festivals or if a natural disaster struck, animal slaughter would be halted for similar reasons.
Confucianism is less explicit, yet it does advocate a “live and let live” philosophy of virtue which warns against excessive animal slaughter out of ecological concerns. Confucians would often refrain from slaughtering animals in spring and summer, as these were the key times for breeding and bearing new life.
Since our traditional culture was lost, these traditions have been largely abandoned. At the same time, the concept of animal rights as it is broadly understood in the West has yet to fully permeate the Chinese mindset. As a result, China lags behind most of the world in its attitude to animal protection.
NC: There are rooster fighting and dog fighting traditions in China. Is this just another face of animal cruelty?
Jiang: Yes, such traditions have existed throughout history. However, in traditional society, they have always been perceived as barbaric “street cultures” despised by the intelligentsia. The same attitudes were formed towards eating dog meat, which has never been a mainstream practice.
NC: How do you perceive the general public’s awareness of animal welfare?
Jiang: As people’s own lives have improved, their attitudes have changed. More people keep pets and there are signs of a revival of traditional culture, as well as increasingly positive influences from the transmission of Western culture.
Yet every step forward often comes with a step back, such as the recent crackdown on large dog ownership in Beijing. One particular area I want to address is the lack of respect afforded to animals in the scientific community. To my mind, many Chinese scientists are more strongly opposed to animal welfare than the general public.
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