The city of Shenzhen has banned the consumption of cats and dogs. This is unconnected to the efforts to bring COVID-19 under control. Instead, Shenzhen authorities have stated that this is the product of the “spirit of human civilization” because cats and dogs have a much closer bond with humans than other species. On the whole, the ban is an excellent example of the conflict between those who love said animals and those who consume said animals in China.
How Has the Perception of Cats and Dogs Changed Over Time In China?
A wide range of people in a wide range of places have been known to eat cats and dogs for one reason or another. For example, there are parts of Switzerland where people continue to eat both cats and dogs, which is possible because that country bans the commercial slaughter of said animals but not the slaughter of those same animals for the purpose of personal consumption. Likewise, there were a number of regions such as Mesoamerica and Polynesia that bred dogs for the purpose of consumption, which was presumably encouraged to a considerable extent by their lack of access to other domesticated animals. On top of this, it should be mentioned that people have been known to eat both cats and dogs under famine conditions even in countries where such practices are seen as taboo, with the result that such meats have picked up nicknames such as “blockade mutton.”
Based on this, it should come as no surprise to learn that the consumption of cats and dogs has very old roots in China. For instance, there is a record of King Goujian of Yue commanding that a dog as well as two urns of wine be given to families that have given birth to male offspring so that the mothers could recover their strength, which is rather remarkable because said individual lived in the 4th century BC. However, it would be a case of gross exaggeration to say that Chinese culture has never viewed cats and dogs in other lights.
After all, there is plenty of evidence for the ancient Chinese putting cats and dogs to the same uses as their counterparts throughout the rest of the world. For example, Chinese commoners are known to have used dogs for everything from home protection and pest control to hunting, though the latter became less and less common as more and more land was converted for agricultural use. Likewise, Chinese nobles are known to have kept dogs as pets, which is how a number of now extant dog breeds are supposed to have come into existence. Over time, while the consumption of cats and dogs remained common in rural regions, it became less and less so with the elite because of this as well as other influences.
Unfortunately, the perception of cats and dogs as companions in China took a serious hit in the second half of the 20th century. In short, what happened was that the Cultural Revolution banned dog ownership on the basis that it was associated with capitalist elites in the West, with the result that dog owners were subjected to public shaming or worse. On top of that, the 20th century was not exactly the best of times for either China or the Chinese people, which had a huge effect for the worse on Chinese attitudes on pet ownership as well as a wide range of other issues.
Since then, the economic liberalization of China has brought about a massive change in Chinese attitudes on pet ownership as well as a wide range of other issues. After all, the economic liberalization has produced a huge number of Chinese consumers with money to spend on non-essentials, with cats, dogs, and other pet animals being an excellent example. Moreover, some people have speculated that the One Child Policy provided a boost to Chinese pet ownership, which has remained strong in spite of the relaxation of said policy in 2013. As such, there is now a huge market for pets as well as pet-related merchandise in China, so much so that it hit close to $25 billion in 2018, which was a 27 percent increase when measured on a year-on-year basis.
Unfortunately, the benefits of economic liberalization have not been spread in an even manner throughout the whole of China. As a result, there is a huge gulf between those who have benefited and those who have either not benefited or not benefited as much, which isn’t even considering the cultural differences that had already existed between regions. For instance, the consumption of cats and dogs is more common in the province of Guangzhou where Shenzhen is situated as well as other parts of south-eastern China than in the north. Due to this, there have been clashes between people who want to eat cats and dogs and people who want to prohibit such practices, some of which have been notable enough for them to reach international news.
Still, the general trend on this topic is clear. The consumption of cats and dogs is becoming rarer and rarer in China thanks to popular pressure as well as the tightening of governmental regulation. Thanks to this, numerous restaurants that once served cats and dogs no longer serve cats and dogs in the present time. However, Shenzhen’s ban is nonetheless a significant step forward because it is the first of its kind in China, which makes sense because the city has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of things thanks to its status as a tech hub in not just China but also the rest of the world.
What Does This Mean For the Future?
It seems reasonable to speculate that other Chinese cities will implement similar regulation in the time to come. This is because the opposition to the consumption of cats and dogs is by no means limited to Shenzhen but can be found throughout the rest of China as well. However, it will be interesting to see how effective such measures will be at achieving their aims because enforcement is always a critical issue. Naturally, Shenzhen will serve as a test case for the rest of the country.