The Rise of China’s Animal Activists

01 May 2014

Emily Jeffery is 21 years old and currently in her final year at university in the UK. She is studying for a degree in Media and Communication, specialising in Journalism.

Animal welfare is an issue very close to Emily’s heart. In the future she plans to actively use her writing skills to raise awareness and aid the fight against animal cruelty.

We were delighted to give her the opportunity to learn more about our work and also to publish her work on our website.  We wish her well in her chosen career.


China animal rights slogan

By Emily Jeffery

It seems these days that it is impossible to turn on the television or log onto the internet without being subjected to increasingly graphic images of suffering animals in Asia.

The West has come to the conclusion that this unimaginable cruelty experienced by our fellow living creatures is an aspect of Asian culture.

However, something is stirring in China and has been for some time. More and more Chinese citizens are choosing to turn their backs on the meat, fur, and medicine trades that are responsible for so much suffering - determinedly working together towards a more compassionate future.

In addition to voicing their opposition to cruel industries, increasing numbers of people in China now share their homes with companion animals and appreciate them for the love and friendship they provide.

Euijae Jo, 21, a self- proclaimed animal lover in China, believes that the increase in number of Chinese citizens with companion animals is a big step forward for the animal welfare movement in Asia.

“I’m a softie when it comes to animals, especially dogs. I have a one-year-old long coat Chihuahua. There’s been a big change in attitudes towards animals recently, particularly among young people like me. We choose to keep companion animals as pets and I definitely think we show them more compassion than previous generations”

The number of young Chinese citizens rising up against animal oppression is undeniably on the increase with many using the campaign slogan: “food is plentiful our animal friends are few”.

While the growing concern for animal welfare in China has seen rapid growth in recent times, there are individuals and organisations that have been leading the fight for animal welfare in Asia for decades. These are the true unsung heroes of China’s animal activism, people who have devoted their lives to implementing change not just through lobbying governments for new policies, but also through working with members of the public on a grass roots level in order to change the way they think about and appreciate animals.

Animals Asia has been at the forefront of the campaign to end cruelty to animals in Asia for more than fifteen years.

Despite the growing number of reports revealing the cruel treatment of animals in Asia, Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson has witnessed a significant rise in the number of Chinese citizens showing concern for animal welfare.

“The issue of animal welfare in China has exploded in the last 5-10 years. When I first began working in the country from 1985 there was one welfare group in Beijing and now there are over 100 spread across virtually every province. 

“Today, we work with these groups in conferences, welfare initiatives, workshops and training programmes to give a voice to wild and companion animals and provide a convincing argument as to why they should no longer be exploited as entertainment, ‘medicine’ or food.”

For more than 20 years, Jill has been working to end bear bile farming in Asia. When hearing endless horror stories about the widespread cruelty inflicted on bears on such a mass level, it would be easy to imagine that any attempts to change it would be futile. But as Jill describes the work that she and others at Animals Asia have devoted to changing awareness and lobbying the government, it is clear that the country has come a long way.

Jill is positive that with continued efforts from Animals Asia and the Chinese public, the barbaric practise of bear bile farming will become nothing more than a shameful part of the nation’s past.

“Bear bile farming is now a major issue - especially in China.  Even though legal here, the public are becoming more aware of this hideous practice, and understanding that it is not only caging and killing the bears in huge numbers, but potentially harmful to people too.  The bile of these sick and diseased animals produce is ghastly and oozing with contaminants - which see over 30% of them eventually dying of liver cancer. Shameful when one acknowledges that herbs and synthetics are cheap and easy alternatives to replace bear bile.”

Charitable organisations are not the only ones working to care for China’s abused animals. Many older citizens are now choosing to devote their lives to caring for stray and abandoned animals that might otherwise starve to death on the streets.

China’s burgeoning animal welfare movement has been growing in both strength and numbers over the last few years and has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Activists have been successful in preventing blood sports and entertainment involving the cruel treatment of animals, from taking place.

After so many years of animal oppression, many are questioning why the issue of animal welfare has suddenly arrived in China. Peter Li PHD, an associate professor of East Asian politics at the University of Houston and Chinese policy expert at Humane Society International, argues that the western perception of eastern culture may be less accurate than some might think.

“There are a lot of people in the West who see the problem inaccurately. But, they are not to blame. We cannot expect every Westerner to be a China expert, right? Yes, China has a massive animal abuse problem.

“First, China has perhaps the world's biggest number of animals. It is the world's leader in livestock farming. More farm animals are raised in China for food. And, we know concentrated animal farming is intrinsically cruel to farm animals. So, China stands out numerically in animal abuse. It is not because of Chinese national character that causes the mistreatment of animals on the farm - it is rather the modern animal agriculture that China introduced from the West that is responsible for the massive suffering in the concentrated farming units. Therefore, blaming the Chinese for cruelty to farm animals is not entirely fair.

“Second, China did have a tradition of wildlife eating. Yet, this eating habit was never part of the mainstream Chinese diet, still less a dietary culture of the ordinary Chinese people. Wildlife eating was traditionally confined to the border regions of China in the South. It was food of the so-called ‘southern barbarians.’ ‘Foods from the mountains and seas’ were affordable by the rich and powerful in the past, still inaccessible for the commoners. Wildlife eating today and its associated abuse of wildlife animals, farmed or wild-caught, are not part of the mainstream Chinese culinary culture but for-profit acts promoted by the businesses.

“Third, a very important factor, Chinese over the age of 50 had life experience in one of the darkest periods in Chinese history. How can we expect people over the age of 50, in general, to be sympathetic to the biggest disadvantaged group of all, namely non-human animals? These people lived through hardship, witnessed brutality to other fellow humans, they are the most desensitized group in mainland China.”

Mr Li also points out that historically Chinese culture may not have been as synonymous with desensitivity and cruelty to animals as we have come to believe.

“China has a tradition of compassion for animals, unknown to many both in China and outside.

“China has a Daoist and Buddhist tradition that calls for compassion for nonhuman animals”

Mr Li remains positive that with the continued education of the younger generation, the future for animal welfare in China is bright:

“The younger generation is more acceptable to ideas of compassion for animals. This is, unlike their parent’s generation, the young people have limited experience of hardship. The younger generation is not desensitized”

With more and more of China’s citizens, both young and old, learning to appreciate wild and domesticated animals for their individual importance outside of human use, more change seems to be on the horizon.