Hong Kong debate on animal sacrifice manages to miss the point

Thoughtless adherence to a tradition of animal sacrifice is blinding modern Hong Kong to the simple truth that animal lives deserve our respect. 

The big joke when Hong Kong City University opened their new Veterinary Medical Centre by ceremoniously chopping up two roast pigs was that they’d killed two animals before curing a single one.

The extreme irony of the ritual was a public relations disaster of course and the university responded by asking all departments not to allow “outdated” ceremonies to continue.

The backlash against the thoughtless adherence to tradition should have been expected of course because ending animal sacrifice as a form of celebration in a city as hyper-modern, wealthy, educated and developed as Hong Kong should be a no-brainer.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Instead there was a backlash against the backlash – and from some very unexpected sources.

The South China Morning Post is an excellent paper, but its coverage of the story seemed to miss the fundamental points.

They described the decision as “knee-jerk” and “bowing to the tyranny of the minority”.

In an opinion piece, the editor Yonden Lhatoo wrote:

“I get it about catching up with the 21st century and getting rid of evil old customs, but we’re talking about eating roast pork here, not stoning gay people to death. It’s a tradition that has been practised and enjoyed for centuries or more by the Chinese, and dates back to ancient Sumerian and Egyptian times.”

But this debate isn’t about eating pork, it’s about sacrificing animals as part of celebrations under the guise of “tradition”.

In Vietnam we hear the same argument used to defend the Nem Thuong Pig Chopping Festival. Our exposure of the event caused a national outcry with the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism declaring all “outdated” festivals should end.

Nem Thuong pig chopping festival, Vietnam 2019

The Hong Kong tradition of roast pig carving ceremonies may be less gruesome but the basics are the same: an animal is killed to celebrate a human achievement and it is called tradition.

So here we are again, fighting “traditions” in which animals are killed as part of human celebrations, only this time we’re doing it surrounded by some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and biggest multinationals.

But what really proved the Post had missed the point of the debate was that they repeatedly asked this fundamentally wrong question:

“Should centuries-old, traditional roast pig-cutting ceremonies for special occasions be discouraged – even banned – in Hong Kong to appease animal lovers?”

The moral outcry from ordinary Hong Kongers and the university’s decision to stop the rituals has nothing to do with “appeasing animal lovers”. It is about respecting the lives and basic rights that the animals themselves deserve.

Just like us, pigs can live long, full lives

All animals are sentient. They have emotions, inner lives and absolutely no wish to die for our entertainment or celebrations. They have just one life which they cherish as dearly as we cherish our own.

The fact that so many Hong Kongers expressed disgust at the roast pig carving ceremony should not be a surprise.

In a society that recognises the need for greater morality and compassion, of course it is seen as outdated and cruel to kill an animal for a celebration.

Indeed, other prominent organisations in Hong Kong have already transitioned away from the thoughtless adherence to cruel traditions.

The Hong Kong Film Awards Association now use steamed cake instead of roast pig at their events.

Their reason for doing so, expressed by head of publicity, Bonnie Wong, was beautifully succinct:

“There is no point in killing pigs for fun.”

If there is one argument that resonates from this debate, let it be this one.

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