Five things you need to know about the Nem Thuong Pig Slaughter Festival

24 January 2017

Morning procession around Nem Thuong village, 2015

How a campaign to save a pig in Vietnam changed a country, but the fight to save the pig continues.

1/ What is the Nem Thuong Pig Slaughter festival?

In the northern village of Nem Thuong, in Bac Ninh province, Lunar New Year – which this year falls on January 28 – is celebrated with the ritual slaughter of two pigs. The animals are tied up, painted and paraded round the town before being killed so that local villagers can dip money in the blood to receive luck for the new year.

Supporters claim the event has long been a tradition in the village with the ritual celebrating the victory of a 13th century general who slaughtered pigs to feed his army after a battle.

Money would be rubbed in the pig's blood to procure good fortune for the New Year, 2016

2/ Animals Asia’s supporters shone a light on the cruelty

In 2014, almost 30,000 Animals Asia supporters across the world signed a petition to end the animal cruelty inherent in the festival.

The petition became a sensation in Vietnam with every major news outlet debating the issue and following the story’s every turn.

3/ Vietnamese people agree – it has to end 

Reaction against the festival was overwhelming within Vietnam. One newspaper poll put opposition for the event at 79% while senior politicians including the Prime Minister and Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism have condemned the festival.

Debate gripped the coffee shops and internet message boards – alongside the cruelty involved, it was a debate in a fast-changing country between what was becoming to be seen as old and traditional by the young, increasingly urban population.

That young population was looking to the future and did so with the knowledge that Vietnam was no longer isolated and instead now relied on world trade and tourism. It knew that the world was watching and it knew what was happening should be consigned to the past.

4/ Change has already begun – animal lives are being saved

The uproar caused by the Nem Thuong festival has already changed the country. In 2015, the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism demanded that all “out-dated” and “uncivilised” festivals throughout the country cease immediately, and a regulation enforcing the order came into affect on 5 February 2016.

So far this demand has seen four so-called “buffalo stabbing” and three buffalo fighting festivals halted.

Beyond this – the debate has raised understanding of animal welfare to new levels. When online posters asked “but what about the pigs killed for food?” – that was a question entirely worth asking and answering.  The use and abuse of animals for festivals and food were being considered.

But to date, the Nem Thuong organisers have remained defiant. While the most brutal part of the spectacle has been stopped – with the animal no longer being chopped in half in front of spectators, but instead slaughtered in private – the pigs are still tied up and paraded around the village with the noise of drums adding to their stress and anxiety.

Animals Asia has made it clear – more needs to be done.

5/ All eyes are on Nem Thuong, this Lunar New Year

Having become the most notorious festival in the country, all eyes will be on Nem Thuong this year. The event has become a litmus test for central government’s ability to enforce its will with the order to stop the animal cruelty issued by central government, but provincial Bac Ninh government responsible for enforcing it.

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said:

“The defiance from the Nem Thuong organisers is well known and everyone is watching what they – and the provincial government – will do this year. The government and people are unanimous in their opposition so it is just a matter now of stopping a village from carrying out its own agenda. Obviously, Animals Asia is not opposed to the wider festival – we believe it should go ahead – but the cruelty to animals must stop. It has no place in the modern Vietnam.”

Executioner preparing for the ritual