Come June 22 and the small city of Yulin, some 780 km southwest of the Chinese capital, comes alive with a food festival. But many people in China and around the world want this festival banned. The reason – dog meat is the main attraction on the menu.
Local residents say the practice of eating dog meat with lychee, a popular fruit in south China, is meant to welcome the summer solstice on June 22.
Eating dog meat isn't new to the people of Yulin. In fact, it is consumed every day.
However, activists say the practice was popularised in the 1990s when meat vendors found there was a huge profit to be made. The number of dogs eaten during each “dog meat festival” soon touched 10,000.
Dog meat is popular among the residents of Yunlin. (Photo: BillyHCKwok/Animal Asia )
In an investigation, the Cat and Dog Welfare wing of Animals Asia, China found no dog farms in Yulin. The organisation suspects that most of the meat served during the festival is derived from stolen dogs that are slaughtered without following any standards of food safety and other safe practices.
"The so-called festival was promoted by local authorities to boost the local economy and attract visitors to the city," said Carrot Chen, an animal rights activist with Animals Asia, China.
"A majority of dogs and cats sold in the food industry are either stolen from their owners or strays. Disease is rife among such animals and potentially harmful to the consumer."
A report in the Huaxi News said a dog was stolen by people in a van. After two days of searching restaurants and talking to local residents, Yang, the dog's owner found it in a slaughterhouse in Jianyang city of Sichuan province.
"It was hell. Dogs were all in very small metal cages piled up around. It was smelly and messy," Yang said. "I saw someone beating the dogs. They were too afraid to bark. They could only whimper."
Mr Yang with his dog, Congcong. (Photo: kaixin001website)
Like tiger claws and rhino horns, dog meat figures prominently in Chinese traditional cuisine. It is supposedly an aphrodisiac and some claim its medicinal value increases during the onset of the summer solstice.
So is the demand to halt the festival an attack on traditions?
"A tradition based on cruelty should not exist," Chen said. "The Chinese are capable of banning this just like they banned foot binding."
The sustained campaign against the festival has generated a positive response. Since 2013, the Yulin government has asked its staff to stay away from the festival and pasted posters encouraging the public to do the same.
In 2014, the number of dogs slaughtered during the festival fell to 2,000 from the average of 10,000.
This year, the campaign to ban the festival has taken to Twitter and other social media platforms.
Please do all you can to help #StopYulin2015 - a barbaric dog meat festival scheduled to take place in China later this month.— Tony Parsons (@TonyParsonsUK) June 2, 2015
— George Voskericyan (@GVoskericyan) June 2, 2015
has called on the Yulin city governor to ban the festival.
Activists feel there is a chance that the public can be convinced to abandon the dog meat festival. The growing Chinese middle class and a recognition of the dog as a companion is helping matters.
“Opposition to Yulin has grown remarkably in China in recent years. People have seen that change is possible after the Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival was abandoned in 2011 following widespread protests. If campaigners remain steadfast, then it will only be a matter of time before the Yulin festival is cancelled too,” said Irene Feng, director for Cat and Dog Welfare of Animals Asia, China.