Restaurateurs in the southern Chinese town of Yulin held an annual dog meat festival Monday despite international criticism of the event as cruel and unhygienic.
The Yulin government distanced itself from the festival and announced new restrictions, but eateries reached by telephone reported brisk business during the event ostensibly held to mark the summer solstice.
Restaurant owners say eating dog meat is traditional during the summer, while animal rights activists say the festival has no cultural value and was merely invented to drum up business.
Protesters forcibly dispersed
Protesters who unfurled banners outside the Yulin government headquarters were rounded up and forcibly dispersed by unidentified men.
The campaigners held signs reading "Crack Down on Illegal Dog Meat Trade" and "Punish Illegal Dog Transport", but the banners were quickly torn out of their hands.
As many as 10 million dogs are killed for food annually in China, with up to 10,000 killed for the Yulin festival, according to the US-based charity Humane Society International.
Adam Parascandola, director of animal protection and crisis response at the organisation, said he and Chinese activists had witnessed dogs being maltreated in a Yulin slaughterhouse on Sunday morning."A man would go in the cage with a club and just start clubbing the dogs, just beating them and beating them, not killing them at that point ... the dogs are screaming and trying to get away and it's really heartbreaking."
A customer holds a puppy for viewing at Dashichang dog market ahead of a local dog meat festival in Yulin. (Reuters Photo)
He said he was struck by "the huge variety of breeds" of live dogs, delivered on the backs of scooters and trucks, on sale at a market. "I saw a Dalmatian and a chow and many dogs wearing collars that indicated the likelihood they were stolen pets," he said.
Apparently concerned about the adverse publicity, the local government disavows any ties to the event, issuing a statement saying it did not officially sponsor or promote the festival.
It said authorities would tightly control public order and punish any incidents of stealing or poisoning dogs. Traders would no longer be permitted to slaughter dogs in public, place carcasses on display or serve meals outdoors, it said.
Despite such restrictions, restaurant owners said the festival continued to attract enthusiasts for the dish.
"Eating dog meat is a local tradition, it has nothing to do with the local government," said a receptionist at the Longmen Dog Meat Restaurant reached by phone.
Saved From the Cooking Pot
Activists, who say the festival is cruel, have in the past travelled to the city to hold demonstrations, sometimes buying dogs to save them from the cooking pots.
One animal lover, Yang Xiaoyun, reportedly paid about 7,000 yuan (US$1,100) to save around 100 dogs in the southern city of Yulin.
Parascandola said he had met people who had traveled to Yulin to try and save dogs by buying them, but that the festival was proving popular and there were lines outside many of the restaurants as people waited for seats.
A petition on Change.org calling for the end to the festival illustrated with a photo of a dog weeping tears of blood in front of a Chinese flag garnered more than 3.8 million signatures by Monday afternoon.
This year the festival has also been targeted by British comedian Ricky Gervais, who posted a series of messages on Twitter with the hashtag "StopYuLin2015".