Culture of Cruelty? Attitudes Towards Animals in China
I came across this article today while looking for news articles on the Moon Bear: the article describes an extremely brutal act of violence against two Tibetan mastiffs that happened to stray into the city of Shijiazhuang from an outlying village.
Apparently local by-laws made the dogs presence in the city illegal; mastiffs are considered dangerous by the local population and upon their discovery the two dogs were chased down by a mob of 100 or so individuals, including 40 security guards and 20 police officers. The dogs were shot at repeatedly, had projectiles launched at them and then finally bludgeoned to death with spades. Regardless of the law and the fear that the mastiffs may have evoked this was obviously an excessively cruel reaction on the part of the city’s inhabitants. You can read the full news article here.
How does this relate to the Moon Bear? Reflecting on the article, I couldn’t help but wonder about local attitudes towards animals, more generally. Doing some research, I found an interview with Peter J. Li, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown and author of Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation (University of Chicago Press, 2013). An expert on China (and a former Chinese citizen), Peter has a number of insights into the state of animal rights in the country. He points out the obvious disconnect between contemporary Chinese attitudes towards animals/non-human life and Buddhist and Daoist philosophies, two of the most historically predominant religions in Chinese society. Both of these spiritual traditions advocate practices such as vegetarianism and promote compassionate attitudes towards all living creatures. In the following excerpt, Peter explains the shift in attitude in terms of a changing political and economic landscape:
You can read the rest of the interview here. The crux of the matter, at least according to Dr. Li, appears to be an attitude towards animals as economically valuable objects rather than living beings. That being said, I can’t help but feel that seemingly pointless acts of violence and cruelty such as the dog slaying described at the beginning of my post can’t be explained in terms of economics. What value could there possibly have been in ruthlessly killing the two mastiffs? They weren’t consumed as food afterwards and the angry mob of 100 Chinese citizens speaks to a deeper fear or hatred of animals that transcends the desire for sustenance.
[Food] for thought.