If you have a western concept of animal cruelty you will find these images extremely graphic and upsetting. Proceed at your own risk.
I'm in China now and everyday something reminds me how little we in the west actually know about this remarkable place. Many of the things we think we know are simply incorrect. Or unclear. Or incomprehensible from our perspective.
One of the questions about this country I've heard again and again is, "Do the Chinese eat dogs and cats?"
This topic is taboo in the western world as our dogs and cats are regarded as beloved members of the family and the thought of harming them in any way fills us with horror. Because of this, when the question comes up with the Chinese it's usually with some controversy. I've heard many different answers from people both here and living abroad.
"No, that's horrible! We keep them as pets, like you."
"Some do, but I don't!"
"Only in some provinces do they do that."
"We have a special kind of dog for eating."
"It's tasty. You should try it."
I realize I run the risk of being accused of cultural insensitivity by publishing these images and sharing my point of view. The answer to the above question is yes, dogs and cats are consumed in this country. Most Chinese, particularly the growing urban middle class, are very much against it but the reality is that the meat is readily available. But why when there is so much high quality meat from more "conventional" sources available. China has endured numerous horrific famines throughout its history and perhaps this practice is a vestige from more difficult times. Or maybe not. The average Chinese lives on less than 3000 USD per year so could equally be for economic reasons. It's with such ambiguity that this topic is even discussed.
I suppose it's really not much worse than the industrial rearing and slaughter of the animals we deem culturally acceptable to eat in the west. The main difference being you can't walk into a slaughterhouse in Texas and see how the sausage is made whereas here the death of living things is much more present. The brutal reality of where food comes from is something many in China are confronted with in a way that we're simply unaccustomed to in our part of the world.
In Guangxi Province is the beautiful mountain county of Yangshuo and in its capital, Guilin City, behind an unassuming entrance off the main road is the large central market. Here fresh vegetables from surrounding farms, fish and plants from the Li River, and local meat is sold.
The meat market is a large open arcade selling live animals, on-site killing and butchering, and various fresh cuts. Note meat sold in open markets in China is not refrigerated.
Beyond these meat counters are stalls containing various livestock.
You can pick out a bird and these folk will kill it, dress it, and chop it up for you. Now that's fresh chicken buddy!
Beyond the more pedestrian fare lies the real horror show. In the back of the building is an open room where live dogs and cats are killed, butchered, and their meat sold. Anyone walking by can clearly see what's going on.
Behind the pile of chopped up dog you'll notice stacks of crates holding live ones awaiting slaughter. The dogs sold at this market are definitely not bred for consumption. They are strays; homeless, desperately sick, and now subjected to one last bit of bad luck in finding themselves in this awful place.
These cats are barely alive. Dehydrated, malnourished, diseased, and now dinner. I'm no expert but having seen the level of pollution in Chinese cities no one should be eating any animal that's been surviving in these conditions.
If you're feeling peckish, you can even sample some of the cuisine right at the market.
Many Chinese do keep family dogs and you see plenty of loved and well cared for animals here.
After visiting here I began researching this topic extensively and started watching out for "香肉 xiāng ròu" or "Fragrant Meat" on menus throughout the country. Guangxi, the province in which the rural county of Yangshuo is in is actually famous for its dog meat consumption. The nearby town of Yulin is notorious for its annual Dog Meat Festival in observance of the summer solstice. Guangxi is one of China's several ethnic Autonomous Regions, home to the majority of the Zhuang people, China's most populous group behind the Han Chinese. While the inhabitants of this province, both Zhuang and Han, are well known for their love of "fragrant meat", this practice is by no means exclusive to this area. I've seen dog meat restaurants in at least 10 cities and towns between Hong Kong and Beijing.
"Reality" is relative to the culture of the observer. I find myself unable to shy away no matter how much something like this conflicts with my own values. I hate to end on a judgmental note but strong opinions are occasionally unavoidable. I find the practice of consuming dogs and cats to be uncivilized and inhumane. My western conditioning won't let me get beyond the sympathy I see in a dog's smart eyes.