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China's changing attitudes to animals

Subject: (CN/UK) China's changing attitudes to animals
Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

http://blogs. telegraph. peterfoster/ 100036849/ chinas-changing- attitudes- to-animals/

China's changing attitudes to animals

By Peter Foster  Last updated: April 28th, 2010

I think it is probably fair to say that Chinese people are less sentimental about animals than us Westerners.

However a conversation I had this week with a British animal welfare activist suggests that attitudes in China are changing fast in this respect.

Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia, a Chengdu-based organisation that rescues bears from the bile-farming industry, said she had detected a sea-change in the response to her campaigns in the two or three years.

One example she gave was a recent publicity stunt the organisation pulled in Chengdu, burning bear bile collected from local drugs stores with a lot of local support, including from officials  – something that she said was “unthinkable” even five years ago.

There was the famous incident of Hu Jintao intervening to stop the anti-rabies dog culls of 2007, but that was widely read as a response to international “outrage”, perhaps with one eye on China’s international image in the run up to the 2008 Olympics.

China is currently in the process of drafting its first animal protection law, although Beijing Legal Evening News reported in January that it had been ‘watered down’ after objections from the public that it was too stringent.

Perhaps the new traction that Ms Robinson and other animal rights groups are finding in China is a result of China’s increasing wealth – although there is still a constituency out there that says that animal welfare is something to worry about once human welfare has been attended to.

What’s more generally interesting from this trend is the growing understanding among campaigners in China – whether on animal welfare or, say, the environment – that public support and awareness is the essential tool for achieving their goals.

It is one of the paradoxes of China that the nexus of state power and vested economic interests is on the one hand incredibly strong, but on the other, crumbles amazingly quickly in the face of concerted attack by public opinion.

Surf the web in China and you can find daily incidents where an apparently “untouchable” developer, corrupt official, polluting business is suddenly rendered naked, as it were, by the collective outrage of the people.

No doubt such incidents are in a minority, but they do crystallize the fact that, for all their outward strength, China’s authorities fear nothing so much as the righteous indignation of the public.

Peter Foster
Peter Foster moved to Beijing in March 2009. He was formerly the Daily Telegraph's South Asia Correspondent based New Delhi from 2004-2008. He is married with three children.

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