A date has been set for this year's Yulin Dog Meat Festival, an annual summer solstice festival in Southern China during which an estimated 10,000 dogs are killed and consumed, along with lychees. The announcement that the festival will commence on June 21 represents a massive blow to animal-rights organisations all over the world who came together this year in a concerted effort to stop what they see as a celebration of animal cruelty.
Global outrage around the festival is nothing new, but as China becomes more developed and more and more Chinese people begin to see dogs as pets, the festival has come under attack from animal lovers within China as well. In fact, the climate has become so tense that even Yulin's local government has made statements distancing itself from the proceedings.
This year, many activists have drawn attention to a recent report that shows that the majority of the dogs eaten in China are actually stolen companion dogs, or dog-napped strays. Whereas other Asian countries that eat dog meat have large-scale, commercial dog farms—like South Korea, for example—China doesn't have any of these facilities, raising serious questions about where the thousands of dogs sold in Yulin every year come from.
Supporters of the dog meat bacchanal say that eating dog is an important part of China's cultural heritage—dog has been enjoyed as a delicacy in China for at least 400 years. Animal rights groups purport that as many as 10 million dogs are consumed in China every year. But Yulin's dog meat festival was just started in 2010, with many of its participants arguing that dog meat is an important local tradition and has proven health benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, dog meat is seen as a "cooling" food and a cure for impotence.
The festival's detractors say that China has outgrown the practice and that the treatment of the dogs at the festival is cruel; pictures from the festivities are often very graphic. They also point out that far from having health benefits, butchering and eating dogs can actually lead to the spread of rabies.
As passionate as animal rights activists have become, everyone agrees that the dog meat festival will only end when public views about animal welfare and medicine change in China. Increasingly, it looks like that time may be just around the corner.