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This Graphic Video of a Live Whale Shark Being Sawed Apart Is Pissing People Off

China has no anti-cruelty laws in place but a growing movement is calling for animal rights protections to be adopted.

by Aaron Cantú
Aug 13 2015, 6:40pm

Image via YouTube

A video of two fishermen on China's southern coast sawing through a live whale shark has elicited outrage among some in the nation, where a growing movement to recognize — and legislate — animal welfare is confronting a tradition of indifference. 

In the video, shot in the province of Guangdong, curious onlookers watch as workers slice the massive, wriggling fish into pieces like a stick of butter. At one point, children marvel as the blade bursts open one of the whale shark's internal organs, sending a surge of fluid into the air.

Since the footage began circulating in China last week, many online have expressed shock and revulsion at the callousness of the fisherman and the onlookers. 

To Peter Li, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston and a China policy consultant for the Human Society International, the video and accompanying reaction capture a nation in flux when it comes to cruelty to animals.

"[China] is divided between the people who are indifferent and people who care about animal rights," Li told VICE News. "The part of the Chinese public that is caring, that is compassionate, has grown exponentially in the last twenty years or so."

Li, who grew up in mainland China and has studied the nation's animal welfare challenges for the last 15 years, said an increasingly urban youth demographic is showing less tolerance for cruelty, rupturing Western stereotypes about Chinese attitudes toward animal welfare.

"There is widespread perception among Westerners that the Chinese are culturally programmed to animal cruelty," Li said. "It is not correct. When I grew up in China many years ago, there were many people, like me, who cared about animals. And it's grown since then."

In addition to changing demographics, animal activism in China has accelerated because of an a growing presence of international NGO's, including the World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, as well as increased exposure of abuses on social media, according to a 2013 article in the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals.

Still, Li said, China has no official laws regarding animal welfare. In terms of a legal framework, China lags far behind other industrial nations — by 193 years, to be exact, if you count Britain's 1822 Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act as the first law in modern times to safeguard animal welfare.

Related: American Trophy Hunters Pay Top Dollar for Lion Heads — but Asia Wants the Skeletons

Whale sharks, which are the world's largest fish, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

Given the absence of national legislation, Li points to other ways advocates in China can use the law to protect animals from horrific abuse. For example, China has welfare protection laws for children, and Li believes exposing young people to such brutality is a form of "psychological assault." 

Still, Li said, there is no substitute for robust anti-cruelty laws.

"China is a blank sheet of paper when it comes to laws prohibiting animal abuse," he told VICE News. "It needs to adopt anti-cruelty legislation as soon as it can."

Follow Aaron Cantú on Twitter: @aaronmiguel_

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VICE News
china
animal rights
animal welfare
fish
asia & pacific
animal cruelty
Whale Sharks