The consumption of dog “meat” is dividing the Chinese society into two camps. Is dog eating part of the mainstream food culture or is it a declining practice? With the help of a survey of 1,265 respondents in Yanji and Dalian, the study confirms different rates of acceptance regarding dog eating among the respondents by age, ethnicity, education, rural-urban residence status, and profession. Contrary to the belief that urbanization weakens traditional behaviors, our study found that Yanji, with its high urbanization rate, considers dog “meat” consumption to be acceptable. The local subculture appeared to be a strong intervening factor. Unlike Korean vegetable side dishes, dog “meat” is not a mainstream food choice in Yanji. The eating habit may continue for a long time if it is not banned. However, the decline of the eating habit seems irreversible.
China is a divided country because of the consumption of dog “meat” (Huang, 2015). Since the early 1990s when companion-animal keeping reappeared, eating dog “meat” has been a divisive issue. With the increase of families with companion animals, voices questioning dog eating have become louder. On April 12, 2011, a truck with 460 dogs bound for Northeast China’s dog “meat” market was intercepted by some 200 animal lovers (The Telegraph, 2011). Emboldened by this rescue, activists succeeded in shutting down the Jinhua Dog Meat Festival in eastern Zhejiang Province (Wong, 2011). Two years later, they gathered in Yulin of Guangxi to protest its Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, an event created in 2010 by the local dog “meat” traders. In January 2015, activists reported to the authorities two dog slaughterhouses in Yanji, an ethnic Korean city in Northeast China’s Jilin Province (Li, 2015).
The latest protest touched a sensitive nerve. Yanji’s dog “meat” traders and their supporters accused activists of launching an assault on the dietary tradition of the ethnic Koreans (Wu, 2015). They defended dog “meat” as a mainstream food of the majority of the local ethnic Koreans.1 This traditional food claim was powerful due to the locals’ ethnic identity with North Korea, the only country where dog “meat” was on the menu of state dinners for visiting foreign leaders (Zhang, 1998). In view of the contentious nature of dog “meat” consumption in Yanji and across the country, we set out to determine if dog “meat” consumption was popular in Yanji as the dog “meat” traders claimed.
Eating dog “meat” has a long history in China. It was a delicacy for the upper class in the Shang (1558-1046
The commercialization of dog eating is a relatively more recent development. Today, the country consumes 97,000 tons of dog “meat” a year (
A survey was therefore designed to invite the people of a major dog “meat” market to speak their minds. Yanji, in the country’s ethnic Korean region, was chosen for the study. We also conducted a parallel survey in Dalian to compare and contrast the Yanji survey results.
The consumption of dog “meat” in China is a new subject of academic interest. In recent years, studies on the legal status of dogs and cats as companion animals (Cao, 2015); ethical treatment of dogs (Bai, 2015; Ma, 2014); and vegetarianism and dog “meat” consumption (Jiang, 2014) have been published by Chinese scholars at home or abroad. As an eating habit confined to a small number of countries, dog “meat” consumption is practiced more by males who may use the eating habit for a particular political purpose (Avieli, 2011). The fact that dog meat consumption is more common in Asia seems to support the claim that cultural differences are “real,” and “less compromised,” namely more resistant to calls for change, than political or ideological differences despite elite efforts at cultural change and that the most fanatic defenders of cultural traditions are young people (Huntington, 1993). If we accepted this cultural view for looking at dog “meat” consumption in Asia, we would have difficulty explaining some of the revolutionary dietary changes in East Asia.
The choice of foods has been impacted by the evolution of human civilization (Arjamaa & Vuorisalo, 2010). Consumption of snakes, pangolin meat, bear paws, and tiger meat are either discouraged or outlawed in China. Not too long ago, tiger meat and bear paw were foods for the rich and powerful. Today, consuming these foods can be a career decimator for officials. East and Southeast Asians are believed to be lactose intolerant. The Chinese are embracing cow milk at a rate never seen in the past (Meyer, 2014). South Korea and Japan are two other East Asian countries whose peoples have adjusted to a diet with dairy products. Barely 30 years ago, the Chinese diet was composed of vegetables and wild plants (Gong & Seligman, 2011). In 2013, China produced 83 million tons of meat (
The Chinese diet is changing. Some eating habits left over from the past, either as mainstream or subcultural practices, still exist. How do we account for their existence in the 21st century? What could have divided the Chinese society into two camps, that is, people who oppose the consumption of dog “meat” versus those who consume or support it? Different attitudes toward nonhuman animals between the two groups might shed light on the conflict.
In 1980, Stephen R. Kellert (1980, pp. 87-119) published his study of American attitudes toward animals. He introduced 10 basic attitudes. These included naturalistic (love of wildlife and outdoors), ecologistic (concern for environment, wildlife species, and natural habitat), humanistic (love of pets), moralistic (concern for animal welfare and strong opposition to animal cruelty), scientific (interest in the attributes and behaviors of animals), aesthetic (interest in artistic and symbolic characteristics of animals), utilitarian (interest in the use value of animals to humans), dominionistic (satisfactions derived from control over animals), negativistic (active avoidance of animals due to dislike or fear), and neutralistic (passive avoidance of animals due to indifference and lack of interest) (Kellert, p. 89).
The most common attitudes among the Americans were the humanistic, moralistic, utilitarian, and negativistic. These four attitudes “can be subsumed under two broad and conflicting dimensional perceptions of animals” (Kellert, 1980, p. 89). In other words, the moralistic and utilitarian attitudes clash with each other on the question of human exploitation of animals. “The former opposes many exploitative uses of animals involving death and presumed suffering (e.g., hunting, trapping, whaling, and laboratory experimentation), while the latter endorses such utilization, or other human activities which might adversely affect animals, if significant human material benefits result” (Kellert, pp. 89-90). Similarly, the negativistic and humanistic attitudes tend to clash with each other too. “The relative popularity of these four attitudes in contemporary American society may suggest a dynamic basis for the conflict and misunderstanding often existing today over issues involving people and animals” (Kellert, p. 90).
Kellert’s findings are informative to our study. First, education impacted attitudes toward animals. Second, geographical locations of respondents, age, rural or urban residence, and occupation were contributing factors as well. Those who lived in highly urbanized New York, Chicago, California, and Seattle areas were less utilitarian. While the 18- to 35-year-olds were the most humanistic and moralistic, the 76-year-olds were the most utilitarian and negativistic. Third, companion-animal keeping seemed to contribute to positive attitudes towards animals though it may be more a catalyst for developing positive attitudes towards animals (Serpell & Paul, 1994). Fourth, differences in profession impacted attitudes. Cattlemen and sheep producers, mostly rural respondents, were the most utilitarian, least humanistic, and least moralistic. The humanistic-moralistic attitudes and the utilitarian-negativistic attitudes seemed to divide the 20th century
Who are the major consumer groups of dog “meat” in China? What are their demographic characteristics? Is dog “meat” a popular food in China? In 2013, a Chinese scholar conducted a preliminary survey of dog “meat” consumption in South China’s Guangxi.2 The study confirmed that dog “meat” consumption was not a mainstream local practice. Yet, it did not distinguish the dog “meat” consumers by age, profession, education, urban or rural residence status, and other demographic factors. In 2014, an unpublished survey of the dog “meat” market in Busan, South Korea, confirmed that dog eating was declining. Dog “meat” was consumed by a small percentage of the surveyed (24.4% of males and 10% of females). The group with people aged 50 and above had the highest percentage of dog eaters (23%). In contrast, only 9.3 and 10% of the 40-year-old and 30-year-old groups ate dog “meat”. The low-income group had more of its members (26.2%) eating dog “meat” than the others (Gallup Korea, 2014). The Korean survey was a scientific poll. Yet, it did not distinguish rural from urban dog “meat” eaters. Elementary, middle school, and college students were not polled either.
Materials and Methods
Yanji was the primary city of our investigation. Our objective was to determine if, in this ethnic Korean city, dog “meat” consumption was a majority lifestyle and if it was a widely accepted dietary habit. A parallel survey was carried out in Dalian, a Han Chinese city, to compare and contrast the data collected in Yanji. In China, a city covers administratively both the urban centers and the surrounding rural counties. The city of Ganzhou in Jiangxi, for example, has under its administration one central city, two suburban cities, and 15 counties. Some 60% of its population is rural. Yanji is highly urbanized. Only 13% of the city’s half-a-million population lived in the rural areas. Dalian in 2013 had 5.6 million people with an urbanization rate of 70%, lower than Yanji.
The total sample size was 1,265 (730 in Yanji and 535 in Dalian). In Yanji, the sample was drawn from five groups. These were middle school students (200), college students (100), elementary students (100), rural residents (200), and urban residents (130) including office workers, government employees, and service-sector workers. In Dalian, we interviewed 100 middle school, elementary, and college students, respectively; 100 urban residents including government, business, and service sector personnel; and 135 rural residents.
The samples in both cities were drawn randomly from a pool of the corresponding groups. Out of the 23 elementary schools in urban Yanji, we avoided four schools that have a higher representation of students from well-to-do families and four other schools on the outskirts of the city with a concentration of low-income families. The 100 students were selected from an elementary school that had a fair representation of students from families of different economic and ethnic (Korean and Han) backgrounds. The identification of the two middle schools and the 200 students was based on similar considerations. In Yanji, 130 respondents were selected representing private company workers, government employees, and service-sector employees. Since ethnic Koreans represented 58% of the population in Yanji, 66 (51%) of the 130 sampled were of ethnic Korean background. Han Chinese and others represented 36% and 12%, respectively. The 130 respondents also represented different age groups (18-34, 35-45, and 46 and above), genders, educational backgrounds (elementary, middle school, college, and post-graduate); annual-income levels (30k-50k, 50k-80k, 80k-120k, and 120k and more); and companion-animal keeping status.
Also included in the survey were 100 college students (48 ethnic Koreans, 42 Han Chinese, and 8 others) from the city’s Yanbian University. The surveyed students (48% science and engineering majors; 45% social sciences and liberal arts majors) were mostly freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Local students represented the biggest group (42%), while students from nearby cities in Jilin and from other provinces were respectively, 33% and 25%.
We selected 200 villagers for the survey from two predominantly ethnic Korean villages and two other villages with both ethnic Korean and Han Chinese households. These 200 villagers represented different ages, ethnicities (43.5% Han Chinese, 50% ethnic Koreans, and 6.5% others), gender (47% men and 53% women), education (57% and 41% elementary and middle school graduates, respectively), and age groups (45% age 45 and above, 44% age 35-45, and 11% age 18-34).
For comparative purposes, we included corresponding samples in Dalian, a predominantly Han Chinese city in Liaoning Province. One hundred elementary students were drawn for this study. They were composed of 77% Han Chinese, 6% ethnic Koreans, 62% single-child members, and 75% from families with companion animals. The 100 middle school students were similar to the elementary school students in ethnicity (74% Han Chinese), single-child (83%) and companion-animal-owning statuses (71%). The 100 college students from a Dalian university were sophomores (32%), juniors (45%), and seniors (23%). Their ethnicities were 76% Han Chinese, 6% ethnic Koreans, and 18% others. They represented different academic disciplines (38% sciences and 41% social sciences). Different from the Yanji college, Dalian colleges have a much lower presence of local students, with 90% of the surveyed from other provinces. Single-child members represented 66%, and students from families with companion animals accounting for 45%. Two hundred students from two typical Dalian elementary and middle schools were to be surveyed to compare the results with those from their counterparts in Yanji.
Eighty Dalian urban residents (people working in business offices, government, and the service sector) representing different age, income, education, profession, and ethnic backgrounds were included in the survey. Sixty-one percent of the surveyed were companion animal guardians in contrast to 43% of their counterparts in Yanji. One hundred Dalian villagers from a typical Dalian, rural community were also included.
A questionnaire was used for each group of the study. The questionnaire completion was supervised by our field investigators or by teachers of the elementary and middle schools. In Yanji, 12 field investigators spent seven days administering the survey at the places where the respondents had been identified. In Dalian, 25 field investigators were dispatched to assist, when necessary, respondents in completing the questionnaires. The survey thus had a high return rate. The questionnaires were straightforward, with 13 questions for the service sector respondents and 9 questions for the rest of the surveyed. Short questionnaires made it possible for the respondents to complete the survey quickly. For most respondents, it took no more than 15 minutes to finish the questionnaire.
The questionnaire was composed of two parts: the identification/demographic questions and substantive survey questions. Depending on the sample group, the questionnaire asked different identification questions. For the elementary school, middle school, and college students, the questionnaire asked the respondents to identify their year in school and their single-child or multi-sibling status. For college students, the questionnaire also included questions on their major of study and residence status (local or out-of-province). All questionnaires had questions on age, ethnicity, gender, education, companion animal ownership, and income (not for students).
The survey question section was also composed of two groups of questions. The first group contained two questions that were seemingly unrelated to dog “meat” consumption. We asked the respondents the frequency of their consumption of fermented (pickled) vegetable side dishes, a common food for the ethnic Koreans and Han Chinese in Northeast China. A second question asked if the Korean side dishes were homemade, restaurant-made, or obtained from supermarkets. The questions on the Korean side dishes were to evaluate if dog “meat” was a similar traditional food. Admittedly, dog “meat” and cabbages, the main material for making kimchi, are priced differently. However, as an example, the higher price of pork did not prevent it from becoming a mainstream food item. The second part of the questions was devoted to dog “meat” consumption. We asked for the frequency and location of dog meat consumption, the reason for it, and knowledge regarding its controversy. We also asked if the respondents knew the source of the dogs they consumed; if they would stop eating dog “meat” with knowledge of the source of the dogs; and if they would agree to ban dog “meat” consumption. The questions that were in all questionnaires are as follows:
- Do you eat dog “meat”?
- How often do you eat it?
- Where do you mostly eat it?
- Have you read about the controversy regarding dog “meat” consumption?
- Do you know that pets, rural guard dogs and stray dogs could have been slaughtered for food?
- Would you still eat dog “meat” if you know that stolen dogs could have been slaughtered for food?
- How would you react to calls for ending dog “meat” consumption?
- How often do you eat fermented Korean vegetable side dishes such as kimchi?
- Where do you eat it (at home, in restaurant, or at home eating side-dishes purchased from stores)?
Raw data from the questionnaires was entered into an Excel spreadsheet. Charts were generated. The survey results shed light on dog eating, attitudes towards this eating habit, and variations in attitudes among the different groups. Importantly, the survey also helped pinpoint the likely future direction of the dog “meat” industry.
Popularity of Dog “Meat” Consumption
How popular is dog eating? The popularity of a regional food can be indicated by the frequency of its consumption among the local residents. To determine if dog eating was popular, we asked Yanji respondents how often they had dog “meat” and how often they ate the Korean vegetable side dishes. Among the Yanji business office workers, 29% ate Korean vegetable side dishes every day. Those who ate the food every week accounted for 35%. In contrast, none of the respondents said that they ate dog “meat” on a daily basis. Only 12% had dog “meat” once a week. Fifteen percent never ate dog “meat.” In contrast, 19% never ate Korean vegetable side dishes.
Traditional food typically survives better in the rural areas. Of the 200 respondents in rural Yanji, 31% ate Korean fermented vegetable side dishes every day. Those who ate the side dishes weekly and monthly accounted for 41% and 19%, respectively. Only 9% of the rural respondents never ate the side dishes. Therefore, 72% of the rural residents were frequent eaters of the Korean vegetable side dishes. In contrast, only 16% ate dog “meat” on a regular basis. Regular consumption of dog “meat” was significantly higher in rural Yanji (16%) than in urban Yanji (7.7%), z = 2.40, p = .0159.
If we look at the 280 respondents from both Yanji urban (not including the government employees) and rural areas, 30% (85 respondents) ate Korean side dishes daily, 40% (113 respondents) weekly, and 20% (56 respondents) monthly. In other words, 90% of the Yanji residents both in the rural and urban areas are frequent kimchi eaters. In contrast, among the dog-eating Yanji residents in both the rural and urban areas, only 12.7% (42 respondents) are frequent eaters. The Korean vegetable side dishes were the winner of the popularity contest.
Level of Support and Rural-Urban Divide
A related question was public acceptance of dog “meat” consumption in Yanji. The answers we obtained were thought-provoking. Of the 200 middle school students surveyed, 35.5% disliked the food while 25.5% liked it. The rest, 39%, chose “Neither like nor dislike” as their answer. More elementary school students (44%) disliked dog “meat” while 34% said otherwise. College respondents who rejected dog “meat” consumption accounted for 43% while 25% accepted it.
Rural Yanji was also divided on dog “meat” consumption. Out of the 200 rural respondents, 45.5% were not in favor of dog “meat” consumption while 25% supported it. In contrast, more urban, white-collar workers (48%); government employees (47%); and service-sector workers (52%) in Yanji did not support dog “meat” consumption as opposed to 16%, 23.3%, and 40%, respectively, who accepted it. Regarding the frequency of dog eating, 50% of the surveyed Yanji government employees and business office workers seldom or never ate dog “meat.” Those who ate dog “meat” 5 or 6 times a year accounted for 10% of those surveyed, those who ate it 3 or 4 times a month accounted for 26%, and those who ate it at least once a week accounted for 10%. The survey results confirmed that dog eating was not frequent for the majority of Yanji residents.
There was also a difference between Yanji and Dalian with regard to dog “meat” as a household food choice. Of the 222 rural and urban respondents in Yanji who ate dog “meat,” 63% consumed dog “meat” at restaurants, 32% at home, and 4% elsewhere. A closer look at the place of consumption by residence of the respondents showed that 14% of the urban respondents consumed dog “meat” at home in contrast to 39% of their rural counterparts. To better understand the relevance of the location of consumption, we also asked where the respondents consumed Korean vegetable side dishes such as kimchi. Of the urban respondents, 80% of those who ate Korean side dishes said that they consumed the side dishes at home, whereas 16% consumed the food at restaurants or consumed at home store-purchased side dishes. Regarding the rural respondents, 83% consume at home homemade vegetable side dishes. Kimchi is a food that is readily available in the household refrigerators. Apparently, the Korean side dishes were not a food of commercial promotion. See Figure 1 for more details.
Regarding the question if they have learned about the controversy of dog “meat” consumption, 42% of the Yanji urban respondents answered yes. With regard to the question if dog “meat” could have come from poisoned household companion animals, rural guard dogs, and stray dogs, 46% of Yanji’s service-sector respondents were not aware of it and rejected it as a baseless claim.
Regarding the question if the respondents objected to ending dog “meat” consumption, 28% (56 respondents out of 200) in rural Yanji expressed objection, while 43% (85 respondents) did not. The rest, 28.5%, had no opinion. In urban Yanji, 33% (43 respondents) of the surveyed objected to ending dog “meat” consumption, while 47% (53 respondents) accepted it. A z-test for the difference between the rural and urban respondents who would accept the end of dog “meat” consumption showed that the difference in percentages was not statistically significant (z-value = .7, P-value = .4961). The result confirmed that regional subculture can neutralize the impact of residence status on attitude formation.
The survey confirmed some differences between the Han Chinese and ethnic Koreans in Yanji. Most elementary students of either ethnic background did not like eating dog “meat.” Yet, more Han Chinese (58%) students than their ethnic Korean counterparts (43%) did not like it. Among Yanji’s middle school students, more Han Chinese students than their ethnic Korean counterparts liked to see the end of dog “meat” consumption. One surprising response came from Yanji’s college students. More Han Chinese college students supported dog eating (33%) as opposed to the ethnic Korean students (22%). More ethnic Korean college students (34%) opposed dog eating than Han Chinese students (29%). However, those Han Chinese students who had never eaten dog “meat” account for 22%, whereas only 4% of their ethnic Korean counterparts fell under this category.
Dog eating is believed to be more common among the ethnic Koreans in Northeast China. This perception was confirmed by our study. Among the surveyed Yanji peasants (N = 200; 61 Han Chinese, 134 ethnic Koreans, and 5 others), frequently eating dog “meat” was significantly more common among ethnic Koreans (34.9%) than among the Han Chinese (16.7%), z = 2.60 and p = .010. Similarly, more ethnic Koreans (29.9%) did not accept the ending of dog “meat” consumption than the Han Chinese (16.4%), z = 2.00 and p = .04. A z-test of 95% confidence interval for the difference between the ethnic Korean and Han Chinese frequent dog “meat” eater results suggested that the difference was statistically significant. The resulting z-value of 2.6 and p-value of 0.0103 suggested that the two groups were statistically different. Similarly, a z-test of the two percentages disapproving the end of dog eating (29.9% and 16.4%) had a z-value of 2 and a p-value 0.0477, confirming that the two percentages were also statistically different.
Education and Income
According to Kellert (1980), education affects attitudes towards animals (p. 92). Among the Yanji urban respondents, dog “meat” consumption was significantly, inversely proportional to educational achievement, X2(2, N = 130) = 10.21, p = .006. Among those with only elementary education, 57% consumed dog meat; 46% of those with middle school education consumed it; and 23% of those with college education consumed it.
For the question, which dog “meat” or Korean vegetable side dishes were traditional household food, dog “meat” was chosen by more of those with elementary education (70%) than those with middle school (33%) or college (19%) education, c2(2, N = 50) = 9.94, p = .007. Among the 50 service workers in Yanji, a significantly greater percentage of the respondents (63%) who made less than 30,000 yuan per year (modest education achievers) saw dog “meat” as traditional household food compared to the 19% of those who made between 30,000 and 120,000 yuan, z = 2.4, p < 0.01. See Figure 2 for more details.
Yanji vs. Dalian: Regional Differences
Are the residents in Dalian, a predominantly Han Chinese city, different from their counterparts in Yanji in attitudes towards dog “meat” consumption? We surveyed 100 and 200 middle school students in Dalian and Yanji, respectively. Support for eating dog “meat” was greater in Yanji (25%) than in Dalian (7%), z = 3.70, p < .001. Opposition to eating dog “meat” was noticeably greater in Dalian (56%) than in Yanji (36%), z = 3.30, p = .001. See Figure 3 for more details.
Attitudinal differences on dog eating were more pronounced between the Dalian and Yanji elementary school students. In Dalian, 15% of the elementary school students said yes to dog “meat,” while 34% of the Yanji students held the same opinion, z = 3.1, p = 0.001. Those who opposed dog “meat” consumption were much greater in number in Dalian (74%) than in Yanji (44%), z = 4.3, p = 0.0001.
Eating dog “meat” is more common in the rural area. Yet, our study found that the support level for dog eating among the Dalian, rural respondents is zero percent. In contrast, 25% of the Yanji, rural residents supported dog “meat” consumption, z = 5.5, p = 0.001. A significantly greater number of Yanji, rural residents (70%) eat dog “meat” than their Dalian counterparts (7%), z = 10.3, p = 0. Figure 4 contrasts the percentage difference of the rural respondents who ate dog “meat” in the two cities.
Young children are most naturally attracted to animals (Tipper, 2011). They can also be most influenced by the society they are exposed to. Our study showed that more of Yanji’s elementary school students (34%) supported dog “meat” consumption compared with 15% of their Dalian counterparts, z =3.1, p = 0.001. More Dalian elementary school students (74%) than their counterparts in Yanji (44%) did not support dog eating, z = 4.3, p = 0.0001.
Similarly, 74% of Yanji respondents from urban business offices were dog “meat” eaters in comparison to 18% of their Dalian counterparts, z = 4.7, p = 0.0001. And, 73.3% of the government employees in Yanji ate dog “meat,” while 13.3% of the Dalian government employees ate it, z = 4.7, p = 0.0001. Yanji service-sector workers who never ate dog “meat” accounted for 66%, while that number in Dalian was 88%, z = 3.7, p = 0.0002.
Regional differences are also seen in responses to the question regarding how they would act if it were confirmed that diseased and poisoned dogs were processed for food. Sixteen percent of Yanji respondents said that they would not stop eating dog “meat,” while 56% said they would, z =4.1, p = 0.0001. To this same question, 12% of Dalian respondents said they would continue eating it while 60% in Dalian said they would not, z = 5, p = 0.0001.
Companion-Animal Keeping and Dog “Meat” Consumption
Our survey confirmed that those who have companion animals with their families were more likely to stay away from dog eating. Of the 131 respondents who had companion animals in Yanji and Dalian, 11% found dog “meat” consumption was acceptable, whereas 80% found it unacceptable. Yet, among the Yanji, urban residents with companion animals (54 respondents drawn from government, businesses, and service sectors), 22% found dog “meat” consumption acceptable, whereas 61% did not. In contrast, only 3% of Dalian’s respondents with companion animals (77 respondents) accepted dog “meat” consumption. A z-test showed that the difference between the two proportions was statistically significant, z = 3.4, p = 0.0006. A look at the Yanji respondents who did not have companion animals showed that 32% of the 76 surveyed found dog eating acceptable, while 50% did not. In contrast, only 5% of the 53 Dalian respondents who did not have companion animals accepted dog eating. The difference between the two proportions was confirmed to be statistically significant, z = 3.7, p = 0.0002.
Dog “meat” has been claimed by the supporters as a traditional food, namely a household food for the majority of the people. The survey produced results contradicting this traditional food claim. The fermented, Korean vegetable side dishes are arguably a traditional food eaten on a regularly basis by 90% of the respondents in Yanji. And, 29% of those surveyed said they eat the vegetable side dishes on a daily basis. Only 12% of the Yanji respondents said they eat dog “meat” frequently. China’s traditional foods, regional specialties, or national folk snacks, share several features. Take dumplings, the most famous Chinese traditional food, as an example. Dumplings are believed to have appeared in the Three Kingdom era (225
The fact that restaurants were the place of dog “meat” consumption for the majority of the dog-eating respondents suggested that dog “meat,” unlike Korean vegetable side dishes, was not a household food item. A food that is primarily a product of commercial promotion may not be able to compete with a food passed down to the younger generations at the dinner table of the home. Homemade kimchi is consumed by most of the Korean vegetable side dish eaters. These side dishes are independent of commercial promotion. The moon cakes used to be made in the private homes. Today, they are commercially mass-produced. Dog “meat” is generally not cooked in private kitchens, nor is it consumed by the majority of the Yanji residents. The traditional folk-food claim regarding dog “meat” in Northeast China’s ethnic Korean region or the rest of the country is shaky.
Education impacts income. Differences in income suggest food choice differences among the different income groups. In Northeast China, dog “meat,” like in the rest of the country, is not expensive and is accessible to all. Our survey showed that dog “meat” consumers in Yanji were concentrated more among the respondents with elementary and middle school education. The fact that the more educated are less likely to eat dog “meat” may suggest three things. First, the more educated one is, the more likely one reads about the questionable sources of the dogs. Second, the more educated one is, the more likely one has a companion animal. Having a companion animal calls for financial commitment. There is a connection between better educational achievement and better incomes. And finally, the higher one’s income, the more choices one has in food.
Regional subculture does give rise to attitudinal differences towards dog “meat” consumption. Yanji respondents as a whole were less critical of dog “meat” consumption compared with their Dalian counterparts. Local subculture could neutralize the impact of the mainstream food culture. A higher level of acceptance with regard to dog “meat” consumption is seen in rural communities—and in northern Jiangsu and most parts of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Guizhou—although dog “meat” is still consumed by a very small minority of the population. Yanji is one such place where dog eating has been promoted by the local traders more aggressively than in other places. Yanji is also a so-called ethnic autonomous region in Northeast China’s Jilin province that is allowed to enact policies catering to the local needs. It is one of the very few cities where dog slaughter regulation was added to its local livestock slaughter regulation adopted in the 1990s, a policy that was perceived as an official endorsement of dog “meat” consumption.3
In the last three decades, keeping companion animals has come back to mainland China. In the pre-reform era (1949-1978), it was condemned as an undesirable bourgeois lifestyle having no place in revolutionary China. Economic transformation, rising living standards, the increase in disposable income, and the end of ideological dogma have all contributed to the revival of the companion animal culture. Unsurprisingly, companion animals are like family members to single-child youngsters and empty-nested elders. With the rise of the families with companion animals, voices against animal abuse have become strong. China’s coastal cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, and Dalian are places with a large number of household companion animals. In Beijing alone, there were about one million registered companion dogs. In Dalian, 90% of the companion dogs were registered, the highest companion animal registration rate in the country.4 The survey in Yanji and Dalian supported earlier studies by other scholars that companion-animal-keeping experience contributed to, if not determined, humanistic and moralistic attitudes towards individual animals.
The survey results helped highlight several important developments regarding dog “meat” consumption in the China. First, the eating habit continues to exist despite China’s rapid urbanization. Second, acceptance of dog “meat” consumption varies among the people by age, education, ethnicity, and urban-rural residence status in line with Kellert’s findings in the 1980s (pp. 92, 95, 97) and those of the 2014 Gallup poll in Korea (Gallup Korea). The fact that dog eating is least popular among the younger respondents conforms to the general perception of dog eating as an eating habit that is losing ground. The future of the dog “meat” industry does not look good.
Third, the study has also confirmed that dog “meat” is not a mainstream food item. This finding seemed to explain why we failed to locate any official data on the contribution of dog “meat” sale to Jilin’s
Fourth, local subculture can still shape attitudes towards animals. Both Yanji and Dalian had a high urbanization rate. In Yanji, the urbanization rate was 87% in 2014 (the nation’s average was 55%) (Yanbian News, 2014). In Dalian, 91.2% of its residents already lived in the urban areas in 2013 (Cui, 2014). Despite its similar urbanization level, Yanji was a more “favorable” place for dog “meat” consumption. The roles of Buddhism and the increasing popularity of vegetarianism in weakening the influence of the subculture have yet to be seen.
Finally, the survey results can be of reference value to animal activists who oppose Asian dog “meat” trade. In China, the decline of dog “meat” consumption is mostly a result of domestic opposition. A conflict over dog “meat” consumption is in fact a Chinese “civil war” between two Chinese groups. This is not a conflict between China and the outside world. With this in mind, international animal advocacy groups can confidently support the Chinese activists without worrying about being accused of imposing Western values on these countries. The bond between humans and companion animals is not Western. It is a trans-cultural phenomenon.
The authors thank the two anonymous reviewers whose expert critiques and suggestions were enormously helpful. We would also thank Dr. Karl L. Wuensch of East Carolina University and Dr. Steve Zhou of University of Houston-Downtown for their invaluable guidance in the statistical presentation of the findings in the paper. Finally, we take this opportunity to thank The William and Charlotte Parks Foundation for its support of the survey project.
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