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Year of the Monkey: How Celebrating Animals Leads to Commodifying Them

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The Year of the Monkey is finally upon us, and China is at a crossroads in how it wants to pursue celebrating. In a New York Times report, “Chinese Animal Trainers Looking For Respect in Year of the Monkey,” the Times explores the disagreement between trainers, urban management, and animal activists as trainers intend to bring back the tradition of small monkeys performing tricks in the street. The Times’ defense of trainers certainly reads a bit like an advertisement to go visit Xinye County instead of being at all concerned about the captivity of kept monkeys.

“These days, they are trained to ride little bicycles, shoot hoops, strut on stilts, brandish knives and generally make lovable monkeys of themselves through a tough regimen that has caused animal rights advocates to howl about physical abuse and mental distress. Photos from Xinye show macaques chained and huddled fearfully in barren cages. Even Mr. Zhang said trainers had to end their old, harsh ways to win over new audiences,” reports the Times, referring to Zhang Junran, the president of the Xinye County Macaque Arts and Breeding Association.
According to Mr. Zhang, there are many opinions about how to train the monkey performers. “In Xinye, many buskers are poorly educated and have lacked awareness of animal welfare, so we need to improve the monkeys’ conditions and treat them in a more civilized way.” Even when ‘welfare’ is taken into account, using animals for entertainment or any other purpose is never okay. The disagreements over animal welfare are a moot point, as freedom is the absolute necessity for wild animals.

It’s an issue that requires a larger lenses to look through. Trainers and buskers are seen as dirty people of the street, and see themselves as holding on to a grand tradition that modern China has little interest in keeping up with. It seems that trainers are folks who have fallen by the wayside, and the human rights record in not only China but the world over, certainly doesn’t bode well for those within society who are seen as disgusting and useless.

Of course, do keep in mind that within the context of living in Western countries, it’s important we always examine our own abuses of animals for food and entertainment whenever critiquing the treatment of animals in other parts of the world.

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