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We Need to Talk About Yulin

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Look, I get it: you hate the fact that dogs are killed so that people can eat their flesh. I’m with you; I hate it too.

But I also hate the fact that so many other animals are forced into existence so that we can wear their skins, eat their flesh, conduct experiments on them, consume their reproductive secretions, watch them perform for us ,or use them in any other way. I know you hate this too; that’s why we’re vegan, right? Because we recognise that all animals are more than just things that we can exploit and use, and then kill them and consume or discard their bodies.

And yet I see so many nonvegans morally outraged by Yulin, compartmentalizing this thing that they call “animal cruelty” and condemning those who participate in it. After all, it’s easier to condemn something when you can detach from it: not our nationality, not our class, not the animals we eat or wear back home.

I’ve been there. I signed petitions on a variety of single-issues; I objected to things that people in other countries did to animals that I thought we didn’t routinely exploit here. And in the evening, after sharing a petition on Facebook and feeling like I’d done something to make a difference for animals, I’d kick off my leather shoes, cook myself up some animal flesh, and wash it all down with a glass of dairy milk.

I wish someone had pointed out to me, then, that there was no moral difference between the forms of use I was opposing and what I was participating in myself. That would have saved me at least some of the years of being nonvegan that I regret so deeply.

If you’re a vegan who’s caught up in campaigning against Yulin and you’re not being clear that all forms of animal exploitation are equally morally wrong, I’ve put together a handy FAQ based on comments I’ve seen on a range of threads on the topic.

1. Isn’t the Yulin Dog-Meat Festival morally worse because of the way the dogs are treated before they’re killed?

No. We can’t say that we’re opposed to what happens in Yulin because of the way the animals suffer; because if we do we’re saying that some kinds of suffering and harm are okay. These qualitative judgements are not ours to make, because we’re not the ones enduring it, no more than we can deem mugging okay because we reckon murder is worse. What we really have to do is ask ourselves if it’s ever okay to treat another sentient being exclusively as a means to our ends. I hope we’ll always find that the answer is no.

2. Well, what about the fact that many of these dogs are someone’s companions?

You think that makes a difference to the dogs when they’re being killed? Do you think that a companion animal’s interests are morally more valuable than those of a stray? We assign greater moral worth to companion animals, not for their own sake but for the sake of the humans to whom they matter, and that’s speciesism.

3. How can campaigning against Yulin be a bad thing? Surely every little step helps.

Campaigning against Yulin achieves a number of ends that you probably didn’t plan for and wouldn’t want:

  1. It implies that there’s a moral difference between these dogs and the other nonhumans we routinely use.
  2. It implies that there is a moral distinction between animal use abroad and at home.
  3. As a result of point 2, this and similar campaigns often become platforms for xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and racism.
  4. Because if the festival were to end (and this is highly unlikely, since people have been campaigning against it for years), the people participating in it would merely consume other animals instead. Banning dog meat doesn’t lead to veganism; only vegan education does that.
  5. Because it’s wasted effort. There are so few vegans, and we have limited time and energy. When we campaign for less than veganism, we throw away valuable advocacy opportunities.

4. So, what do I do instead?

Talk to your nonvegan friends about the outrage they feel, and make them see how that leads them to veganism. Talk to other vegans about why campaigns like those against Yulin are counterproductive and why they promote xenophobia and speciesism. And use your precious time and resources wisely by promoting veganism and an end to all animal use instead.


The proceeds for writing this article will be donated towards local TNR projects. 

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  • Rainey000555

    You need to educate yourself before you make the comments you just made. They tourture these animals for up to 40 hours. They believe it makes the meat taste better. They enjoy the tourture. They boil them alive. They start by chopping off their paws. They skin them alive. They dart gun family pets as well as street dogs put them in metal cages for days with no water no food and mouths tied. Many don’t make it alive to the festive having their bodies crushed to death in the cage. If body parts are sticking out of the cage just chop them off while the animal is alive. I guess that’s ok with you too. Your editior should pull this story and you should be ashamed of your own mentality. It’s about torture. It’s about abuse. It’s not about what anyone eats for dinner. We are in agreement that any animal abuse is wrong but don’t down play this torturous tragedy so you can get paid to write a news article.

    • Alan O’Reilly

      Please note at the foot of the essay: “The proceeds for writing this article will be donated towards local TNR projects.”

    • Laurie Campbell

      Thank you. The author of this piece either enjoys sadism and torture of animals or is very very clueless. There is no moral equivalency and as someone who has worked in healthcare for over 40 years, I can guarantee you that some kinds of suffering and pain are far more acceptable than others. My hope for this author is a personal experience enabling some enlightenment.

  • Lisa

    I’m always surprised that in trying to save other animals, you discourage people from saving one group of animals…why fight action with inaction? I think it’s perfectly okay if someone wants to fight for dogs rather than pigs and cows because in fighting for dogs you’re not saying that pigs and cows are unimportant…but can we agree with need to start SOMEWHERE? Concentrated efforts are more impactful than trying to figure out all problems at a time (and unlike you I see torture of pigs, torture of cows, torture of chickens as different problems when looked at systematically and systemically). I think it’s okay if there is a mass concentrated efforts to end a festival of dog killing and torture (and it truly is torture). Where in the world do we have a cow torturing “festival” where the animals are slaughtered on the street and bled to death at 10,000 at a time?

    You really should follow Marc Ching’s work. He has documented what has gone on in dog slaughter houses and reported burning alive, skinning, as well as all of their limbs being cut off to bleed to death. The difference is yes while American farms are torture, we are improving and finding ways to kill the animals and the killing is not done as a “festival” or a way to entertain people. Also, in a recent poll of China most Chinese citizens say they have NOT tasted dog and around 50% would vote for a bill to ban dog eating. By saying that we are being culturally insensitive to the Chinese because we disagree with Yulin IS being culturally insensitive because you assume it is in the Chinese culture to eat dogs (when the numbers tell you it’s not). There is no xenophobia or racism here. Trust me, I know…I’m Vietnamese.

    And, we have bred dogs for thousands of years to be our companion animals. They play with us, work alongside us, and take care of us. We bred them for the bond and we are breaking that bond and that trust with them in unimaginable ways in Yulin. You really should educate yourself on these issues because your article is actually unraveling the efforts of many vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists. Again, why discourage people from fighting for dogs as a way to get them to fight for veganism? Don’t undo positive action to meet your own needs.

    • Alan O’Reilly

      Four questions for you Lisa:

      1. This essay is aimed at vegans. Are you a vegan yourself?
      2. Do you imagine that if these people were not eating dogs they would be eating vegetables? I suggest they would be eating pigs, chickens or other animals. Are their lives not equally important?
      3. Do you know how many turkeys are murdered to celebrate the festivals of Thanksgiving and Christmas?
      4. Do you not regard breeding animals for companionship and work as exploitation in the same way as breeding them for food?

      • Nicole Morgan

        LMAO I’m sure my cats are so tormented by their fate as companions.

        • Alan O’Reilly

          Never thought about responding to what was actually said then? Oh well . Oops, nearly forgot, LMAO!

  • Laurie Campbell

    Anyone who condones in any small way what happens to the animals at Yulin is evil. That means you.

    • April-Tui Buckley

      I think you need to re-read the essay. The author does not condone the Yulin festival and to say she does is to misrepresent her quite dramatically. Please read the essay.

      • Laurie Campbell

        I read it several times. It’s a moral equivalency nightmare. Here, you seem to have trouble getting this….Which way do you choose to die?
        1. You are beaten for several hours while hanging from your neck on a loose loop, then have your legs cut at the knees with a large pair of shears until you slowly bleed to death AFTER having been packed so tightly into cages with others and having a wire rim tied around your mouth, no water or food for over 24 hours…..
        Scenario number 2 – you are knocked out with a larger stunner and die instantly from the head trauma.

        People here are clearly not well educated about Yulin slaughterhouses.
        Or they are climbing on the backs of these dogs which have suffered as no human in this country ever would to promote their political view. How despicable! And yes, evil.

        • April-Tui Buckley

          You do need to re-read it if you think the author, as you suggest in your initial comment, is
          in any way supportive of the Yulin festival. You are quite mistaken if you think there author and this site are not well informed about *all* animal right issues, including what happens at the Yulin Festival. Perhaps you need to do a bit ore digging yourself because you appear to think that animals die instantly in slaughter houses in the west, this is simply factually inaccurate. I grew up on a farm and have unfortunately spent too much time around slaughter houses, it is neither quick nor pleasant. The problem is these campaigns incite xenophobia and make people think their way of using or killing animals is in some way measurably different to China, it isn’t. But considering you are a person who claims to have worked in health care and then wished harm on another person, the author, I think my words are likely wasted on you.

          • Laurie Campbell

            That’s why thousands of Chinese call those at Yulin “scumbags of China” and demonstrate against the festival….it is very very measurably different but you have the closed mind of the lesser kind so come back after you have learned about what actually happens at Yulin. You people are making me really dislike vegans.

          • April-Tui Buckley

            So you’re not even vegan? then go vegan first before discussing animal rights. thank you. And in answer to your question: I would rather not die and I am sure all the animals humans use like things would answer the same.

          • Nicole Morgan

            Everyone dies you silly shit.

          • Laurie Campbell

            And of course, you did not reply to my question or even address it. I worked in research for many many years and actually went to slaughterhouses to get some organs we needed for our work. It is most often quite quick in US slaughterhouses. My organic chemistry professor got me off eating meat in college.

          • Alan O’Reilly

            Are you a vegan Laurie? This is a serious question as the essay is actually aimed at vegans.

  • Simon James

    Interesting blog. I think there are many important philosophical discussions to be had here. I think it is important to highlight that criticism of specific groups of people can be used as a way to otherise them and propagate racism. However That does not mean all criticism of acts that happened to be committed by another group are wrong or support xenophobia. For example I might campaign against the war in Yemin, but by supporting human rights both here and abroad I am doing so in a way that is not racist.

    Furthermore by getting involved in that campaign I am helping to ensure that such an issue is seen in a wider context, ie I am directly acting to oppose those who would like to see the war in Yemin in an islamophobic way. By campaigning against the war in Yemin I am not implying there is a moral difference between that and rights abuses here. I am merely selecting Yemin because it is an area where their is acute human rights violations regarding which we could by protesting against it both promote action to address it, and by supporting the campaign frame in a non xenophobic way help othersto see it in light that raises awareness of other human rights issues closer to home.

    By refusing to support ending the War in Yemin on the other hand I would be failing to take action that could have saved peoples lives. I would have failed to use it as a means to raise awareness of other human rights abuses. I would have failed to influence that campaign to not be xenophobic.

    Similarly, supporting the campaign against Yulin dog abuse, as a vegan one can do this in a non speciesist way and try to influence that campaign to see such abuse within a wider context. Sure there are differences between humans and animals. It has already been accepted that humans have fundamental rights here. But why should this be relevant? By not supporting it one is in a very odd position, highlighted by those other posters that one is chosing to act not in a way in the best interests of the dogs involved, but because of the theoretical harms it might cause by making people more comfortable with rights violations.

    As such one could argue that it is in fact you that is using animals as a means to an end. For example if one opposes ending torture of prisoners on death row because it might make people more comfortable with the death penalty, one is using those prisoners as a means to an end. They have a welfare right not to be tortured. One is ignoring that right for a theoretical benefit, and one would therefore be using those humans suffering as a means to an end. Its the same with the Yulin dog abuse, one is using their abuse as a means to an end.

  • Simon James

    Seems like some of the links to other posts are broken. I hope that doesn’t happen here

  • Simon James

    Its great that you are willing to stand up for the rights of all animals as you see it, but why just stop there? Shouldn’t you have respect for other humans too?

    In the recent blog “Dear Vegan Feminists, Where Are You? An Open Letter” on ecorazzi, it is in the opinion of some that Ecorazzi did allow itself to be used as a platform to aggressively attack Casey Taft as part of a vedentta against him by a prominent animal rights activist. Allegedly, this activist may have manipulated the author of that piece, “Judith”, getting her to use actual domestic violence as a weapon against Taft, as Taft had criticised that activist for orchestrating a campaign of bullying against prominent vegan feminists. If that activist did then manipulate Judith into making a call to “feminists” that would be an insult to all the people who have experienced such abuse. It would be disgraceful and appalling thing to do.

    And what type of bullying has been used against feminists in this alleged case? One example is Dr Harper, a black vegan academic who while delivering a talk about racism mentioned some of the abuse she had received, becoming quite tearful. How did those that are allegedly bullying respond? With the following language:

    “collaborator” “nauseating self pity” “dishonesty ” “tears are part of a calculated performance ” “shameful” “narcissistic self pity” ” utterly fraudulent” “hate agenda” “bigoted”

    How can one on the one hand claim to stand up for animal rights, when at the same time not stand up for human rights?

    Before one responds please read the following article http://culteducation[dot]com/warningsigns

  • Linda McKenzie

    Thank you, Frances McCormack, for this very clarifying essay. Please keep them coming.

  • Shakti

    As a longtime vegan I get that it’s hypocritical that many of the same people who protest Yulin eat meat themselves. However I do feel that dog rights could be the first step in animal liberation. Compassionately making people understand why they love a dog but kill a cow,pig or chicken etc. is just how they were programmed to feel about killing animals. These people are slaves just like the animals are. Breaking their mind free by starting with man/woman’s best friend could be a way for them to understand reality.

  • Nicole Morgan

    Torturing dogs to death for entertainment before eating them isn’t worse than killing something quickly before eating? Oh fuck you. I can say with complete confidence that if I knew my death would be violent, I would certainly rather it be fast than literal torture. The whole world will never be vegan because people eat what they can get to survive, and I have a news flash for you… EVERYTHING FUCKING DIES. Life feeds on life.

    • Katerina Katsimpardi

      The thing is that you most likely will never have to face that dilemma right? Die violently or not. Because nobody brought you to this life just for the purpose of exploiting and using you one way or another. Yes everything dies, including you and me, but human animals are spared from being just objects for someone’s pleasures, whatever those are. If you thing that those non human animals killed in the west don’t go through enormous torturing during their short, miserable lives, newsflash; wrong. I see you oppose homophobia but on the other hand are fine with speciesism. You will never be able to fight one kind of oppression whilst you participate in another, whether it’s legal or not.

  • Marg Sweeney

    I will never stop giving my support to the campaign to end Yulin! As has been noted already “most Chinese citizens say they have NOT tasted dog and around 50% would vote for a bill to ban dog eating.”. The support of the International community is crucial to achieving this end. Of course I care about the suffering of other animals, I try to support them as well.

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