China’s Animal Rights Agenda

In the summer of 2009, images of bloody dog carcasses scattered across the streets of Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, sparked public anger across China. The disturbing videos and photos documented the slaughter of about 35,000 dogs – many clubbed to death – after local officials ordered a cull to contain an outbreak of rabies.

But now, with mounting grassroots support and public pressure, China is drafting the country’s first ever animal rights law – bringing new hope that dog culling, and other forms of blatant animal cruelty, will never be allowed to happen again.


For many in China, the sight was too much to bear.

Photos of broken canine bodies, piled together in a lifeless heap; a group of men chasing after a dog with poles and rods in hand; a close-up of a puppy’s head, lying in a pool of its own blood and teeth.

The dogs were victims of a Hanzhong government sanctioned slaughter to contain the spread of rabies after 12 people died from being bitten by rabid dogs in the northern Chinese city. Soon after, stories of the brutality made Chinese media headlines and citizens organised candlelight vigils in Hanzhong to honour the dogs killed.

“The dog cull in Shaanxi led to international condemnation, but more importantly, condemnation from within China,” says David Neale, animal welfare director of the Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong-based charity that seeks to end cruelty against animals in Asia.

“There’s a clear call for animal protectionism coming from within the country. It’s a strong movement not just in the general public, but also in the media as well. This wouldn’t have happened 10 or 15 years ago.”

Currently in China there is no penalty against hurting or killing animals sold for food or as pets, and only endangered species are legally protected. But now, with several high-profile stories about animal maltreatment attracting widespread public condemnation in China in recent years – including examples of live domestic pets being fed to zoo animals for visitors’ entertainment, and stray cats from Nanjing sent to southern China’s dinner tables – a team of Chinese legal experts is preparing to submit a draft animal protection law to the Chinese government in May. 

The new law is being seen as China’s animal awakening; a grassroots movement influenced by increasing pet ownership and animal rights awareness among the country’s middle class in recent years. At the same time, the landmark proposal raises questions about how much dedication and commitment animal welfare will really receive in China – a country that is still, after all, a developing nation.