NANNING, June 21 (Xinhua) -- An annual dog meat festival in south China is facing harsh criticism from experts and animal rights activists, but that's not stopping local residents from standing by their tradition.
The festival is held in Yulin City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, every summer solstice, which falls on Friday this year.
Local residents butcher tens of thousands of dogs on the streets, then eat the meat alongside lychee, believing the practice keeps illness at bay.
Hoping to put an end to the tradition, animal rights activists who call the event a "bloody carnival" are voicing their anger and staging protests in Yulin.
Hong Bin, an activist, said the festival is "inhumane" and people should stop this "brutal behavior."
Hong staged a protest at last year's festival and said he would do so again this year.
To call on people to realize the cruel aspects of their tradition, Hong got on his knees and bowed to dogs set to be slaughtered in a local market in Yulin last year.
"Although I am a vegetarian, I'm not against people eating meat. I just think people should behave in a more humane way," he told Xinhua.
Another concern about eating the dog meat is that many of the slaughtered dogs are strays that may have been poisoned, according to Hong, and their meat could contain viruses or poisons that could threaten human health if ingested.
Hong, who is in Yulin with a few other activists, said they will continue protesting until the festival is completely stopped.
His thoughts have been echoed by a host of animal rights bodies. On Tuesday, about 20 such organizations, including the China Small Animal Protection Association (CSAPA), issued a joint statement, urging for the festival to be canceled on the grounds that it has created a black market for stolen dogs and dog butchering in China.
Calling on the local government in Yulin to end the festival, the statement further emphasized that dog meat could have a negative public health impact, as there are no quarantine or inspection measures in place for dog meat.
Representatives for the CSAPA said the festival is disrespectful to life and goes against the development of human civilization. They said over 100 countries and regions have banned eating the meat of pets such as dogs and cats, and China should follow suit.
This is not the first time that a dog-eating festival has found itself at the center of debate in China. In 2011, a dog-eating carnival derived from a 600-year-old tradition in an east China township was banned on the heels of a wave of public fury.
The local government canceled the carnival held every October in Qianxi Township, Jinhua City, Zhejiang Province, due to resentment voiced on the Internet as well as mounting discontent among villagers.
Despite the negative attention, Yulin residents are continuing to stand by their tradition.
Ning Yetong, a local villager, said eating dog meat is a long-held tradition in his hometown, and there is no law in China banning it.
"To people in Yulin, eating dog meat is just like eating beef or pork, and there is nothing wrong with it," he said.
With the festival just around the corner, the market in Yulin is stocked with dog meat, ready for sale. A vendor surnamed Zhao told Xinhua that it is hard to stop selling dog meat, because it is such an old tradition and people are always coming to buy dog meat from her.
In response to the strong condemnation, local officials in Yulin said the event is organized by the public, and the government has never had a hand in it.
Meanwhile, Mang Changxue, deputy mayor of Yulin, said it would be difficult to stop the event, as it concerns the lives of millions of local people.
"What we can do is to crack down on dog theft, stop the killing of dogs in the streets and enhance supervision to ensure the safety of dog meat," Mang said.
Xia Xueluan, a professor with the Department of Sociology of Peking University, said that now it is important to crack down on illegal dog hunting and avoid public health problems as well as conflicts between local villagers and animal rights groups.
The argument over whether or not the event should be banned shows the diversity of values in modern society, Xia said.
"But I believe that as our society develops, the tradition of eating dog meat will gradually wane," the professor added.
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