BEIJING, June 18 -- The dog meat festival on June 21 in China' s southeastern Yulin city has been a local tradition since the 1990s to celebrate "xiazhi" , the longest day in the year on the Chinese lunar calendar.
Animal protection activists loudly denounce the festival as inhumane, but little thought is given as to why these people love to eat dog and why they find the disapproval unfathomable.
Dogs might be the most successfully domesticated species, but over China' s long history, they have only recently become pets, except in the imperial court where Pekingese were kept exclusively for the royals.
Unlike Westerners who consider dogs as "man' s best friend" and companions, Chinese people have only ever kept watchdogs or hunting dogs, along with those to be eaten.
The image of dogs in China was for long unfavorable.
Many proverbs and idioms are associated with dogs, including "pigs and dogs are friends" to describe keeping bad company; "dressed like a person, but acting like a dog" to indicate a lack of social graces: and "the heart of a wolf and the lungs of a dog" to describe people who are heartless and ungrateful.
Dogs, like cows, were for working and eating, so for many Chinese, there is nothing wrong with eating dog, which was first recorded in the Spring and Autumn Period (around 722 to 481 BC).
Dog meat is still regarded as a delicacy in regions such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Zhejiang.
Dog meat lovers see the meat as they do chicken, fish, beef or lamb. It is popularly believed to strengthen the body, especially in summer.
However, as more Chinese choose to keep dogs as pets, more oppose the idea of eating them.
Some say it is hypocritical to criticize people for eating dogs and to classify animals into the categories of eatable and non-eatable.
Muslims deem it unacceptable to eat pork, while Buddhists find it cruel to eat any animal because they believe every living thing has a soul.
It might be difficult to draw a universally accepted line as to what animals should be eaten. But when there is already a vast variety of meat, maybe it is time to stop serving dog.
Maybe it' s also time to take a less strident tone against the dog-meat lovers and to educate them to see a companion rather than a meal.