Dog meat sales are down in pet crazy China
China’s infamous Lychee and Dog Meat Festival was a bust this year, at least according to a butcher named Zhong. “I could sell over 30 dogs every day in previous years, but now I can only sell five at the most,” he said.
Most Chinese have never tried dog meat, and a majority want to end the Yulin festival according to a poll reported by Chinese news agency Xinhua. That’s no big surprise given the country’s burgeoning enthusiasm for pets.
Banned under Mao as a bourgeois distraction, more and more Chinese have begun keeping pets since restrictions were loosened in the ‘90s and ’00s. In Bain & Company’s 2016 China Shopper Report, pet food was among the fastest growing consumer categories, rising 11.7 per cent last year to more than 15 billion RMB.
In 2015, 100 million pets were registered nationwide, with ownership highest in Guangdong followed by Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Beijing. Dogs are the most popular pets, followed by cats. The world’s most expensive pup was a golden haired Tibetan Mastiff sold for 2 million USD in 2014 to a Chinese property developer. House tortoises have slowly and steadily risen in popularity too, benefiting from a cultural obsession with longevity.
Different sorts of pets are popular for different reasons. Purebreds are status symbols, toy-sized dogs are entry level models for many middle class apartment-dwellers, and strays appeal to the soft-hearted.
For busy professionals, the lack of time they’re able to spend with their pets can make them feel guilty, worried that the animals will get lonely. Nan Ding is a student studying away from her home city. She says that “because my mom goes on many business trips, she sends our dog Xiaobao to a pet hotel. I really wish we could have another pet to be his friend and keep him company when we’re away.”
- “I take my babies with me everywhere I go. They follow me around and are really great company. It feels nice to have something to look after.”
Unable to dote on their dogs every minute of every day, professionals express their love for their pets by ensuring a balanced diet, buying high quality toys and finding reliable caretakers to assist when their own time falls short.
Aside from more premium food and treats, there is also a growing range of specialty services, including traditional Chinese medicine remedies, haute couture, pet insurance, massages, fur dyes and perms, pet manicures and dog yoga.
While few grew up with them, many older Chinese are ardent dog lovers, in part because dogs fit in so naturally with their lifestyles. Older Chinese typically wake early and walk to the market to buy groceries. In the evenings, they head out again to chat with neighbours in the lanes of their residential compounds or go square dancing in public parks and outside metro stations.
My neighbour is a 60-something Shanghainese woman who lives with three dogs, their coats groomed into little pony tails. “I take my babies with me everywhere I go,” she says. “They follow me around and are really great company. It feels nice to have something to look after”.
After her children left home and started families of their own, pets became a great substitute for her affections, something to pamper and care for.
Ultimately, pets are being treated more and more as part of the family, justifying more spending. And often pets in China are passed on from busy professionals to lonely, socially marginalised parents with a great deal more time on their hands. In this sense pets are the new ‘little emperors’ of China, enjoying the affections and resources of both their ‘parents’ and ‘grandparents’.
- Article by Jidi Guo