The issue comes with historical baggage as well, notes Jiang Jinsong, a philosophy professor at Tsinghua University. “During the Cultural Revolution, having a pet was seen as a capitalist activity. Only the rich and arrogant had dogs and allowed them to bite poor people,” he said. “So there’s this implication that if you treated pets well, you will treat those who are weaker badly.”
At least one netizen has taken this argument to the extreme. Enraged by activists fighting for animals while ignoring the plight of so many rural, impoverished Chinese, a man in Guangzhou posted threats online to kill a dog a day until animal activists donate the money they raised to peasants living in poverty instead of to dogs.
“I felt I had to do something to represent the grass-roots people,” said Zhu Guangbing, 35, who recently plastered his threat on Twitterlike microblogs in China. “I grew up in a poor village. We raised one dog to watch the door and one to be killed in the Lunar New Year because we were too poor to buy pork. I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.”
Within days, Zhu found his name, cellphone number, office number, and even his parents’ number posted online.
“My parents got calls condemning them for raising a son like me,” he said, having logged more than 200 threats so far. “One elementary school teacher even called me and had her students insult me over the phone one by one.”
But dog activists have defended their fervor as a necessity. China does not have any laws against cruelty to animals, and by some estimates, as many as 10 million dogs — some vagrant, others stolen pets — are sold for consumption each year and are often kept under horrible conditions.
“People are saying it’s a silly thing protecting animals,” said Wang, the activist. “But it is a question of civilization.
“By teaching people in this country to love little animals, maybe we can help them to love their fellow human beings better.”
But Zhu scoffed at that notion. Last week, he was forced to quit his job after his company began receiving threatening phone calls as well.
“I didn’t even intend to kill dogs. I was just making a point,” he said. “The animal activists claim to have the moral high ground, but look at what they did to me. Can they really say they have love at the front of their heart?”
Staff researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.