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Animal Welfare Activism

December 28, 2012

A cautionary tale and call for animal protection legislation

On May 23, 2012, Zhou Ying [周颖], a 40-year-old woman, sought refuge at a police substation in Pengpu Township, Shanghai, after fleeing nearly twenty animal lovers who attacked her for reportedly adopting and killing cats. A video showing the crowd in front of the police substation denouncing Zhou and demanding the return of two cats she had recently adopted quickly appeared online.1 After reporting the attacks, Zhou left the police substation and sent short, taunting texts to her accusers mocking them for their failure to stop her. When netizens discovered in August that Zhou had again adopted a cat under the name Xue Luyi, they rapidly took to the microblogs to warn Shanghai animal lovers. The May incident was also the beginning of an online human flesh search engine (a phenomenon which uses Internet media to target individuals) on-going campaign, tracking Zhou and describing her regular ill-treatment of cats.  When netizens discovered in August that Zhou had again adopted a cat under the name Xue Luyi, they rapidly took to the micro blogs to warn Shanghai animal lovers.2

Screen capture of a photo of Zhou posted online, May 2012.

Zhou’s case continues to generate vigorous Internet debates, including diverse responses to several online surveys soliciting opinions regarding the treatment of Zhou the need for better animal protection legislation. A recent weibo survey posed the question “Should the people who attacked Zhou be punished by law?” As of December 28, 2012, 11:16am (EST), 13,058 (52.5%) say yes, and 11,830 (47.5%) said no. Zhou ‘s case is a potent example of the opportunities and complex challenges presented by expanding social media platforms such as the microblogs. As Chinese citizens connect online to mobilize collective action and call for legal reforms, there are also examples of human flesh search engines that can result in violence and serious impacts on the lives of those targeted. A July 2012 Southern Television Guangdong (TVS) program shows the damage to Zhou’s home, physical injuries, and includes experts saying her psychological problems would probably be exacerbated by the loss of her job. At the end of the program, the host cited U.S. law and called for the passage of an animal protection law.3

While China has legislation safeguarding land-based and aquatic wildlife,4 it presently lacks legislation protecting animal welfare generally or preventing cruelty to animals. In September 2009, animal rights activists and legal experts began circulating a draft Law on the Protection of Animals5 and a draft Law on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals6 for the State Council’s consideration in 2010.7 These drafts included provisions prohibiting the sale and consumption of the meat of companion animals8 and required that the slaughter of livestock “be carried out in a manner which causes the minimum of physical and mental harm to animals.”9 Neither draft was ultimately included in the 2008-2013 National People’s Congress legislative agenda, making 2014 the earliest that the process by which a draft becomes a law might begin.10 However, to be effective, any animal protection legislation promulgated must be supported by a society that respects the dignity and rights of all its members.

In the absence of sufficient legal protection for animal welfare, professional and volunteer animal rights activists and animal lovers across China continue to use traditional and online networks to increase awareness. Activists, advocacy organizations, and celebrities have organized and participated in public awareness campaigns calling for a ban on the consumption of sharks’ fins,11 the wearing of fur clothing,12 and live animal performances.13 At the same time, members of popular microblog networks such as Tencent QQ Weibo and Sina Weibo condemn restaurants seen advertising dog or cat meat,14 report instances of animal abuse,15 alert potential rescuers of companion animals being shipped for slaughter,16 and raise funds for the medical treatment and housing of rescued animals.17 Below are two examples of effective citizen actions also deploying traditional and social media platforms -- one that raised a public outcry and blocked the public listing of a company involved in extraction of bear bile; and stories of successful rescues of dogs and cats bound for slaughter for food or their fur.

Black Bear Protection

In traditional Chinese medicine, the bile of Asian black bears is prized as an unparalleled detoxifier, vision enhancer, and promoter of liver health and virility.18 The demand for this treatment has resulted in hundreds of farms across China where black bears are confined in small cages for the regular harvesting of their bile.19 While the collection of bear bile has arguably progressed -- from outright slaughter to obtain a bear’s gallbladder to the modern practice of milking the bile from a live bear via a catheter20 -- it remains a painful process that can cause both physical and mental health complications.21  The process is so inhumane that it has gained the attention of both international and domestic advocates. Animals Asia Foundation, an international charity headquartered in Hong Kong, has run extensive public education and advocacy campaigns and offers sanctuary to rescued bile farm bears at a center in Chengdu,22 and animal protection groups and activists across China have called for the end of bear bile farming.23

The success of the traditional and online campaigns was evident when China’s largest producer of bear bile,24 Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Company (福建归真堂药业股份有限公司), attempted to go public on the Shenzhen stock exchange in February 2012. Animal lovers and rights activists were ready to jump into action, including a Chinese wildlife journalist from Yunnan TV Network who posed as a tourist and covertly filmed painful-looking bear bile extraction which she then posted online.25 The video was widely circulated and was in stark contrast to the “easy, natural and painless as turning on a tap” process for retrieving the bile described by head of the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Fang Shuting (房书亭), a bear bile supporter.26

After Fang’s patently misleading comments, Beijing Loving Animals Foundation (BLAF) (北京爱它动物保护公益基金会) released an open letter protesting the public listing of Guizhentang to the China Securities Regulatory Commission. This public letter was also jointly signed by the Capital Animal Welfare Association (首都爱护动物协会), Green Beagle (达尔问自然求知社), and 72 activists, lawyers, academics, artists, and others.27 Within less than one day of being posted on the BLAF’s Sina Weibo, it had been reposted over 4,200 times.28 Two weeks later, activists organized a demonstration protesting the Guizhentang IPO outside a Guizhentang retail shop in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. 29 A journalist with Shaanxi-based daily China Business also made a trip in late February to Guizhentang’s Quanzhou bear farm to investigate the truth of Guizhentang’s “painless” bile milking procedure, resulting in an exposé photo report that was reposted over 10,000 times by Sina Weibo users.30 In an apparent victory for the advocates, as of November 2012, Guizhentang has not gone public and the company states that, though it still plans to, there is no timetable for doing so.31

Companion Animal Rescue and Rehome

Recent attempts to prevent the slaughter of cats and dogs for food or fur offer another example of China’s growing online animal advocacy. In the absence of protective legislation, animal rights activists have mobilized to rescue animals before they can be sold or slaughtered. When netizens see animals being transported or prepared for transport, they alert the animal rights community so that nearby advocates can rush to block the delivery. The activists then, at times in conjunction with local authorities, try to negotiate the animals’ release. Often this requires paying for the animals, even in cases when they were previously stolen.


“Xuzhou Small Animal Rescue Center . . . Help needed for emergency!”

 Posted on Sina Weibo, October 31, 2012

[English translation by Human Rights in China]

(We) just received a phone call from a television station telling us that traffic police officers and reporters stopped a truck carrying cats on the highway and found approximately 500 to 600 cats inside. It is very difficult for our center to take and rescue more cats. However, the truck carrying the cats was stopped. If we do not rescue them, they will most likely lose their only chance to survive! Volunteers are on their way now to the take photos and gather detailed information that will be released later. Our preliminary plan is to ship the cats to our center and we urgently need cages to separate the cats.

One typical rescue arose in April 2012 when volunteers found a number of purebreds, some still wearing collars, among 500 dogs rescued in Kunming, Yunnan Province.32 Another occurred in October 2012, when a police officer from Jiangsu Province happened upon a truck carrying a load of cats during a routine inspection.33 A local journalist notified the Xuzhou Small Animal Rescue Center (XSARC) (徐州小动物救助中心, “ of the situation, and volunteers rushed to help.34 The transporter refused to release the cats without compensation, and the XSARC volunteers and police negotiated the sale of the cats from 5,000 yuan to 3,500 yuan.35 The volunteers transferred the cats to their center and as of writing are in the process of separating them, treating them, and soliciting donations and assistance for the estimated 400 cats rescued.36

More unusual was the January 2012 rescue of over 1,000 dogs in Chongqing. Volunteers from the Chongqing Small Animal Protection Association (重庆市小动物保护协会, were alerted that a truck carrying dogs had been stopped by police as it was exiting Chongqing and hurried to meet it.37 With the assistance of the police, media, local animal quarantine bureau, and two lawyers who work to protect animals’ rights, the CSAPA were able to rescue the dogs without paying the seller anything at all.38

Beyond Animal Welfare Activism

With rapid and widespread communication offered by over one billion mobile phones users39 and over 400 million registered weibo users,40 animal welfare activists have powerful tools to spread information, organize collective actions to inform public debates and opinions, and improve the treatment of animals. The experience of animal welfare activism will certainly contribute to strengthening Chinese citizens’ participation and this is good news for building a compassionate and rights respecting society. However, the lack of legislation protecting animal rights or prohibiting animal cruelty in conjunction with a strong and vocal online animal rights community can also result in violence as seen in the case of Zhou Ying. An important lesson in going forward points to the critical importance of non-violence and respect for the rights of others while advancing targeted social action goals.

Related Videos and Organizations


Undercover journalist’s video of Guizhentang’s bears (2012)
Reposted video from the Xuzhou cat rescue (November 2011)
Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Center

The BHAEEC is a volunteer-based non-profit that runs public education campaigns, promotes animal rights legislation, and organizes animal rescues and placements.
China Small Animal Protection Association

A volunteer social organization based in Beijing, the CSAPA runs public education campaigns, outreach, and organizes animal rescues.

Chinese Animal Protection Network

The Chinese Animal Protection Network is China’s oldest network for animal rights and protection, with 180 member groups across China. Its projects include Animal Rights in China

(动物权利在中国) and its online encyclopedia of animal rights and protection, APpedia  (动物权利在中国); POV (Pioneer of Vegetarian) China, which provides information on a vegetarian lifestyle for Chinese families; and Chinese Companion Animal Protection Network (伴侣动物保护网络), a network for groups and concerned  individuals first formed to stop the practice of eating cats and dogs.

Animal Rescue Beijing

Animal Rescue Beijing is a non-profit volunteer organization which promotes animal rights legislation, organizes public education campaigns, and NGO capacity-building trainings, as well as rescue, adoption, and placement of animals. ARB also runs the Chinese Universities Animal Protection League (中国高校动物保护联盟) to provide a forum for exchange for student groups across China.

Don’t Eat Friends

Don't Eat Friends is a Beijing-based volunteer-run NGO that promotes compassion for humans and animals both, animal rights, and vegetarianism. In addition to running a small shelter, Don’t Eat Friends is known for their volunteers' charity concerts.


1. Via Sohu and also other sites: “Shi pai Shanghai biantai nüe mao nü bei wangyou buhuo” [实拍上海变态虐猫女被网友捕获], May 25, 2012, Liu Xin and Sang Yi [刘歆、桑怡], “Wang pu nüe mao nü chufan zhong nu, qianwang paichusuo qingqiu baohu” [网曝虐猫女触犯众怒 前往派出所请求保护], EastDay [东方网], May 24, 2012,^

2. Shanghai Yi Huabao [上海易画报], August 28, 2012,^

3. Southern Television Guangdong[南方电视], uploaded on July 10, 2012,^

4. Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife [中华人民共和国野生动物保护法], promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress [全国人民代表大会常务委员会], issued November 8, 1988, effective March 1, 1989, revised August 28, 2004,, (official English translation)!fetch.action?id=e03660; Implementing Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Aquatic Wildlife [中华人民共和国水生野生动物保护实施条例], promulgated by the National People’s Congress [全国人民代表大会], issued and effective October 5, 1993,^

5. “Shou bu Dongwu baohu fa (zhuangjia jianyi gao) gongkai zhengqiu yijian” [首部《动物保护法(专家建议稿)》公开征求意见] (hereinafter, Animal Rights Law Draft), China Online [中国网], September 19, 2012, An unofficial translation of the proposed draft law by Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals available at: “Animal Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (Draft),”^

6. “Law of the People’s Republic of China against Cruelty to Animals (draft proposal)” [《中华人民共和国反虐待动物法》(专家建议稿)] (hereinafter, Cruelty Law Draft),; An English translation by representatives from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and the Chinese Academy of Social Science Institute of Law is available at: “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law of the PRC (Experts’ Draft Proposal),” March 1, 2010,^

7. “Draft Law to Punish Animal Cruelty,” China Daily, June 19, 2009,^

8. Cruelty Law Draft, Art. 23.^

9. Animal Rights Law Draft, Art. 30.^

10. “Draft Law to Punish Animal Cruelty,” China Daily, June 19, 2009,^

11. Zhang Kun, Tang Zhihao, and Luo Wangshu, “Shark Fin Soup Is Cruel: Yao Ming,” China Daily, September 23, 2011,^

12. “2012 DAF fan picao sheji da sai” [2012DAF反皮草设计大赛]反皮草设计大赛.^

13. “Animal Rights Groups Seek Performance Ban,” China Daily, April 16, 2012,^

14. For example, this alert in Chongqing: Aimaode Xiaomajia [爱猫的小马甲], October 13, 2012,^

15. For example, this alert about a suspected animal abuser in Shanghai: Ke’ai chongqu tequ [可爱宠物特区], November 3, 2012,^

16. “1.15 重庆救狗英文翻译- More than 1000 Caged Dogs Rescued in Chongqing, China Jan 15 2012,” January 18, 2012,^

17. Xuzhou Small Animal Rescue Center [徐州小动物救助中心], November 7, 2012,; November 9, 2012,^

18. Zheng Jinran, Tan Zonyang, Liu Ce, “Debate Flares over Artificial Bear Bile,” Xinhua News Agency, February 25, 2012,^

19. “Bear Bile Farming: China”^

20. “China Bear-bile Producer Faces IPO Backlash,” Xinhua News Agency, February 11, 2012,; Animals Asia Foundation, “Bear Bile Farming,”^

21. “Watch: Bear Bile Being Collected at a Farm,” Shanghaiist, February 17, 2012,; Animals Asia Foundation, “Opposition to Bear Bile Farming in China,” February 2012,;^

22. Animals Asia Foundation, “China Says NO to Bear Bile – Update May 2012,” Animals Asia, May 2012,; Animals Asia Foundation, “Love Moon Bears Week 2012,”^

23. “Zhongguo 62 jia dong-bao zuzhi huyu: Jinkuai taotai huoxiong qudan ye” [中国62家动保组织呼吁:尽快淘汰活熊取胆业], Tencent Green Channel [腾讯绿色频道],^

24. Wang Ruoyao and Yang Yichen, “Defense for Bear Bile Gathering Provokes Uproar,” Xinhua News Agency, February 17, 2012,^

25. “China Bear-bile Producer Faces IPO Backlash,” Xinhua News Agency, February 11, 2012,; “Watch: Bear Bile Being Collected at a Farm,” Shanghaiist, February 17, 2012,^

26. Wang Ruoyao and Yang Yichen, “Defense for Bear Bile Gathering Provokes Uproar,” Xinhua News Agency, February 17, 2012,^

27. Beijing Loving Animals Foundation [北京爱它动物保护公益基金会], “Zhi Zhongguo Zhengquan Jiandu Guanli Weiyuanhui de xuqing han” [致中国证券监督管理委员会的吁请函],February 14, 2012,^

28. Dou Yuanyuan [窦媛媛], “72 mingren fandui Guizhentang shangshi” [72名人反对归真堂上市], Beijing Evening News [北京晚报], February 15, 2012,^

29. “Guizhentang Shenzhen mendian zao ‘weiguan,’ zhiyuanzhe ban xiong mofang bei qudan” [归真堂深圳门店遭"围观" 志愿者扮熊模仿被取胆], Southern Metropolis Daily [南方都市报], February 27, 2012,^

30. China Business [华商报], February 23, 2012,^

31. “Guizhentang Included in Fujian Provincial Government’s Release of 35 companies Planning to be Listed Publicly”, [福建公示35家拟上市公司 归真堂药业名列其中], Southeast Web, November 25, 2011,  “Guizhentang IPO jihua chongqi” [归真堂IPO计划重启], Securities Daily [证券日报], August 16, 2012,^

32. Jiang Min [姜旻], “Kunming wangyou ye lan la gou da huoche, aiguoren 6 wan mai xia 500 zhi gou” [昆明网友夜拦拉狗大货车 爱狗人6万买下500只狗], Yunnan Online [云南网], April 21, 2012,^

33. “Zai 500 zhi jiamao huoche bei lan, zhiyuanzhe 3500 yuan ma ixia maomi” [载500只家猫货车被拦 志愿者3500元买下猫咪], China News Service [中国新闻社], November 1, 2012,^

34. Xuzhou Small Animal Rescue Center [徐州小动物救助中心], October 31, 2012,^

35. “Zai 500 zhi jiamao huoche bei lan, zhiyuanzhe 3500 yuan mai xia maomi” [载500只家猫货车被拦 志愿者3500元买下猫咪], China News Service [中国新闻社], November 1, 2012,^

36. Xuzhou Small Animal Rescue Center [徐州小动物救助中心], November 7, 2012,; November 9, 2012,^

[37] Jin Zhu, “Dogs Saved from Dinner Looking for New Homes,” China Daily, January 20, 2012,; Jiujiu’er [揪揪儿], “1.15 Chongqing qiu gou zai xingdong!!” [1.15重庆救狗在行动!!], January 16, 2012,^

38. “1.15 重庆救狗英文翻译- More than 1000 Caged Dogs Rescued in Chongqing, China Jan 15 2012,” January 18, 2012,^

39. Forbes, “China Mobile Phone Users Now Top One Billion”, March 30, 2012,^

40. “SINA Reports Third Quarter 2012 Financial Results”, November 15, 2012,^

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