Note: this article is a look at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival from a guest writer. Neither the Young Pioneer Magazine nor Young Pioneer Tours condone the maltreatment of animals.
Some of the images in this article may be distressing; view at your own risk.
Once a year during the summer solstice, many Chinese friends and families will gather together to eat lychee and dog meat. They believe that eating these two foods will balance out their qi (气) as well as make their businesses prosper the following year. While the tradition of eating dog meat is age-old, the Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee Festival has been held annually since 2009. It is important to understand that a festival in China is very different from how other cultures would see it. In China, a festival is no more than spending time with your family and eating traditional foods. The Dog Meat Festival is no different.
Over the years, critics both in China and abroad have denounced the festival for animal cruelty and inhumane treatment. While locals are busy stirring their pots of dog stew, activists and journalists flock to Yulin to report on the festival. Regardless of your stance on the consumption of dog meat, the Yulin festival is a time when tensions are high on all sides. This makes the festival an unpredictable experience you don’t want to miss!
The night before the festival the local police make their way from hotel to hotel, checking up on all reporters and media. After a quick check of credentials and visa information, they inform all visitors that they will have a police officer dressed in civilian clothes trailing them at all times. The reason for the extra security is that many locals in the markets become violent at the sight of foreign travelers and media. As the locals see it, reporters not only criticize the festival, but also shame the city and its people.
Hostility towards foreigners…
Dongkou Market （垌口市场） is the center of dog meat trade in Yulin, as well as the focal point of controversy. Due to the outcry domestically and internationally, there are no longer live dogs being sold in the market. However, you can still see raccoons, porcupines, and possums being sold for their meat.
Most of the butchers refuse to interact with foreigners, only glaring as they pass by. Any attempts to take photographs will be met with screams and curses. Some of the butchers even go as far as waving their knives threatening foreigners. The community watch, which is no more than a group of thugs, use verbal and physical intimidation to remove any unwanted patrons. This can range from picking fights, breaking cameras, and even forcibly removing people from the market. On the first day of the festival, the market was closed off to visitors from noon due to the violence which took place that morning.
Although South Bridge Market （南桥市场） is nowhere near as big as Dongkou, it is still considered one of the centers for dog meat in Yulin. The overall atmosphere was not as hostile either, however there still are people who will purposely bump into you whenever trying to take pictures. Even the local butchers debated amongst themselves whether or not to welcome foreign tourists to view them carving up the dog carcasses.
Just down the road from South Bridge Market is New Citizens’ Road （新民路）, aka ‘Dog Street’. This street is where most tourists arriving in Yulin will come to try the local delicacy, the most famous of these restaurants being Sister Ning’s （宁大姐脆皮馆）. Due to this restaurant’s popularity, it is often frequented by the media reporting on the festival. Therefore, do not expect a warm welcome when entering the restaurant. Other than Ning’s, all of the other shop owners on New Citizens Road were extremely hospitable, encouraging tourists to taste their dishes and pose for pictures. Even Chinese tourists sitting around their large circular tables and large pots of dog stew are also extremely friendly, inviting travelers to sit and eat together.
…but not from everyone
The people of Yulin can be split into two parts: those who work in the markets and those who don’t. If one were only to visit the butchers in Dongkou and South Bridge, their impression of the people of Yulin would be that they are extremely hostile and violent. This misconception is far from the truth. The Yulin festival is a time where locals and tourists will sit on the streets, enjoying lychee wine and dog stew. When seeing foreigners they will excitedly hop up, inviting them to sit at their table. With smiles on their faces, they will encourage you to try some of their dishes and drink their wine, all while posing for pictures at the same time.
The Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee festival has no opening ceremonies, traditional music, or elaborate decorations. It is merely a time when the amount of dog meat in Yulin increases to meet the demand for the summer solstice. The Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee festival began in 2009 as an effort to attract tourists from around the country to try their local delicacy. The consumption of dog meat for the summer solstice, however, occurs countrywide, especially in southern provinces.
While the Yulin Dog Meat and Lychee festival has been toned down in recent years, it does not make traveling to experience the festivities any less rewarding. The locals of Yulin, for the most part, are wiling to discuss their opinion on the dog meat trade and share their local culture. Even when exploring the winding alleyways of the old district I was constantly surprised by the hospitality of the local Yulinese. No matter if it is butchers throwing their knives at you or sharing glasses of wine and stew with locals, Yulin is sure to give you the experience of a lifetime.
Zachary P. Williams is head editor and photographer at OrphanedNation.com.