China Bans Ancient Dog-Eating Festival Amid Online Outcry

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David Gray / Reuters

A truck carrying dogs travels along a road on the outskirts of Beijing in June 2011

For the first time in 600 years, residents of Qianxi Township, China, will be banned from holding an ancient dog-eating festival after the public voiced their discontent on the Internet.

The three-day event, which usually takes place in October, commemorates a historic 14th century military victory of the Ming Dynasty. According to legend, the army of Zhu Yuanzhang secretly invaded Qinaxi and killed all the dogs so that the animals wouldn’t bark and give away the troops’ position pre-battle. When the city was secured, the army celebrated by feasting on the meat of the slaughtered dogs. Thus the tradition was born.

While animal advocates around the world may shudder at this thought, in China, and other parts of Asia, it’s not uncommon for humans to eat dogs. In ancient times, dog meat was considered to have medicinal purposes, while today, it is still socially acceptable for the Chinese to purchase dogs and cats at local markets for the sole purpose of sustenance.

(MORE: Chinese Animal Activists Save Hundreds of Dogs from Being Eaten)

Keeping dogs as pets was banned in China throughout the cultural revolution. However, since that ban has been lifted, dog ownership has become increasingly popular in China’s middle class.

This is perhaps why the Qinaxi festival has garnered more and more criticism in recent years. In an effort to prove that the meat vendors were selling was fresh, many merchants have taken to skinning and slaughtering the animals in the streets during the event. For a country that is slowly becoming more animal-friendly, this gruesome development didn’t go over well among citizens.

According to Xinhuanet, hundreds of thousands of people have posted criticisms of the festival on Internet forums and social networking sites. Additionally, the Qianjiang Evening News reported that most local villagers opposed the carnival, citing a local government survey.

(MORE: China Completely Bans Animals Circuses)

However, there are still some villagers who are unhappy about the ban. “It’s our tradition, which the government has no right to ban,” one local villager told Xinhuanet. “The dog-eating carnival is like the Spring Festival to me.”

Chinese legal experts recently proposed a ban on eating dogs and cats, based on beliefs that the animals are poorly treated and bred purely for slaughter. While a ban has not yet been considered, it has sparked hopes among animal advocates that China’s record of poor treatment of animals may soon come to an end.

Erin Skarda is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ErinLeighSkarda. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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