Yep, it’s that time of year again. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago. Nothing has changed.
Oh, to be in the ancient Chinese prefecture-level city of Yulin right now. To walk along the shores of Lake Hongjiannao, smelling the peach blossoms and basking in the sultry summer air. To amble around the Dongkou market, languidly browsing through the schnauzers and the Chow Chows.
I do love the way Chinese towns each have their own delightful traditions. In Yulin, for example, visitors are encouraged to celebrate the summer solstice. This is best done by picking out a plump Pekingese and having it grilled right there in front of you. Your host will serve it with a side order of plump lychees and a glass of potent grain alcohol. Yum!
The annual festival is a vibrant swirl of sights and sounds – mainly the sounds of ten thousand dogs vying for the privilege of being barbecued, stir-fried or boiled. Much like the Chinese themselves, the dogs are happiest when called upon to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
Personally, I can’t think of a better pet than one you can play with and then, when you’re feeling peckish, snack on a leg or nibble on its tail. A playmate in the morning and dinner at night. What’s not to love?
The news report I read about this charming tradition of the orient said there were a few spoilsports who tried to dampen the festive spirit by shouting about cruelty to animals, but all this seemed to do was encourage vendors to hold their animals hostage. One dangled a dog from a noose and threatened to kill it unless the bunny-huggers paid him a handsome ransom. Now that’s what I call an entrepreneur.
There was also a swaddle of Buddhists who wandered about the market performing a religious rite to “console the souls of the slaughtered dogs”. I have no doubt the dogs were awfully grateful, but I can’t help feeling their cause might have been better served had a platoon of Tibetan monks armed with AK-47s turned up instead.
Vendors, like 55-year-old Zhou Jian, lamented the presence of people who think dogs belong on couches, not menus. This year he only managed to offload three Shar-Peis, two pugs and a Manchurian hairless. Most of his merchandise went unsold. “How am I meant to feed my family?” he whined, packing away several cages of Chinese crested dogs. “Oh, right. But that would be eating into my profits.”
The locals say that feasting on dog meat on the summer solstice provides health benefits that last through the winter. They may be right, given that the average age of a Chinese pensioner is 142. Then again, we don’t know if they have dogs to thank for that or some other tasty tidbit like bear bile or tiger testicles. Or snorting a gram of rhino horn twice a day.
Not everyone on that side of the Bamboo Curtain believes dogs are man’s best meal. Actress Yang Mi wrote, “Dogs are more loyal to people than I’d imagined – I think of dogs as friends, not meat.” That kind of talk can get you 20 years in a labour camp. Next thing you know, she’ll be thinking of pro-democracy dissidents as people with rights.
One local resident, Zhang Bing, defended the practice. “Yulin people eat dog meat in all seasons, just like Cantonese eat chicken every day and foreigners eat beef.” Mmmm. Labrador. A dog for all seasons.
Anyway. I’d like to hear what Professor Tim Noakes has to say on the subject. My guess is this: “Look, you get good Shih Tzu and bad Shih Tzu. Stay off the fast food, like whippets and greyhounds. And avoid the Yorkshire terrier pudding. It’s a killer. Retriever is dangerous because you’ll keep coming back for more. Dalmatian will make your skin blotchy and Husky will affect your voice. Bloodhound is too rich and Boerboel too tough. You can’t really go wrong with a lightly grilled Griffon Bleu de Gascogne or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a Miniature Schnauzer mit kartoffels und sauerkraut drizzled with Rottweiler jus. Remember. High-fat, low carb. Or is it the other way around? I do apologise. I had a bite of bulldog for breakfast and, as you know, they are very high in carbohydrates. I don’t feel well at all. You will have to excuse me.”