Being Humane to Animals

Animal rights, still new in China, is drawing more debate

A draft of the Animal Sanitation Regulations, proposed by the Beijing Legal Affairs Office was posted on the Internet on May 8 to solicit public response. The most striking part of the document was the section devoted to animal welfare, transportation, medical care and limitations on the killing of animals. For example, it stipulates that no one shall “intentionally harass, abuse or injure” animals raised by others. While transporting animals, vehicles must be kept clean, according to the law. “Stress, pain and injury” would be prosecutable as well. In the event of killing animals, such as for epidemic control, “humane” methods shall be adopted to minimize suffering.

This is the first Chinese law dealing with animal welfare. However, Beijing municipal authorities announced several days later that the draft law was accidentally put online. In fact, the draft regulation had been vetoed already.

Despite this, it was reported a few days later that Regulations on Animals for Experimentation, which includes clauses on animal welfare, was submitted to relevant authorities for deliberation and is expected to take effect this year.

The first animal rights law in the world came into being in Britain 180 years ago. Today, developed countries have extensive laws regarding treatment of animals.

The idea of “animal rights” was introduced to China quite recently. The Law on Wildlife Protection, promulgated in 1988, grants legal status to wild animals. However, China has no precise laws protecting animals as of yet.

Only in the last few years has “animal welfare” become a public concept. When a curious college student badly burned five bears in the Beijing Zoo with sulphuric acid and caustic soda in March 2002, great public concern was aroused. Many people demanded that he be subject to legal recourse. To their surprise, experts failed to find any provisions in Chinese law to be applied to the case. The mass slaughter of pomfrets (which eat other fish) in 2002, the killing of civets and stray cats and dogs in the wake of SARS in 2003, and the incineration of domestic birds to curb the spread of bird flu in 2004 all brought about heated public debate over the legal standing of animals. The debate scurries on as follows:

Animals Deserve Rights, Too

Qiu Renzong (research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): Animals will be the beneficiaries of animal rights. Since they are more vulnerable than children, the handicapped and the elderly, they are entitled to special care. We are obliged to help them live comfortably.

Some doubt whether we should protect animal rights when we still have trouble protecting human rights. According to this thinking, one can go on to ask, “Why should we bother with women’s rights, while we haven’t got men’s rights well protected? Why should we protect the rights of homosexuals at a time when heterosexuals’ rights are still not guaranteed?” This is quite absurd. We should not use inadequacies in human rights as justification to ignore animal rights.

Wang Duo (reader): As living things just like us, animals have rights from birth. It is life itself, rather than human beings, which gives rights to them. All creatures are equally entitled to rights. Therefore, it is perfectly justified to respect animal rights. Human rights and animal rights do not conflict. We should attach equal importance to them. This attitude reflects our love of life.

Where to Draw the Line?

Zhang Zhenlian (reader): Arguments [for animal rights] are not convincing to me. Harmful bacteria are living things too, not to mention cockroaches in the kitchen. Can’t we kill them? Maybe it is better to say only harmless animals have rights, but this is ridiculous, too. We never say that only harmless men can enjoy human rights.

Suppose a wild animal under state protection has killed several farmers in a village and is very likely to harm others. If no other method is available, should we kill it or not? The thing to note here is that animal rights, at any rate, are conditional and not identical with human rights.

Zhao Nanyuan (professor at Tsinghua University): People want more and more rights, but rights always go hand in hand with obligations. If animals had rights, would they have any obligations? No, of course not. This is obviously unfair.

The so-called “animal rights theory,” “animal protectionism” and “animal liberation movement” have gone as far as even giving more concern to animals than people. During a company presentation in Beijing, cats and dogs were fed with paint to show that the business’ product was environmentally friendly. Then some “animal rights activists” showed up. They considered this a serious violation of animal rights and were so indignant that they forced the manager to drink the paint himself. As far as they are concerned, animals apparently deserve more respect than humans.

The animal liberation movement is actually thinly disguised anti-humanity. They attempt to call for an end to raising animals and using animals in scientific experiments. If they got their way, we would not be able to eat meat. Moreover, these activists have even exhibited characteristics of terrorism. Science labs have been blown up in Western countries, impeding scientific research. It is scary to think of a day when scientists have to use humans for experimentation because using animals is banned from pressure of these animal rights activists.

Most people are fond of animals and the media’s excessive coverage on animal abuse is misleading.

A More Practical Approach

Gong Zhen (customs officer in Huai’an city, Jiangsu Province): The current concern about animal welfare embodies an improvement of our society. However, it is a complicated issue, which involves animal protection, international trade and social development. Killing animals to satisfy unhealthy human needs will lead to a crisis in our species. But exercising too much control over animal slaughter will hinder economic development. The inhumane killing of animals for food may result in trade conflicts with other countries. Yet, blindly conforming to developed standards will drive up costs, exacerbating competitive inequality. However, if we do not try to nurture love for animals, profound social problems may rise.

To find a good solution to this problem, we need joint efforts from experts on environmental protection, foreign trade, sociology and ethics. Any one-sided view would be harmful.

Qiao Xinsheng (professor at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law): The Beijing municipal government vetoed the draft [animal rights] regulation because it is not workable at present. If the regulations were passed, we can anticipate that it would be impossible for most to follow it, frustrating lawmakers.

Unlike most laws currently in effect, the law on animal rights regulates the relationship between man and nature, which is a new trend in our legal development. There is no doubt that we will need an animal welfare law. However, humans make laws and, therefore, laws are established to make life better for humanity. Of course, our country should enact animal rights laws. But it would be untenable for animal rights to exceed the general, contemporary standards of human rights.

Liang Yuxia (researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): We shouldn’t blindly follow foreign countries regarding animal rights. According to realities in China, I would suggest the following solution: Those rare wild animals at the brink of extinction must be well protected by law. Animals for errand running, experimentation, amusement and other purposes should be properly regulated. However, the time is not right for us to make a law on the welfare of all animals.