The development of China's animal protection legislation
One of the biggest problems facing Animals Asia and other welfare organisations trying to improve the lives of animals in China is the lack of Chinese welfare legislation. Time and time again, our discussions with the Chinese authorities elicit tacit support for our stance on many issues, but the authorities cannot act because they have no legal framework on which to base any action.
China has some laws protecting endangered species of wild animals, but no protection for other animals within the country. For instance,
Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife Adopted at the Fourth Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Seventh National People's Congress on November 8, 1988 and promulgated by Order No.9 of the President of the People’s Republic of China on November 8, 1988. This law came into effect on March 1st 1989
In addition, China has a law to control animal epidemics, but this has been written to maintain the health and welfare of people, rather than the welfare of animals.
Law of the People’s Republic of China on Animal Epidemic Prevention. Adopted at the 26th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Eighth National People’s Congress on July 3, 1997 and amended at the 29th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Tenth National People’s Congress on August 30, 2007
A crucial part of our work therefore involves developing relationships with government officials, lawyers, academics and the public in China, to generate support for, and encourage the development of, such legislation. Animals Asia has translated and forwarded examples of welfare legislation from Western countries, Singapore and Taiwan, to the authorities in Beijing, in an effort to encourage the development of legislation. This is a long-term process, but one we are convinced will eventually reap rewards.
Acts of cruelty spark calls within China for animal-welfare laws
Hope often develops from tragedy and in February 2002 the world learnt of the horrendous act of a Beijing college student, arrested at Beijing Zoo for throwing caustic soda and sulphuric acid onto five bears. Following this appalling incident, people across the world united in their criticism. This atrocious act was also widely condemned within China with discussions developing on internet chatrooms calling for action to be taken against this student. Bloggers also called for laws to stop other acts of cruelty against animals.
2004: First laws drafted and presented to National Government
Real hope for the development of legislation emerged when Qiang Lei, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Beijing committee, proposed that China urgently draft a law to protect animal-welfare nationwide at the annual CPPCC Beijing Committee session.1 Qiang Lei expressed particular concern for livestock, especially at the time of slaughter saying ‘if animals die in a great panic, their blood can secrete toxins which are harmful to people’s health…..’ He went on to say ‘The Ministry of Health has set out several rules for the slaughter of animals, but that such standards are superficial, limited and hard to be put into operation’
In addition, Xinhuanet.com (China’s official online news service) reported that Beijing was considering the adoption of such laws. Proposals drafted by the Beijing municipal government stipulated that “no one should harass, maltreat or hurt others’ animals and that while carrying animals from one place to another, the vehicles used must be kept clean and animals must be protected from suffering shock, torture or hurt. If animals are killed for disease control they must be killed in a humane way and must be isolated while being killed.”
The regulation also contained restrictions on animal experiments in schools and a ban on using animals for fighting, for gambling and entertainment purposes. The fine for breaking these regulations was proposed to be set at 10,000 RMB.2 Unfortunately this law was not accepted, with an official from Beijing city legal affairs office saying “it’s still premature to have this type of law”.
Although overall this was disappointing, the very fact that this draft was presented to the national government shows that China is ready for the development of animal-protection legislation
Further encouraging developments from the animal-welfare movement within China
At the same time as the discussions on draft legislation, a further encouraging development took place. While the rest of the world was slowly turning its back on bullfighting, China was on the verge of developing this barbaric practice. But the promoters had not bargained for the strength of feeling against such cruelty from within China.
China’s animal-welfare movement, growing ever stronger, protested against this development and ultimately barred bullfighting from China. Zhang Luping, Head of the Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Centre was quoted in the “LA Times” as saying, “This is a very significant victory; it shows that ordinary people’s voices can be heard in China and that policies can be changed.”3
2005: Draft law on animal husbandry
Further encouragement was reported in August 2005 when a draft law on animal husbandry was submitted to the 17th meeting of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress. Shu Huiguo, vice-chairman of the NPC Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee said “giving attention to animal welfare is crucial for improving the quality of China's livestock products and shows the progress of our civilization’.4
Once again, this law was not accepted, but shows that animal-welfare legislation is firmly on the agenda of some members of the National People’s Congress.
2007: Draft bill to end bear farming
Animals Asia has been working with the Chinese government since 2000 to end the barbaric practice of bear farming. In 2007, Zhou Ping, a member of China's National People's Congress Party proposed new legislation to protect bears, specifically to halt the collection of bear bile, an ingredient in Chinese medicine.
Ms Zhou Ping, a representative from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province challenged the practice, which was encouraged by China in the 1990s as a way to stop the hunting of endangered wild bears for their bile.5
This bill was not passed, but helped to raise the issue of bear farming and the need to outlaw this practice with over 3,000 NPC delegates from across the country.
2008: Conference on animal-welfare legislation
In December of 2008, Toby Zhang, Director of External Affairs at our Chengdu Rescue Centre, attended a conference at the University of Politics and Law in the ancient city of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province in central China. The conference was convened to discuss the current status of international animal-welfare legislation, and the development of such legislation in China. The forum was co-hosted by the university, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), RSPCA International, and the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (OCAE).
In all, some 300 delegates attended. They included representatives from government departments, law societies and universities in China, and several international groups. The conference consisted of presentations, question-and-answer sessions, and lively discussions.
The conference discussed the current Chinese legislation relating to wild animals and the ambiguity and lack of transparency regarding the roles of the various Chinese government departments managing animal issues (industry and commerce, food and drug safety, Chinese medicine, forestry), as well as the lack of resources and/or willingness of these departments to tackle such issues.
There was support for the concept that animal-welfare legislation could have a positive influence on society generally, and that many animal-welfare protagonists also promote positive humanitarian, political and social reforms.
It was recognised that any legislation designed to protect animals should also benefit humanity, in order to gain public acceptance, and that while China needed to be aware of international standards and legislation, it must develop its own unique legal framework.
Discussions on how to move forward with plans for Chinese legislation recognised the importance of conservation, the intrinsic value and emotions of animals, and the advantages of meeting international standards for trade purposes. Public opinion and issues of morality, ownership and disease control, need to be considered.
There are clear differences between the protection of animals, animal welfare, and animal rights. It is likely that initial draft legislation in China will concentrate on the protection of vertebrates.
Encouragingly, the conference marked the establishment of the Animal Protection Law Research Center at the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Shaanxi – a first for China. 6
2009: Draft proposals for animal-welfare legislation in China
In 2009, we saw once again the brutality of government-sponsored killing campaigns against dogs, with over 40,000 dogs brutally slaughtered on the streets of Hanzhong City. To take something positive from this tragedy, we saw the Chinese animal-welfare movement pull together to call for an end to these barbaric killings. Another step towards the real possibility of China developing its first animal welfare law.
Following the conference in 2008, lawyers from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences led by Professor Chang Jiwen, have been in discussion with the RSPCA and IFAW, drawing up proposals for a national animal-welfare law. This could criminalise the brutal culling of dogs and other forms of companion animal maltreatment. The hope is that the final version of the law will be accepted by the National Congress of the Communist Party of China within the next three years.
A recent survey carried out by Internet portal sina.com shows 89 per cent of more than 63,000 people surveyed support the legislation.7
Reasons for hope
After more than 20 years working in China, we know how fast things can change – and we know already from working with various government departments in Beijing and Sichuan Province, that there is definitely a growing recognition and sympathy towards the issue of animal welfare generally (which did not exist 10 years ago); and, like our Moon Bear Rescue, which is progressing as a result of good relations with the government and local community, we feel that the issue of cruelty to other animals can be similarly addressed.
Animals Asia is working with Chinese welfare organisations across the country to aid their grass-roots educational work. This is a vital first step towards mass improvement of animal welfare across the country. In 2006, we proudly hosted the China’s first Companion Animal Symposium. This ground-breaking event saw 32 Chinese animal-welfare groups from across the country join together to share the many problems they face and call with one voice for new solutions to help dogs and cats in China. It is estimated that these 32 groups represented 250,000 people!
The success of the China Companion Animal Symposium continues to grow and in 2009 we held the 3rd symposium, which saw 130 delegates, representing 63 animal-welfare groups and veterinary clinics from across China once again coming together to speak with one voice for animals in China. At the end of the symposium, all representatives agreed to call on the Chinese government to ban the consumption of cats and dogs countrywide. This message is coming from within China.
Compassion in World Farming is supporting the development of farm-animal welfare in China by working with the RSPCA, WSPA and Humane Society International to organise a series of conferences in October 2009 for universities and the food and farming industries.
What you can do
Animals Asia never underestimates the power of the written word, and while a single letter or email may not seem like much, the collective expression of many people's opinions can help bring about real change.
For example, in Hong Kong, letter-writing efforts by Animals Asia and others encouraged the Hong Kong Disney Foundation and the University of Hong Kong to take sharks’ fin soup off their menus.
I urge you to do all that you can to encourage the Chinese Government to implement comprehensive animal-welfare legislation to protect animals from such cruelty. Please write a polite letter to the Chinese Ambassador and send it to the main embassy address in your country. Embassy addresses can be found here:
There is a long way to go, but the wheels are in motion, and with your support we hope they will eventually lead to a brighter future for animals in China.