China's Twitter, called Weibo, helps generate momentum for animal welfare

The Weibo message—calling for laws to combat animal cruelty—was retweeted 34,000 times and more than 2,600 netizens enthusiastically commented in support of the appeal.Word spread like wildfire when a group of police officers from a coastal city in southern China posted an appeal on their official Weibo account “@ Xiamen Siming Police Station” (Weibo is China’s equivalent of Twitter).

The message—calling for laws to combat animal cruelty—was retweeted 34,000 times and more than 2,600 netizens enthusiastically commented in support of the appeal.

It read:

“Enough is enough. We have had enough of the cruel treatment of animals. Over 100 countries in the world have adopted anti-cruelty laws.

Yet, there is no such legislation on mainland China to prosecute those who abuse animals intentionally.

We appeal for your support today.  

By clicking with your mouse on Weibo, you can urge for the amendment of China's criminal laws and the promulgation of anti-cruelty legislation to ban acts abusive of animals, promotion of videos glorifying animal cruelty and abandonment of companion animals, a prosecutable crime.”

This isn’t entirely new. In recent years, Chinese citizens are increasingly getting their voices heard, bypassing the state-controlled media online and through social media.

Online exposés of abusive conducts to animals have created waves after waves of public condemnation, with many achieving substantive and sometimes immediate results, such as stopping planned mass-killing of dogs to blocking a business farming bears for their bile getting IPO on the stock exchange. 

But what has touched me particularly about this posting is that the originators of this appeal are police officers. Many of them across the country are increasingly frustrated by laws that are antiquated, contradictory, or full of loopholes.

As is stated in the appeal, no laws exist to regulate people’s behavior in their treatment of animals.

The Wildlife Protection Law, for example, does little to actually protect wildlife or its ecosystem. Rather, the law focuses more on the utilization of wild animals, particularly those “with economic, scientific and cultural value.”

Under this law thousands of bears are kept behind bars, with their bodies surgically altered so people can tap their bile juice to mass produce into eye drops, teas, wines and shampoo.

Under this law, the mighty tiger—Asia’s King of the jungle—is reduced to nothing more than pigs and cows, speed-bred and mass-raised, with their bones soaked into wine and their striped pelts made into rugs. 

While the law prohibits the hunting and killing of protected species in the wild, the sale of parts and products from tigers and elephants are allowed with licenses issued by the same authorities tasked to protect wildlife. 

Critics often cite “poor enforcement” as the reason for China hosting the world’s largest illegal ivory market which is fueling the massacre of tens of thousands of African elephants. However, few recognize that unenforceable laws are the real problem.

China’s domestic ivory market confuses consumers and provides cover for illegal ivory to be sold. Wildlife enforcement officers lament that the existence of parallel legal and illegal markets makes enforcement next to impossible. Once a piece of ivory is on the market, neither a consumer nor a law enforcement officer can differentiate whether it comes from legal or illegal sources.

While wildlife laws need updating and strengthening to adequately protect wild animals and their habitats, many domestic animals suffer without any protection at all.

Skinning animals alive for their fur, throwing live cats into boiling water, forcing water into pigs to increase their weight before sale, circulating video of crushing a kitten with a high heel…these are just a few of the animal abuse incidents that have generated widespread condemnation in China and around the world. Yet, without anti-cruelty legislation, perpetrators of these unspeakable cruel acts on animals go unpunished. 

Take the notorious case of Liu Haiyang, a college student from China's prestigious Qinghua University, who poured acid onto bears at Beijing zoo. Liu could only be charged with “destruction of public property” which came only with a slap on the wrist.  

Since 2011, proposals for changing China’s Wildlife Protection Law and drafting anti-cruelty laws have repeatedly been tabled at the annual meetings of the legislative bodies.

Hopefully, this situation—tapping on the universal power of the internet—will build some momentum, for the upcoming sessions of the legislative congresses in March.

Having animal welfare legislation established and enforced in countries around the world is the mission of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

I know this is shared by an increasing number of Chinese people. 

For example, in a poll 80% of the respondents support the promulgation of anti-cruelty legislation in order to stop the wonton killing of dogs in the name of “rabies prevention.”

Now it is time to urge for China’s leadership to realize that there is no better way to foment the country’s moral progress than by establishing laws that protect animals as living beings.


For more information about IFAW efforts in China, visit our program page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
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Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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