This summer, PETA Asia blew the lid off Chinese circuses.
An investigator saw bear cubs chained to the wall with rings through their snouts, lions and tigers hit with heavy metal poles, and monkeys shackled by the neck, defecating in fear as they tried to escape their handlers.
The response was overwhelming.
One of the videos from the investigation was viewed more than 60 million times, and media outlets and state newspapers came down hard on the perpetrators. The investigation also prompted China’s State Forestry Administration to raid a circus and confiscate more than 20 bears when trainers failed to show a licence for them.
In a country without comprehensive animal-protection legislation, the reaction was not only unprecedented but also indicative of how far attitudes about animal rights have come in China, thanks in large part to the boundary-pushing work of PETA Asia and other animal-advocacy groups.
Fur is Dead
Those forward-thinking attitudes are also reverberating throughout the fur industry. China is the world’s largest fur exporter, but as abuse on fur farms – where millions of foxes, minks, dogs, and other animals are strangled, electrocuted, and skinned each year – has come to light, exports have dropped.
In just the first nine months of 2015, they declined by nearly 16 per cent.
And a recent China News Service report revealed that global demand for animal skins has fallen so far since 2013 that processing plants are operating with skeleton crews.
Fur is losing popularity domestically, too. More Chinese celebrities, including A-list actors Sun Li, Yang Mi, and Bo-Lin Chen, are speaking out against fur.
“The Chinese are more and more well-educated today, so the awareness of animal rights … is getting bigger”, said one man, whose family’s factory in China handles animal skins. “That’s why a lot of the new generation don’t wear fur.”
Progress on Cosmetics Cruelty
Currently, the Chinese government requires cosmetics companies to pay for cruel tests on animals in order to sell imported and special-use cosmetics in China – a practice PETA US exposed in 2012.
But just last week, Chinese government officials stated that they will soon, for the first time ever, be recognising data from a completely non-animal test method for safety evaluations of cosmetics.
Animal Rights Dominates on Social Media
The Chinese are using social media and PETA Asia’s website to stay abreast of animal rights issues.
It’s not unusual for a PETA Asia video to be watched 5 million times. Sixteen PETA Asia posts on Weibo – China’s popular social media platform – have been viewed more than 10 million times each, and more than 2.5 million people have read PETA Asia’s op-ed on Tyke the elephant, which was posted on WeChat, making it one of the top posts of the year on the entire platform. Tyke was shot and killed by police on the streets of Honolulu in 1994 after escaping from a circus.
Youth Pushing for Change
In 2015, PETA Asia launched a groundbreaking new exhibit, the first of its kind in China. The display, called “Animals ≠ Entertainment,” toured universities and festivals across the country, reminding students that animals are not ours to use for entertainment.
The proof, though, is in the (vegan) pudding: only one person attended a fur protest that was held nearly 20 years ago in Hong Kong. When a demonstration is held there today, scores of compassionate people turn out to speak up for animals.