The Shenzhen Cat Meatball Restaurant

This is an exercise in reverse engineering.  Specifically, we will trace the steps backwards to when it first emerged into western public consciousness.  This exercise is less about cats and dogs than about the power of the Internet to drive the mainstream media to forge public opinion pressure.  A local news report had no immediate impact, but the Internet response led to actions and results that drew global attention.

The June 19th report in Xinhua Net is here.

A restaurant specializing cat meat in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, was forced to close Saturday after the protest of some 40 activists that drew a large crowd including children.

Isobel, founder of a cat-protection website based in Shenzhen and organizer of the protest, and other activists started the protest at 4 p.m. with a white rose on the chest in memory of the slaughtered cats, holding banners and handing out handbills to denounce eating cats and dogs.  Isobel, in her 30s, told Xinhua over telephone on Sunday that they chose the restaurant Fangji Cat Meatball because it slaughtered cats in the street and "it is very bad for the students from nearby schools".  One of the banners read "cats and dogs are friends of human being. Have respect for lives by stopping eating them please!"

In many parts of China especially the southern regions, people take cat meat as their favorite diet. Previous reports said that in Guangzhou alone the citizens ate 10,000 cats every day in the winter season.  The activists, mostly women, poured into the restaurant demanding its owner to set free the cats. They burst into tears upon finding a skinned one in a fridge.

There were no live cats in the restaurant as the owner, according to an eyewitness, relocated them to other places on Friday night.  "I cannot go on with my business, and I will not sell cat meat any more," the restaurant owner said after removing his shop sign from the wall. However, he persisted in Guangdong there is a tradition in eating cats.

"We will continue to protest if this restaurant still sells cat meat," Isobel said.  To her satisfaction, many students on the spot told Isobel that they would keep a close watch on the restaurant and report to her if anything happens to cats.  Eating cats and dogs is often seen in Guangdong, but "you cannot keep eating only because it is a tradition," Isobel argued.

Miss Shenzhen for the year of 2005 Gao Haiyun also went to the restaurant to protest, calling passengers to "stop eating cats and dogs and become civilized". 

Similar reports from other sources are listed here:

If you go back one day, you will find the story reported in slightly greater length in the Southern Metropolis Daily.  So all the previous reports were re-writes of this original eyewitness report.  The fact is that this was a small local affair and the national and international news agencies did not have a physical presence.  Still, the subject was a bunch of protestors drawn from Internet website forum discussions.

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  Restaurant slaughters cat in the street; netizens protests.  By Zhang Jing and Song Yuanhui (张璟 宋元晖).  June 18, 2006.

[in translation]

Cats were turned into meatballs for hotpot meals and the slaughter of the cats took place right on the street not far away from the diners.  This scene occurred at a newly opened restaurant "Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant" in Shenzhen.  Yesterday afternoon, almost one hundred animal rights defenders gathered in front of the restaurant to protest.  At one point, the angry cat lovers entered the cat meatball restaurant to demand the shop owner to free the cats.

On June 15, this reporter went to the Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant on Lianhua Road in Buji district of Shenzhen.  The shop is about 10 or so square meters in area.  There were seven cages containing cats of various colors on the sidewalk in front.  The slaughter area was just one or two meters away from the cages.  Two shop employees took a brown cat, slit its throat and drained its blood.  Then they picked up the dead cat with a thong and threw it into a large iron pot of boiling water.  Afterwards, they picked the cat up and then the two shop employees used a sharp knife to skin the cat.  After washing the cat, they cut off the head and tossed it into a garbage bag on the side.  According to the shop owner, they are from the Jiaozhou-Shantou area where cat meat is popular.  The cat soup for the hotpot costs 25 yuan while the cat meatballs cost 60 yuan per kilogram.  Each cat will yield at most one kilogram, and therefore this is expensive stuff.

Yesterday afternoon at 4pm, the founder of the Shenzhen Cat Net Isobel went with more than 10 cat lovers in front of the shop.  They held publicity placards and leaflets and they were waiting to meet other cat lovers.  Isobel explained the Cat Net is an organization that is concerned about stray cats.  After this newspaper reported on the problem of cat slaughtering and consumption in the street, the Cat Net netizens were heartbroken and therefore decided to hold an action to protest the act of slaughtering cats in the street.

At 430pm, the protestors unfolded a banner and raised their placards on which were written slogans such as "Love little animals, respect life."  They distributed the leaflet for "A Letter to Shenzhen Citizens" which said that "cats and dogs are friends of human beings and refusing to eat cat and dog meat is to respect life."  The action received the attention of many pedestrians and residents.

Before the action, the organizer Isobel told the reporter that they wanted to adopt a rational approach.  But during the protest, some angry protestors went into the cat meatball restaurant and demanded the shop owner to free the cats.  The shop owner said that there were no more cats in the restaurant.  The reporter observed that there was only one goose and several chickens.  The protestors found a skinned cat and two bags of cat meatballs in the refrigerator.  At the sight, several female cat lovers hugged each other and cried.  When the protestors could not find any cats in the restaurant, they attempted to go upstairs to look but found nothing.

Even though the cat rescue mission failed, the protestors made speeches in front of the restaurant with a loudspeaker.  Many elementary school children and their parents were attracted to the scene, and some students also protested against the slaughter of cats.

Against the condemnations from the numerous cat lovers, the cat meatball restaurant owner took down the plastic "Fang Company Cat Meatball" sign, locked up the shop and left.

At 6pm, after the cat meatball restaurant owner has left, the protestors prepared to proceed to another restaurant in Shawan.  Supposedly that restaurant advertises with a sign that says "Cat Meat 120."  Isobel said that there are no animal protection laws and so their actions are awkward.  They want to gain government attention to come up with legislation to prevent cruelty against animals.

Ms Shenzhen 2005 Gao Haiyun is the spokesperson for Cat Net.  Today, she brought along a banner that said: "Boycott harmful eating habits; refuse to eat cats and dogs; be a civilized person."  According to information, this incident gained a lot of attention at the Guangdong One Net, so that many of their netizens came to join the Cat Net cat lovers to protest yesterday.  Almost one hundred people were iat the protest today.

In memory of all the slaughtered cats, each protestor wore a white rose on the lapel.

Now the preceding report refers to the fact that protestors first caught wind of what was happening through a previous report in Southern Metropolis Daily.  So the following is the translation of the initial report, which was broadly carried across China.  By comparison, this report is overwhelmingly much more powerful and considered than the more commonly cited but abbreviated versions cited above.  Oh, you better watch out for the photos at the bottom!

(Southern Metroplis Daily)  Caring About Animals Is Caring About Yourself.  Edited by Lu Ruojing (卢若情).  June 16, 2006.

[in translation]

At a certain Jiaozhou-Shantou restaurant right next to a school, cats were being slaughtered to be turned into meatballs for hotpot meals.  Some diners come from afar and enjoyed themselves immensely.  Other diners observed the slaughter and totally lose their appetites.  Meanwhile elementary and secondary school students saw the slaughter and fled from the scene in terror.  This has generated condemnations from cat lovers who called for kind treatment of animals.  Such was the scene that unfolded in front of the newly opened "Fang Company Cat Meatball Restaurant" in the Buji district of Shenzhen.  On the evening of June 13, the reporter saw a cage of cats curled up in terror in front of the restaurant.

The shop owner said, "Cat meal is good for removing dampness and it is nutritious."  Cat meat is popular in the Jiaozhou and Shantou areas of Guangdong province.

The shop is about 10 or so square meters in area.  There were seven cages with colored cats inside on the sidewalk in front.  The slaughter area was just one or two meters away from the cages.  Two shop employees took a brown cat, slit its throat and drained its blood.  Then they picked up the cat with a thong and threw it into a large iron pot of boiling water.  Afterwards, they picked the cat up and then the two shop employees used a sharp knife to skin the cat.  After washing the cat, they cut off the head and tossed it into a garbage bag on the side.

"We don't want the cat's head," said the shop employee.  The cat stomach and intestines are kept, but everything else is thrown away.  In less than 30 minutes, the shop employee skillfully finished the slaughter, the skinning and the gutting.  "There is actually very little meat on a cat," said the shop employee.  "Only the meat on the thighs can be used to make meatballs."

The reporter noticed that the cats inside the cages on the sidewalk were curled up.  Some of the cats do not look pretty and are actually quite filthy.  But other cats look pretty, cute and lovely.  When the reporter approached the cage with his hands held out, some of the cats which have observed their companions slaughtered were terrified, emitted screeching sounds and recoiled in horror.  When the humans back off, some cats emitted the desperate sounds of "meow meow."

"Where do these cats come from?" the reporters asked the hotpot restaurant owner.  "From the north."  According to the owner, the restaurant has been in business for only three days.  The cat meat soup costs 25 yuan, and the cat meatballs cost 60 yuan per kilogram.  According to him, the cat meatballs were made from the top-quality body parts.  A single cat will only yield at most one kilogram of meat, so the price is expensive.  But cat meatballs are exquisite and different from other kinds of meat.  Many people are repeat customers.  "But there are not many customers yet because this is a new business," said the owner.  Neighboring restaurants also said that this cat meatball restaurant was a recent entry.

"There are many stray cats in this district.  I don't know if you will take them," the reporter asked in feigned innocence.  "Of course!  Stray cats at seven yuan per kilogram!"  said the shop owner without any hesitation.  But he said that he did not know how to catch cats.  But if a customer brings them it, he would take them.

"Cats grow up eating mice, so wouldn't their meat be poisonous?  Do you test whether the cat meat is clean?"  When asked by the reporter, the two shop employees said, "As long as we slaughter the cat cleanly and discard the unnecessary parts, there is no problem.  Isn't this the same with other animals?"

"Why do you have to eat cats?" asked the reporter.  "Cat meat can get rid of dampness.  It is nutritious and it is good for the fluids and spirits of the body" said the shop employees while they are scrubbing the tub that they kill the cats in.  They only accept male cats, because female cats stink and are not tasty.  They think that cats are no different from any other kind of animals that people eat.  According to information, there are not too many customers as yet, so they only need to slaughter two or three cats per day.

On this evening, the reporter observed that eating cat meat is still not generally accepted by the public.  There were more customers at the fresh fish restaurant next door.  By comparison, business was slow at this cat meatball restaurant.  There were just three or four male diners who watched the slaughter and then ate enthusiastically.  According to the shop employee, those were repeat customers.

Some diner said that it was psychologically difficult to eat cats, because cats are pets for people; in addition, cats are aloof and mysterious and so it is inauspicious to eat them.  "People seem to be capable of eating anything nowadays.  The 'cat torture' incident caused an Internet uproar, but they are now slaughtering cats in public for consumption.  People are sometimes so scary" said a passerby with reluctance.

On the afternoon of June 14, the reporter went once again to the cat meatball restaurant.  The restaurant is located at the back entrance of the Aiyi School.  Some elementary and middle school students gathered round to watch the slaughter.  When they saw the shop employees swung the iron pipe that killed the cat, some of the male students were stunned.  Some of the female students shielded their eyes with their hands or fled the scene screaming.

Soon, some adults came over and took their children away.  Some adults thought that this was cruel and brutal.  But during the entire slaughtering process, nobody made any protest about killing cats in the middle of the street.

According to the Aiyi School, there are over one thousand students there.  At the present, the school has not received any complaints from parents about the killing of cats in the street.  About one hundred meters away from the restaurant is the Buji district Lianhua Elementary School.  The school principal said that about 300-400 students go past this restaurant after school, so it is inappropriate for the students to witness the blood scene.  But the school has no legal authority.  It can only report the situation to the Departments of Commerce and Health and hope that the activity can be halted so that the students can have a decent living environment.

"We don't want to eat cat meat and dog meat.  I have been thinking about what Guangdong people like to eat cat meat."  On the day before yesterday, Shenzhen Cat Net's Isobel said that in their propaganda, they take two angles: one is a sentimental appeal and the other is a health angle in order to persuade people to treat animals well and refuse to eat cat and dog meat.  She believes that cats and dogs are pets to humans and so that means that their statuses are different from other animals.  "We hope that people can understand and treat animals better."

"Why do some many of us like to eat cat and dog meat?" asked Isobel.  "Because we define meat broadly and we believe any meat can be consumed without differentiation."  But from the health angle, cats and meats do not come from fixed sources and their health status cannot be assured.  "Therefore, we tell society to refuse to eat cat and dog meat and establish a different eating pattern."

But she said that this will be a gradual process.  In China, there are no corresponding laws to forbid the consumption of cats and dogs.  There are no corresponding units such as the Department of Health to supervise the process either.

"When we push for refusing to consume cat and dog meat, we encounter many issues," said Isobel.  "Some businesses exercise their rights to run their businesses and we cannot dissuade them."  Furthermore, there is the more infuriating situation when people steal others' pets and sell them to the restaurants.

According to Shenzhen Pets Association president Zhu Xiaofan, it is a custom to consume cats and dogs in Guangdong.  There is a Guangdong dish known as "Dragon Meets Tiger" which is based upon mixing cats with snakes and it consider a traditionally dish that is a good omen.  "But we do not approve of eating cats and dogs," he said.  "There are many viruses in cats and dogs, and there are many instances in which people get infected."

But he said that while there are many regulations about rearing dogs in Shenzhen, none exists for rearing cats.  Since cats have three or four times the reproductive capacity as dogs, there are stray cats in every district.  The situation of stray cats is presently an unmanageable situation.

As to whether people should eat cat, citizens have different opinions.  Some do not believe that cats are any different from other animals.  "Guangdong dishes have always included cats in the menu."  But other netizens disagree.  Some citizens believe: "If other animals can be eaten, then why not cats?"

The famous Guangdong dish "Dragon Meets Tiger" is about mixing snakes with cats in a hotpot and is legendary.  So there is a contemporary edition in the Buji district with a restaurant offering cat meatballs that drew customers to sample the dish.

When the reporter first heard about it, stomach acid began to gush up about how those cats became people's food.  Slaughtering the cats on the curbside is a form of "torture" that the public finds unacceptable.  In the "cat torture" case, a netizen noted that humans can slaughter animals to ensure their own survival in nature's food chain, but animals should have their own 'dignity.'

Do you accept slaughtering cats for food?  Based upon a survey within a small circle, nobody accepted it.  The reason was that people believed that cats are lovely animals and unharmful to human beings.  Besides, the slaughtered animals are stray cats whom nobody loves.  They are compelled to stray like the urban wanderers.  Sometimes they get to eat and other times they starve.  They have no masters to provide shelter for them and they live under the threat of the butcher's knife.

The reason why we care about these cats is that we have pity hidden in our hearts.  The propaganda about survival contains too much about the strong defeating the weak and it erodes our respect for life.

In <<The Unbearable Lightness of Being>>, Milan Kundera wrote: "The true test of humanity and morality is about how one treats those animals that deserve pity."

From cats to humans, the sympathy for the weak is a noble sentiment for urban dwellers.  The true test of humanity is not just about how we treat vulnerable animals, but about how the strong should treat the weak.

In a city full of those who have succeeded, those who are still pursuing their dreams, those who are disappointed and those who are struggling to survive, the limited resources of the city ensure that some of these people are like sunset enterprises destined for elimination.  Some people are restricted by their conditions and will live in hardship.  We should not pause to withhold applause from those who have succeeded.  But for those who are finding it hard to survive, they don't necessarily want your alms and aid, but at least you can give them some sympathy and less contempt and exclusion.