Yulin Dog Meat Festival 2022: When Is It, Why Is It Held and What Happens?

The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China's Guangxi autonomous region has drawn criticism from animal rights campaigners both in the country and abroad. But why is the controversial event, which is set to commence later this month, held and what actually happens there?

The event, which is also known as the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, takes place over the course of 10 days starting on June 21 in Yulin, a city in Guangxi in southern China, bordering Vietnam.

What Is the Origin of the Festival?

According to Peter Li, the Humane Society International's China policy expert, the festival was launched in 2009/2010 by Yulin's dog meat traders purely as a commercial event in an attempt to boost their flagging dog meat sales.

"It has no cultural origins in Yulin, in fact before that date, dog meat consumption was never part of the local mainstream food culture and the 'festival' had never existed. Even now, opinion polls show that most people living in Yulin don't eat dog meat," Li told Newsweek.

However, Li said it is important to note that Yulin is not unique in Guangxi, and there are many other towns and cities in the region where dog meat is sold at markets, shops and restaurants.

"Although dog and cat meat eating is not part of China's culinary mainstream food culture, and most people in China don't eat it, Guangxi is still something of a stronghold," he said. "And of course across the whole of China, the dog and cat meat trade happens all year round."

yulin dog meat festival
Activist tries to stop van of dogs in cages ahead of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Yulin city, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in June 2014. Thousands of dogs are killed for the festival every year. Getty Images

"So while the international focus on one week in Yulin is helpful in that it encourages awareness and debate about this hideously cruel trade, it's important to remember that after Yulin is over, dogs and cats are still being stolen, trafficked and killed in brutal ways for the meat trade," he said. "That's why we must campaign for an end to the whole trade, not just Yulin."

What Happens at the Festival?

The term "festival" is a slightly misleading term for the event, according to Li.

"There is very little about this week in June that would be recognizable as festivities or celebration," he said. "It is a week-long period during which dog meat is eaten in greater volume that normal, and visitors from other locations in China come to the city to visit the dog meat restaurants and markets."

It is also important to remember that outside of the main festival dates, many dogs and cats are still slaughtered in Yulin, particularly in the days leading up to the event.

While the number of attendees has fallen in the past couple of years, in part, due to China's strict COVID measures, thousands of people are expected to attend this year.

"Normally we would see trade in dogs picking up starting in mid-May, including huge trucks stuffed full with dogs and cats all crammed in tiny cages who will have been made to travel hundreds of miles for many days across provincial borders without food, water or any care whatsoever," Li said.

"By the time the dogs and cats reach Yulin for unloading at the slaughterhouses and markets, they can be in a terrible state—injured from the rough handling, dehydrated, covered in skin disease and very sickly."

Once they arrive in Yulin, the animals will be sold to slaughterhouses, all of which are illegal because dogs and cats are not considered official livestock animals in China, and are not from traceable sources required by China's Food Safety Law. This means that slaughterhouses are not supposed to kill them for human consumption.

"Nonetheless, these places exist and they are usually hidden away in an alleyway in Yulin, or in the suburbs of the city," Li said.

While there are no specific festivities or celebrations to speak of, attendees gather to eat delicacies such as dog meat stew and crispy dog meat. Some dishes also combine dog meat with drinking lychee liquor—both of which are believed to have special properties in Chinese medicine.

How Are the Animals Killed?

Once the animals have arrived in Yulin, they are usually kept in pens before being slaughtered and sold to markets and restaurants. Nowadays, the killing is usually done in the very early hours of the morning to avoid the glare of the media, according to Li. Sometimes dogs can be bought live at shops and stalls to be killed freshly for the customer.

dog yulin festival
A dog set for slaughter at a free market ahead of the Yulin Dog Eating Festival in 2014. Activist pressure has meant the number of dogs killed during the festival has reduced significantly in recent years. Getty Images

"Cruelty and suffering exist at every part of this trade," Li said. "Once at Yulin—or any destination—the unloading of dogs is violent, with cages routinely hurled off of the truck and smashed down on to the ground. Bodily injuries caused by the sharp wire caging, biting, rough handling and limbs becoming crushed, cause untold suffering to the dogs."

"The method by which they are slaughtered varies but dogs are usually beaten to death with a metal pipe in full view of each other, and then bled out from a cut to the throat or groin," he said. "When you visit a dog or cat slaughterhouse, you'll find traumatized dogs there who have witnessed the killing of their cage mates and must surely know that the same will happen to them. It's a hugely upsetting experience."

How Many Dogs are Killed Each Year?

Humane Society International officials say it is almost impossible to know exactly how many dogs are killed during the event because no official figures are available.

When the event was launched more than a decade ago, an estimated 10,000-plus dogs were slaughtered during its core days, according to the Humane Society International (HSI). In recent years, however, pressure from activists and members of the public in China—but also internationally—have helped to reduce the size of the event.

"We tend to say [the number of dogs killed is now in the] low thousands because that tends to be supported by what activists see on the ground at markets and slaughterhouses," Wendy Higgins, a spokesperson for HSI, told Newsweek. "Numbers have been more depressed during COVID-19 times, as you might expect."

It is estimated that around 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are killed for their meat every year in China. But polling suggests that dog meat is eaten only by a small portion of the Chinese population.

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival
Dog meat is served at a restaurant in Yulin, in China's southern Guangxi region on June 21, 2017. Thousands of dogs are slaughtered during the 10-day-long event. BECKY DAVIS/AFP via Getty Images