Animal cruelty is a serious issue worldwide, but one of the nations that contribute most to these horrors is China. While this significantly sized nation, both in population and landmass, has recently made strides to improve its protection of animal rights, much is still to be done before China is deemed even a moderately cruelty-free nation.

Cases of animal cruelty are far too common in China. This is likely due to their limited legislature protecting animal rights and abysmal implementation of any existing laws. The nation receives a E-rating from the API and ranks 20th on the VACI, rendering it subpar to most countries for animal safety.

Exposing and understanding the animal cruelty issues within China is the first step to recognizing that significant steps need to be taken to improve the nation and its animal’s overall life quality. Here, we have amassed some of China’s most significant animal cruelty facts to spark dialogue on the topic and promote change.

Animals Have Limited Rights

The majority of facts in this article can all be traced to the root cause of this issue here. Compared to other nations, China has relatively no laws protecting the rights of animals regardless of what category they fall under (ex. farm, domestic, wild).

In terms of official legislature, there are only two that have any relevance in China:

  • The Animal Husbandry Law of the People’s Republic of China: last amended in 2015, this is the main legislature regarding animal welfare in China. However, its power is limited in scope as it is only applicable to livestock and poultry production standardization. Even the animals “protected” have minimal rights as the act describes fundamental welfare requirements to uphold and little else. It mainly prioritizes the protection of genetic resources rather than the animals themselves.
  • The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife: last amended in 2017, this law focuses on conserving endangered wildlife species. It explicitly prohibits the offering of illegal trade platforms, production or purchase of wildlife-derived food, and illegal wildlife releases. Citizens are also not permitted to advertise the illegal sale, purchase, and/or use of wildlife products and hunting tools.

Apart from these two pieces of legislature, there are hardly any laws protecting animal rights in China and no stand-alone law that explicitly prohibits the mistreatment of animals or animal cruelty nationwide.

Because of the limited and overall lacking legislature protecting animal rights in China, cases of animal cruelty are seen as individual issues authorities respond to and reprimand based on their town, city, or even region.

There is no national accountability, making it particularly easy for citizens to mistreat animals, even in defiance of existing laws, because repercussions are rare and inconsistent.

One of the few progressions of significance for Chinese law on animal rights is that an amendment for the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife and other relevant laws were proposed in early 2020 aimed at strictly prohibiting:

  • The hunting, trading, captive-bred and transportation of terrestrial wild animals for consumption.
  • The consumption of captive-bred wild animals.
  • Illegal wildlife trade enforcement and punishment escalated to the highest level.

The lack of legislature sets China apart from the western world tremendously. To the point where other countries have banned the use of animal testing altogether. We’ll discuss this next, but if you’re looking for a quick feel-good read. Then give this a read: These Countries Have Banned Animal Testing (2021)

The API Assigns China an Overall E-Rating

The Animal Protection Index (API) “ranks 50 countries around the world according to their animal welfare policy and legislation.” Each nation is critiqued based on ten categories and assigned an A through G grade based on their performance. All grades are then compiled for one overall national grade.

Here is a list of the categories and China’s respective API grade for each:



Animal Sentience is formally recognized in legislation


Laws against causing animal suffering


Protecting animals used in farming


Protecting animals in captivity


Protecting companion animals


Protecting animals used for draught and recreation


Protecting animals used in scientific research


Protecting the welfare of wild animals


Government accountability for animal welfare


Support/integration of OIE animal welfare standards


The culmination of these grades results in China having a national E-rating according to the API. Sadly, there are no categories of animal welfare in which China even moderately excels, considering their highest grade is a D for three out of ten categories.

Compared to the other 50 nations graded, only two falls beneath China with an overall national G-rating, being Iran and Azerbaijan, while seven falls beneath it with an overall F-rating, including:

  • Morocco
  • Algeria
  • Belarus
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia
  • Myanmar
  • Vietnam

While there are no nations with a glistening A rating and only five with a B rating, the scope of China as a nation renders it all the more imperative that the country improves its legislature, government accountability, and standards regarding animal rights.

  • A considerable number of animal cruelty acts need to diminish.
  • The public perception of animals would need to improve.
  • Chinese legislature would need to conform with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) ’s animal welfare standards or follow B-rated nations, such as Switzerland, Austria, and Sweden.

China Ranks 20th on the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index

The Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index (VACI) was developed by international animal welfare advocates, Voiceless, and ranks 50 nations worldwide based on:

  • The number of farm animals slaughtered per capita;
  • Plant to animal-based protein consumption; and
  • Local practices and procedures for the protection of farmed animals intended for food.

The lower the nation’s overall score, the better they perform on the VACI. Comparatively, China is ranked 20th, on par with the United Kingdom, on this index with an overall score of 69.

Yes, the United Kingdom has ranked that poorly too. Find out more here: 9 Animal Cruelty Facts in the UK You Need to Know

Japan, surprisingly, does better than both countries with an overall ranking of 15.

The nation scores relatively well in the first two categories of Producing Cruelty with a ranking of 16 and Consuming Cruelty with a ranking of 17. Ultimately, these categories save China’s overall rank because the final category of Sanctioning Cruelty is by far their worse with a ranking of 36.

The Sanctioning Cruelty category is where the issue of animal rights lies as it “ranks countries based on their societal and cultural attitudes to animals, as reflected in the quality of the regulatory frameworks that are in place to protect animals.”

VACI’s ranking on Sanctioning Cruelty is typically connected to a nation’s grade on the API, so it is no surprise that China ranks particularly low here considering the fact we previously discussed their API standing.

If China were to have more regulations to protect their animals and have national accountability and enforcement, their score ranking would improve significantly by about five placements. If sanctioning cruelty is weighted most over the other two categories, China’s rank quickly falls to 36th place.

The Nation Has a Dismal Reputation for Wet Markets

Some of the horrors discussed later are made possible due to their accessibility in Chinese wet markets and their practices.

A wet market is a marketplace where individuals set up open stalls and sell perishable products, such as freshly caught or even live animal and sea creatures.

Not only are Chinese wet markets extremely dirty and a breeding ground for diseases and contamination, but there are also where you can find vendors selling and slaughtering live animals to the public.

A consumer could easily walk up to a stall, pick out a live chicken or another animal, and the vendor will slaughter the animal at the stall for them. There is even a film of live animals, such as bats, being boiled alive before going to market and even used as an additional soup ingredient (similar to fruit bat soup found in Guam).

This practice comes from the mentality that an animal’s meat tastes better the closer it was to live, and there is no better way to get fresh meat than from the wet market.

While it is not wholly uncommon to purchase live animals from markets, such as live lobsters from tanks, the conditions the animals are kept in many Chinese wet markets are abhorrent.

You may not think a lobster can feel much, but this is proven to be far from true. Buying and cooking them live, just like any other animal, is an absolute no-no. Find out more here: Is It Cruel to Boil a Live Lobster?

Because the nation ascribes no rights to these animals sold for human consumption, they are treated as products rather than living creatures. As a result, dehydrated and starved chickens and other common food-sourced animals are packed into small, rusty cages in such close proximity to one another that they can hardly move, and the spread of disease between them is rampant.

It is not uncommon to see a vendor tossing around an animal-filled cage like a package, completely disregarding the life inside.

One of the most significant issues of Chinese wet markets, apart from the animal cruelty regarding the conditions in which they’re kept, is how prevalent the sale of wild animals is in these spheres.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, you could expect to see species, such as these, among the wet market stalls:

  • Snakes
  • Beavers
  • Porcupines
  • Baby crocodiles
  • Bats
  • Pangolins
  • Various birds

A grim fact of the capture and sale of wild animals is that many are sold with broken or missing limbs, open sores, or other injuries they obtained from a brutal capture and during transport.

The mass sale of some of these animals has also been detrimental to their wild population. Various endangered bird species, such as the Yellow-breasted bunting, mainly fall victim to Chinese wet markets while their wild populations slowly diminish into non-existence.

Luckily, public outcry has increased against the horrors of Chinese wet markets. The global pandemic also sparked reform, as the Chinese government banned the hunting, consumption, trade, captive-bred, and transport of terrestrial wild animals and captive-bred wild animals in early 2020.

Consumption of Live Animals Is Still Practiced

The accessibility of Chinese wet markets also supports some Chinese cuisine practices, such as the consumption of live animals.

We will recognize that this is not unique to China, as many other nations have dishes where they incorporate live animals, often to elevate the cuisine to the status of a delicacy. However, this does not detract from the fact that it is cruel to consume a live animal, particularly in the ways that the two most common Chinese live animal dishes are prepared.

The most widely known dish where live animals are consumed in China is known as “drunken shrimp.” While this dish can be served with deceased shrimp, this is uncommon as it is traditional for the shrimp to be served live, especially for Odori Ebi, a Chinese delicacy.

Its namesake comes from the shrimp doused in a strong liquor before serving to make them more lethargic and easier to catch and handle. Consumers typically receive about ten shrimp per serving of this dish and will bite or tear the shrimp’s head off and then proceed to quickly peel it and dip it in the preferred sauce before consumption.

Most find this dish to be a fun form of entertainment, particularly for guests, as the shrimp will squirm in their bowls and sometimes jump out in an attempt to escape.

The other typical Chinese live animal dish is frog sashimi. While the shrimp in “drunken shrimp” or Odori Ebi might have a quick death if the consumer bites off their head and gobbles it down – the fate of frogs in frog sashimi is far more dismal and barbaric.

Also considered a delicacy, frog sashimi involves filleting a special bullfrog live while leaving its heart intact. There is some variation in preparation, but typically, you will order this dish before your main course meal and then witness it being prepared in front of you.

The itamae or sushi chef will slice open and disembowel the frog on a plate for you (yes, while it’s alive) and then proceed to cut up select pieces to be placed in a broth and others to be served as sashimi on the suffering frog.

Consumers can watch as the frog’s limbs and other body parts squirm about while they eat the prepared pieces of its flesh and then proceed to eat its still-beating heart. Sometimes, the frog’s entire upper half is left untouched, leaving its brain and heart functioning while its lower half is consumed.

This dish has been banned in several countries due to its obvious animal cruelty, but it is still legal in China today.

Consuming Cat and Dog Meat is Legal

One of the most horrific examples of animal cruelty within China is the mass slaughter of cats and dogs for human consumption. China has quite a reputation when it comes to animal cruelty and food, but few speak so profoundly to human nature like this one.

Although Chinese citizens, especially younger generations, don’t widely use this food source, there is still a demand for the product, which is easily found in most Chinese wet markets and other locations.

Sources estimate that 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are slaughtered annually in China for their meat and sometimes fur. Evidently, despite most citizens denying they ever consumed or intend to consume cat or dog meat, many still partake in this controversial issue.

The use of dog and cat meat is so common in some areas that the city of Yulin even hosts an annual dog meat festival where an estimated 10,000 animals are slaughtered for their meat on-site. Consumers are free to purchase the animal andtake them home for later slaughter and consumption.

While cats and dogs tend to have a special place in the world of humankind, many can argue that the slaughter and consumption of these animals are no different than any other animal (a cow, for example).

Much of this issue lies with regional mindsets, as more Western civilizations not accustomed to using dogs or cats for food take particular issues with this fact versus many Asian societies where it is more common.

The overarching issue here isn’t necessarily the animal being used, but rather the horrendous conditions surrounding their obtainment, care, and slaughter.

Unlike being raised on free-range farms, which is typically the ideal environment for animals raised for human consumption purposes, most dogs and cats sold for meat in China are strays taken from the streets or citizen-owned pets stolen from their homes.

The animals are then stuffed into cages where they are subject to horrific conditions, each other’s diseases, and provided minimal life-sustaining care. They are then brutally slaughtered before sale and consumption, rendering this issue one of the most significant and despicable examples of animal cruelty in all of Asia, let alone China.

Luckily, some headway is being made to end such atrocities due to domestic and foreign public outcry.

On May 1, 2020, the Chinese city of Shenzhen became the first to ban the sale and consumption of dog and cat meat. Hopefully, with strict enforcement of this new law, the city can set a shining example for the rest of the nation, and many more will follow in their footsteps.

Bear Bile Farming Is Legal and Actively Used

Another significant issue in China is the use of bear bile farming, where bile is cruelly extracted from a living bear’s gallbladder to be used in various traditional Chinese medicines.

This industry is predominant in Vietnam (despite becoming illegal in 1992) and China, where a potential 12,000 bears are kept on bear farms and subject to horrific conditions and treatment. They are continuously farmed throughout their life until their release (highly unlikely) or death caused by health issues created from the farming conditions and procedure.

The majority of bears used for bear bile farming are Asiatic black bears with a wildlife expectancy of 25-30 years but can survive for up to 35 years in captivity. While it is horrific to imagine a bear living a 35-year life span crammed in a small cage where it cannot even turn around or stand on all fours, it is unlikely the animal will live this long.

Bear bile farming extracts the bile from a bear’s gallbladder using painful, invasive techniques, that promote disease and infection, and are hardly ever done by an educated veterinarian.

The bear might be subject to what farmers refer to as the “free-drip method,” where a surgical procedure creates a permanent open passage from the bear’s gallbladder through their abdomen for easy bile extraction. Alternatively, some bears have permanentcatheters inserted into their gallbladders instead.

It is extremely common for these bears to succumb to health complications due to these procedures, such as infection, dehydration, and starvation. Those who survive live a life of agony and mental torment in tiny cages, sometimes from their cub years until their death.

Although bear-produced bile indeed has medicinal properties (its high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) can help treat liver and gall bladder conditions), several herbal and synthetic alternatives are available. These options are just as, if not more effective and render the horrific practice of bear bile farming unnecessary in addition to being overtly cruel.

China Uses the Most Animals Worldwide for Testing

The country’s cosmetics industry is worth around $26 billion alone and China uses the most animals worldwide for testing, sitting at an average of 20.5 million animals annually. Even finding cosmetics that are cruelty-free can feel impossible.

This can be especially troubling for brands trying to operate in a cruelty-free way. While laws are changing, there is still a lot of misunderstanding regarding animal testing and how cruel it really is.

If you’re interested in finding out more about China’s animal testing stats, we cover this extensively in this article 9 Interesting Animal Facts in China That You Need to Know so click the link and read on.

Final Thoughts

While they are far from the only ones, China is one of the main contributors to animal cruelty as a global issue. A significant origin of this issue is their almost laughable lack of legislature to protect animals’ rights and punish animal cruelty offenders.

Luckily, you can leave with the knowledge that slow progress has been made in the past six years to amend and improve the existing legislature. But still, most facts listed here won’t be solved until a nationwide law against animal cruelty is in place and strictly enforced.

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