An unprecedented 11 million people have signed a petition demanding the forthcoming Yulin Dog Meat Festival is banned.
Observers have said sentiment in China is turning against the controversial annual event, in which thousands of dogs are slaughtered.
The festival has been derided as “cruel” and “barbaric” by critics, but eating dogs is relatively common in China, where the animals are not universally viewed as pets in the same way they are in the West.
Calling for an outright ban on the festival, the petition was handed in by campaigners from Human Society International into the Yulin government office in Beijing.
However, at a demonstration in Britain, the same petition was rejected by the Chinese Embassy in London.
Directly addressing President Xi Jinping, the petition urges him to “end the mass slaughter and consumption of dogs”. It cites concerns over the welfare of the animals and hygiene concerns, particularly over rabies.
The petition said: “These dogs and cats will suffer enormously – packed tightly together in tiny cages and driven for days without food or water on the arduous journey to Yulin, they will then be subjected to the terrifying and painful ordeal of being beaten to death in front of each other.”
However, the petition also raised concern over the effect Yulin had on the perception of China internationally. Banning the festival would show “leadership”, the petition said, and “demonstrate that China’s global reputation as a progressive nation will not be besmirched by such activities.”
Supporters of the festival say dog meat is healthy at the hottest time of the year and eating the animals is no different from consuming any other meat.
But pictures of caged or slaughtered dogs posted online have outraged many people, with domestic and international organisations behind the petition calling for the festival to be stopped.
The campaign to end the festival has received high-profile and political backing, with celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Carrie Fisher, and Labour MP Rob Flello all galvanising opposition.
In 2014, the Yulin government distanced itself from the festival, saying it was staged by private business people and did not have official backing.
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