The focus of contention is a legislative proposal to outlaw the eating of dogs and cats and jail those who do so for up to 15 days. Fines would also be imposed – 5,000 yuan ($735) for individuals and 10,000 to 500,000 yuan ($1,470 to $73,529) for businesses.
It is the first time in China that a draft law on animal rights has been presented to the government. The legislation was drafted by a team of Chinese experts who consulted with the U.S.-based International Fund for Animal Welfare and Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
A preview of the legislative battle is being waged in the Chinese media and internet chat rooms between those who have become aware of the need to protect man's best friends and those who view these animals as part of their traditional menu.
An informal online poll in the popular Chinese Web site Sohu.com already attracted more than 178,000 votes as of today. Some 56.8 percent voted in favor of the ban on eating dog and cat meat while 39.6 percent were against it.
A Beijing netizen wrote in support, "Cats and dogs are our favorite pets, they are entitled to their own rights, why should people eat them?"
"The ban represents an advance to a higher stage of civilization," expressed another supporter.
An opponent of the ban wrote, "If it is the tradition of some provinces to eat dogs, why should they change their ways just to satisfy the West?"
Another opposing netizen said, "It's just like a dog chasing a rat, it's purely copying the Western model."
While eating dog or cat meat is viewed as a taboo in the West, the practice has become ingrained in the local culture of some regions in China.
Why Do the Chinese Like Dog Meat?
The inclusion of dog meat in the Chinese menu gained acceptance when a Chinese emperor in ancient times developed a taste for stewed dog with soft-shell turtle. At present, it is especially in demand as a hot pot dish during the winter season due to the widespread belief that eating dog meat can help one feel warmer.
Dog meat is also known as "fragrant meat," a euphemism that is derived from an old saying that "no immortal can purify his mind when the fragrance of dog meat lingers." Canine meat is fancied by the Cantonese in South China and by a Korean ethnic group living along the Chinese border with North Korea.
The Cantonese – the Chinese people born and raised in Guangdong province – have a reputation for their wide range of their culinary tastes. As a popular saying goes, "they eat anything that crawls, except tanks; anything that flies, except planes; and anything with four legs, except tables and chairs."
A popular restaurant chain in the capital of Guangdong that goes by the name "Sunshine Fragrant Meat" is well-known for its dog casserole dish. The South China Morning Post reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered this dish through a hotel concierge during his visit to the city in 2006.
A popular specialty in Cantonese restaurants is known as "Dragon duels with the Tiger," which is a stew of cat and snake with assorted spices.
But cat meat is less popular than dog meat in the mainland. Nevertheless, there is a strong demand for both. According to one estimate from the Animals Asia Foundation, 10 million dogs and four million cats are sold in China for consumption every year.
But the immediate outlook for the proposed ban is not so optimistic. The official China Daily reported that the draft law was not included in the agenda of the National People's Congress, which opens its annual session in March.
It might be an uphill battle for the proponents of the ban but, as a state-owned newspaper acknowledged, "the ban against eating dog and cat meat is a clear sign of new awareness."