Backlash Prompts Policy Reversal

Authorities in southeastern China withdraw a ban on dogs after netizens slam the directive.

Chinese dog-catchers put a stray dog into the cage on a truck in Fujian province during a national campaign against rabies, July 5, 2008.

Officials have reversed a controversial ban on pet dogs in a southeastern Chinese city following a backlash from angered netizens, according to a resident and a local official.

The ban would have resulted in the culling or removal to rural areas of thousands of dogs in the Pengjiang, Jianghai and Xinhui districts of Guangdong province’s Jiangmen city, where the official Chinese media said more than 12,000 residents had been injured in dog attacks last year.

Local government officials had issued a public notice that the ban, which was to begin on Aug. 10 with a final deadline of Aug. 26, was an effort to “combat rabies” and to “civilize” the city of 3.8 million inhabitants.

But soon after the notice was made public, China’s netizens launched a massive protest, with millions of angry posts flooding domestic online forums, blogs, and social networking sites, causing officials to rethink their policy.

A local dog owner named Wang Jiaxin said the coordinated response had been instrumental in reversing the planned ban.

“[It was] mainly because so many dog lovers protested and some local TV reporters also covered the event. Everyone called on the government to treat dogs nicely and to stop the dog killing policy,” Wang said.

“It is hard to give up your dog after you have been living with it for a long time. We welcome the government’s policy change—to keep our dogs at home.”

A policeman from the Dibei police station in Jiangmen confirmed the lifting of the proposed ban, but said that local officials would still enforce a change in the way residents can raise their dogs in the city.

“The policy has changed. Now, according to the policy, residents can raise dogs but cannot bring them outside of their residence,” the police officer said.

“We don’t know if there will be more regulations or restrictions on dog control, but at least for now, residents can keep their dogs.”

According to a report on Thursday on the official China Daily website, “citizens will [now] be able to keep their pets but are forbidden from taking them to some public areas including parks, city squares, schools, kindergartens, shopping malls and hotels, etc.”

Withdrawal applauded

Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director of the U.S.-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) applauded the reversal of the decision.

"Banning and killing dogs are ineffective solutions to preventing rabies, which has been successfully controlled in many parts of the world with education, vaccination and sterilization. We are pleased to see Jiangmen city officials back down from their knee-jerk decision yielding to public outcry," she said.

IFAW said in a statement that a lack of national animal welfare legislation and rabies prevention in China has led local governments to routinely resort to mass dog culls in an effort to “prevent rabies” or to “clean up a city.”

Authorities in Yunnan province slaughtered thousands of dogs in a “rabies prevention” campaign in Jiangchuan city last year. The culling followed a campaign targeting some 50,000 dogs in Mouding in 2006, and a smaller one in Miluo county in 2009.

Netizen reaction

Chinese netizens have expressed widespread anger over a slew of safety scandals in recent years, ranging from melamine in infant formula to lead poisoning by battery plants.

They frequently slam officials for a lack of transparency over hazards to the health and safety of the local population and often band together to speak out when the country’s media is muzzled from reporting on social injustices.

Most recently, when China's official media moved to limit what could be said in public about a high-speed rail crash that claimed the lives of 40 people in the eastern city of Wenzhou in July, netizens stepped in to publicize videos of what they called “poor management efforts” by authorities.

They also helped to uncover a directive sent to news editors by the Communist Party's powerful central propaganda department setting out the guidelines for coverage of the crash.

The netizen backlash helped to support a movement by relatives of the crash victims to draw Beijing’s attention to the rescue efforts and to launch an investigation into the cause of the accident.

Authorities in China’s southwestern Chongqing municipality sent netizen Fang Zhusun to labor camp in June after he ridiculed a city-wide crime-busting campaign directed by the local Communist Party chief on his blog.

In May, China set up a nationwide command center to oversee the country's 477 million netizens and to "manage information" on the Internet, prompting fears that online controls will get tighter still.

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Jia Yuan. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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