In China, records from 3,000 years ago, from the Zhou
Dynasty, refer to the “three beasts” that were bred for food, the dog, pig and
goat. Seven hundred years later, the Chinese philosopher Mencius recommended
dog as the tastiest of the three.
Of course, the tradition of eating dog continues in China,
as it does in Korea and throughout southeast Asia down to The Philippines. The
reasons for eating dog meat evolved with time. In The Philippines, where half a
million dogs are consumed annually, eating dog meat started as a religious
practice. Dogs were sacrificed and their meat eaten when a family was faced
with bad luck, or when a death was witnessed. The Filipinos believed that the
spirit of the sacrificed dog protected and guarded the spirits of the living
family, not unlike the Ojibwa Dog Feast in North America. Today dogs are eaten
mostly because of fantasies such as eating dog meat improves your sex life.
In China, dog meat is sometimes euphemistically called “fragrant
meat”. On a television programme I was technical advisor on, we sent a reporter
and cameraman to a dog (and cat) market in Guangdong, and to a dog restaurant.
It was a distressing visit but we learned that eating dog is a social display.
Dog meat is expensive so eating in a dog restaurant broadcasts “I’m rich!” We
were told that dog meat is “yang”, it increases your positive energy. In
northern parts of China (and in the northern regions of the Philippines) it’s
cold weather food, said to regulate blood circulation and keep you warm. I
haven’t read statistics on how many dogs are killed for their meat in China
each year but according to Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
import statistics for 2006, Japan imported 31 tons of dog meat from China, for
dog meat restaurants used by Korean residents or visitors.
Korea remains the world’s epicenter of eating dogs and
what’s particularly unpleasant is that for some Koreans eating dog has now
become a symbol of nationalism.
As in most other parts of the world, the dog’s first role in
Korea was to provide nutrition. Dog bones have been found in Korean “midden
sites”, in waste mounds, that date back to Neolithic times. After other
livestock was domesticated however, dog remained on the Korean menu, as it did
for the Aztecs, Polynesians and Chinese. Today, South Koreans eat two to three
million dogs each year.
In Korea, there’s a continuing, simmering, conflict between
dog eaters and pet dog owners. The dog eaters think that pet lovers are
insipid, over-emotional, Westernised, tree-hugging weaklings. The government
naturally bends towards where votes are, money is or image matters. When I
visited Seoul in 1988, six months before the Summer Olympics, I wanted to visit
a dog restaurant but those in central Seoul had been closed down and hotel
staff and taxi drivers had been instructed not to take Westerners to the
restaurants in the suburbs that continued to offer dog stew and dog soup.
Prominent Korean businesses such as Samsung work hard to
promote a cultural change in South Korea but they have been opposed by equally
prominent South Koreans who support the continued eating of dog for nationalist
reasons, because it’s part of Korean culture and to stop doing so would be to
give in to Western “cultural imperialist” pressure. I see a light on the
horizon however. The Korean editions of my books sell really, really well! It
will take a generation or more before this younger group of Koreans gain
influence and the number of dogs eaten in their country starts to decline.