The cat meat
trade in China
by IAN GALLAGHER, Mail on Sunday
11th March 2001
The honey-coloured cat gasped for air, its face squashed
against the wire mesh of the cage. After several minutes it managed to jerk its head away,
only to sink back and be lost among the tightly packed mass of fur formed by bodies of
other cats piled on top of one another.
This pitiful spectacle is repeated time and time again at a
market in southern China where hundreds of cats - just like our own domestic pets -
languish before being killed and eaten.
In China, cats are reared for one reason: to be devoured at
restaurants by customers who pride themselves on their exotic tastes.
In some cases, the wretched creatures spend up to two
months squeezed 25 at a time inside cages which measure just 2ft by 3ft. Many die before
they reach their final destination.
Such cruelty - inconceivable in the West - is becoming
increasingly commonplace in China. To many people here, keeping cats as cherished pets is
an act of folly.
We saw the appalling scenes at Guangzhou - the capital of
the south-eastern province of Guangdong and one of China's most affluent cities. At the
Xin Yuan market just outside the city, the traders are unmoved by the animals' obvious
distress and do the minimum necessary to keep them alive.
Their only concern is that the cats might die while in
their hands, because that will cost them money. The Mail on Sunday found hundreds of cats
on display, all crammed inside cages stacked, in some cases, 12ft high.
One trader, Yanwu Peng, eagerly proferred his business card
stating: 'Supplier of cats to fine restaurants and hotels.'
He sat on a plastic chair, his feet resting on one of the
cages containing around 30 cats. If in the past they had tried to struggle, they were now
submissive. There was an occasional, barely perceptible, flicker of movement - the only
indication that any of them were still alive.
Beside Mr Peng lay a green gauze bag through which three
more cats could be seen. They had been set aside, he explained, for one of his regular
customers, a restaurant owner. If he is fortunate, Mr Peng will sell the caged cats within
a few days, although he boasts that he can keep them alive for 'a month, maybe two' if
He sells the cats to restaurant owners for about £1 per
pound, less if they are bought in bulk. They are fed once a day on a mixture of rice and
Yesterday, the prospect of food didn't - as might be
expected - prompt an excited response.
Because of their weakened state Mr Peng had to push the
cats towards the bowls and in doing so he discovered that one was dead. He picked it up by
its tail, wrapped it in a carrier bag and discarded it at the back of his stall.
One of the few Westerners who have visited the market is
Jill Robinson, director of the charity Animals Asia Foundation. She said: 'It is a sea of
cruelty. The smell lingered on my clothes afterwards and the sights I witnessed stayed in
my mind for days. I was in a state of shock.
'The cats were piled on top of each other in a horrifying
way. They were defecating and urinating on each other. It was so miserable. I have never
seen so many animals in one place at once.'
The cats come from the countryside and are raised by
villagers as a cheap and easy way of making extra money. They keep them indoors with long
pieces of nylon string tied around their necks.
Because eating kittens is considered bad luck, they wait
until the cats are more than 12 months old before selling them either directly to the
markets or to 'middlemen' such as Yei Kung who owns the Wildlife Farm Shop just outside
the town of Nanhai near Guangzhou.
Mr Kung, who buys a ton of cat meat a week, tours the
villages in a van and collects the animals in wooden crates before piling them into a huge
cage in his shed.
He said: 'My farm shop acts as a halfway house. They stay
here for just a few days before I sell them to the markets.' His biggest problem is
getting the cats to the markets alive - around 10 per cent are lost along the way.
'It is essential that the cats are moved from the farm as
soon as possible,' he said. 'They are never in my shop for more than a few days. As soon
as they begin their journey they lose weight and many die. To make money I must keep them
Even after the cats are bought at market - usually taken
away in mesh nets and plastic bags - they are often forced to endure several days' more
agony at the Da Long Shu Cat Restaurant. The cats are stored in a cupboard, jokingly
referred to by the staff as the 'waiting room'. Sometimes they remain there for days.
Every evening they are moved to cages outside the
restaurant and customers are invited to select the one that takes their fancy. The chef
then kills the cat of their choice by cutting its throat.
One restaurant owner in Guangzhou said: 'Cat meat is very
often the least expensive dish. Our customers want something special so that's why dishes
like cats' eyes and testicles are the most expensive. Basically we eat all of the cat.
Another popular dish is stir-fried cats' paws with garlic.'
Animals Asia Foundation believe renewed interest in eating
cat is linked to the upturn in the economic fortunes of Guangdong, the most prosperous
province in China.
'People have more money in their pockets now, so for many
these so-called delicacies have become affordable,' said Robinson. 'Eating cat is probably
more popular in the south-east than anywhere else but increasingly we are finding that it
is on the menu all over China.'
Thanks to her charity, the authorities are being pressed to
introduce animal welfare legislation to combat the trade. 'A few years ago,' she said,
'animal welfare was a term that no one had heard of here. But gradually people are
becoming more receptive.
'It will be a slow process but we hope that things will
change in the future. People have got to learn that cats are companionable animals and
have a far greater role in society than being simply food.'