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How Stanley Coren Dupes the Public and Slanders Chinese Culture

How Stanley Coren dupes the public and slanders Chinese culture
Stanley Coren, Ph.D.
This post is a response to Traditional Dog-Eating Festival in China Banned by Government by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C.

Stanley Coren's post "Dog-eating carnival in China banned by Government" distorts the fact regarding dog issues in China by using fabrications, twisted information and false reasoning. Consequently, his inaccurate definition and explanation of the problem have duped the public and slandered Chinese culture. His post has at least the following four problems:

First, Coren has misrepresented the contents of his reference. For his lengthy sensational post and many claims about the dog meat event, he only mentions one Xinhua online news article as his traceable reference, giving the readers the wrong impression that his descriptions and claims in the post were based on the information provided by the article. I have read the news dated September 21, 2011 and found that most of Coren's contents are not found in the Xinhua article. Not only that, in his post, Coren failed to mention any information there contradictory to his preconceived belief (i.e., dog-eating is a common practice) and his many accusations. For example, he evaded the content of the article that "most local villagers also opposed the carnival, according a survey administered by the local government." Coren also falsely claimed that "around 15,000 dogs are killed and eaten" at the festival. In fact, not a a single dog is killed at the fair this year because the event was permanently banned two weeks before its scheduled openning. The news article never suggests a number for the killed dogs in the previous years and I have not found the number on any Chinese publications. I can only conclude that the number "15,000" is his own fabrication. Additionally, Coren has deceptively changed the Chinese name for the event "Dog meat" festival to the "Dog-eating" festival to make it sound more shocking.

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Second, Coren has misrepresented a rare practice (eating dog meat) in China as the so-called "common practice" by employing tabloid journalist's tricks. In Coren's words, "Dog eating is a common practice in many parts of China, although exact statistics are not available, since the country has an enormous human population the number of dogs being consumed is likely very large." The problem is, Coren reiterates many times his claim without whatsoever offering any supporting evidence for the "common practice."

Yes, he provides the "story," which includes his sensational and creative description of the banned once-a- year carnival at a village and several statements from persons with Asian surnames that they "have eaten" dog meats in the past, but the information does not support Coren's claim. The phrase "have eaten" and the phrase "common practice" have totally different meanings. For example, some Floridians or residents in other States have eaten alligator meat several times a year or during their life time. To claim that eating alligator meat in America is a "common practice" will be highly biased and over-generalized statement, even though those who eat alligators are Americans. If people in the U.S. or Canada only ate lamb for three days (just as the villagers ate dog meats at the festival) during the year, would you call the lamb-eating a "common practice" in North America?

It is common sense that the "common practice" regarding consuming a type of meat in a country involves the regular consumption of the meat with certain frequency and quantity per capita and with the apparatus for reproducing the meat for the market. For example, it is the common practice to consume beef (67 lbs per capita) and chicken (84 lbs per capita) in America per year, not only because of the large quantity and frequency but also because of the huge farm business involved in the meat producing process.

Although Coren is unable to provide any statistics to support his "common practice," I have done him a favor by searching the information about the dog meat consumption in China. To begin with, I have found that thanks to the capitalism that has permeated every corner of China in the last 20 years, the farms for meat dogs started to emerge in the mid-90s. Today, there are around 300 farms for meat dogs with the combined number of dogs around 100,000 (in contrast to the available 456,000,000 pigs, according the Department of Chinese Agriculture). Let's divide the 100,000 by China's 13,300,000 population, resulting in 0.0075. The number means that 1,000 people share 7.5 meat dogs for the whole year. This small farm business is never able to reproduce the so-called "common practice" of consuming dog meats. There are also a lot of new farms for pet and hunting dogs, but their number is irrelevant here. The emphasis on meat dogs as different from other dogs (pet and hunting dogs) is important because only meat dogs are consumed. It's the same reason why the number of goldfish sold in America is not counted towards the number of fish consumed annually. Next, I found the statistics on a Chinese website regarding the highest estimate about the annual dog meat consumption today. The number is 300,000,000 kilograms. Converting this number to pounds per capita, we get 0.49 lb or less than 8 oz per capita per year. Do you call eating this amount "the common practice?"

There is an important cultural-medical reason that dog meat was not, is not, and will never be a part of common diet in China. Throughout history, the Chinese diet has been characterized by vegetarian foods with limited meat consumptions only at special occasions (e.g., Chinese New Year). The traditional diet in China is guided by traditional Chinese medicinal principles that emphasize the balanced operation of two interconnected yet opposed Yin and Yang forces in the bodily system. As documented by various ancient medicinal texts, from Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (Collective Commentary on Herb Medicines, dated 536 AD) to relevant texts from the Qing dynasty, dog meat undermines the balanced operation of the bodily system because of its property of generating inner heat and excessive "Yang." However, dog meat may be used as a medicine to treat patients with cold stomach or emaciating symptoms, with the awareness of its side effects. Pig has been the main meat source since the onset of Chinese civilization for a good reason; pork has the balanced nutrition that matches the yin and yang bodily system.

If dog meat is unsuitable for the physical health, why do some people in China still eat it somewhere and once in a while? The answer is because of the tolerance and acceptance in China for diverse life styles, customs, and practices. Not only does China have 56 ethnic groups, with varying climates, terrains, habits, and traditions, but also the so-called Han ethnicity, the majority constituting 92% of the population, include diverse physical looks, dialects, life styles and diet preferences, resulting from integrating many different peoples during the thousands of years. In other words, for the majority of the people, eating the meat is tolerated but not endorsed.

Third, Coren further makes an unscrupulous claim that "Historically, the eating of dog meat has been commonplace in China." Again he is unable to provide a single peice of evidence for his irresponsible statement. He may have revealed his true motivation when he implied that the Chinese would become more civilized after learning from Westerners who treat dogs as pets (yes, he only quoted another's words, but that is his latent message).

With his Eurocentric attitude and gross ignorance about Chinese culture, he has misrepresented the history of dogs. The fact is, throughout the history, the Chinese have regarded dogs as their major companion and family members. Dogs have played a very important role in the Chinese civilization. Some of the evidence includes:

1. The Nature program on PBS recently reported that all dogs in the world genetically originated from East Asia where they were first domesticated from gray wolves about 15,000 years ago.

2. Archaeological research at two well known Neolithic sites in China He Mu Du(河姆渡) and Ban Po Cun (半坡村) (dated 5,000 BC and 4,000 BC, respectively) revealed that domesticated dogs were an important part of family members.

3. In 2002, an archaeological excavation in the city Luo-yang in central China showed that the burial chamber for one of the kings, (East Zhou dynasty around 2,700 years ago) included not only his remains, but also the remains of his six horses and seven dogs. The burial arrangement indicated the intimate relation between the owner and his pets, with the intention to live together on the other side.

4. Dog is one of the 12 animal symbols on Chinese zodiac system, originated at least 2,000 years ago, representing the rotating 12-year, 12-month, and 12-time a day cycles. 7pm-9pm each day is called the "dog" time and it also corresponds to the pericardium channel of Chinese acupuncture meridian system.

 

5. Han Dynasty pottery dogs (dated 206 BC to 202 AD) represent not only elegant art works but also a piece of history: the dog collars suggested that dogs as pets were commonplace at that time (see the

Han Dynasty pottery dog (206 BC to 202 AD)
two pictures).

6. Dogs in Chinese languages and culture are associated with the meanings of protection, guard and loyalty. Many Chinese characters have the character dog (犬) as the major components. For example, two frequently-used characters "状" (condition/shape/form) and "器" (device/instrument) both have the dog character as their major parts, indicating the Chinese used dogs as a symbol to represent how they interacted with environments and how often dog appeared in people's thinking. In addition, until the modern time, a Chinese father typically referred his son as "犬子"( literally "dog son") in interpersonal situations to show his modest adoring feeling. Even though some negative connotations with dogs happened in the modern time (e.g., running dogs), the dog character has never been part of any characters indicating food.

On the other hand, the Europeans seem to have a history of eating dog meat. Under the title "Germany's dog meat market," The New York Times (June 23, 1907) reported that, "...high-priced meat has greatly increased the consumption of horse flesh and dog meat throughout the German Empire, specially in the densely populated industrial centers..."

Finally, Coren is not alone in generating misinformation about the so-called dog issue in China. In the last decade or so, a few reports from several major media in the West used similar ploys, such as semantically ambiguous words (e.g. "common," "often", traditional"), false information, overgeneralization, and twisted facts to fool the audience about the issue. What Coren did in the post is a continuation of the same tendency to promote and maintain the stereotype, ignorance, and prejudice.

I want to believe that he is not intentionally biased about Chinese culture, but I cannot explain his apparent delight in propagating his fabrications and ignorance. His post apparently tried to appeal to the most uncultured segment of the society. In addition, any cognitive distortions about people, consciously or unconsciously, will generate and maintain prejudice (see my related post: Cognitive distortion and Hollywood's indoctrination).

 

Key Sun  is a psychologist and social worker. He has taught at Central Washington University and Bastyr University.

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