Activism gone bad in Yulin, China

I know that writing this will only bring me further grief and add to the never ending critics who have been seeking me out to throw abuse at me and my family. I have already been under immense attack from various followers of one cult group, but regardless, I feel it’s important to set the record straight.

I believe social media has turned many animal activists into a fragment of what they once were. They have found a niche from which to catapult themselves to stardom, and it’s ugly. Almost gone are those who truly fight for the rights of animals. They have been replaced with people, aka “rescuers,” who seek to elevate themselves to hero status. Social media has become a place where you can tell a sad story, post a picture of an animal in distress, and start a funding campaign in the blink of an eye.

Many thousands of hard-earned dollars are pulled from the pockets of people who hope that the champion they elect will save the world. The problem is that good people who can ill afford to make donations often give whatever they can spare in the hope that their money will translate to productive action. They want to believe that their money will go a long way in stopping the atrocities they see and hear about. But when their savior gets found out as someone whose motives are questionable at best, it becomes incredibly painful and disillusioning for them – they feel absolutely cheated, and for good reason.

I have no t-shirts to sell or customized coffee cups to offer, just a voice for the countless dogs and cats that suffer every year at the Yulin festival, and throughout Asia. So here it is, my account of what I experienced at this year’s Yulin dog meat festival.

Prior to the festival I was contacted by Marc Ching’s foundation and asked if I would interview or at least connect with Marc in Yulin. I didn’t know who Marc Ching was, so I looked him up and read that he was going into Yulin with SAS people. He had plans to install video screens around the festival that would play torture videos for dog meat restaurant patrons; compile a huge team of veterinarians to help rescued dogs; conduct a huge leaflet drop, and shut Yulin down. Why would I not want to see this?

After a very long flight and losing my baggage in Canada, I arrived in the early hours of the morning in Yulin. The streets were getting ready for the festival, and I saw dead dogs being transported on scooters to the markets. It all felt like an ugly drunken stupor.

I met Marc Ching’s entourage in the lobby of the hotel where I was staying with a colleague of mine who had made the trip with me. There were about 12 people, including some news reporters, a few volunteers, and many secret police. they said they were getting ready to go and visit a slaughterhouse and that I couldn’t come with them at this time. This struck me as strange, as a Daily Mail reporter was going with them. Regardless, I accepted this and waited at my hotel. I then received a message on my phone with directions to the slaughterhouse from Marc Ching saying we could do an interview there. I flagged down a taxi and headed to the slaughterhouse.

Slaughterhouse location

Slaughterhouse location

When we got there, however, there was no Marc Ching or his volunteers. The slaughterhouse had a cage of dogs in a compound with a tarpaulin draped over the roof. We told the taxi to wait with the engine running, just in case there were any problems. Out front, a black and white dog that had been freshly killed had been loaded onto a scooter, and people started to crowd around me as I approached.

Black and white dog freshly killed

Black and white dog freshly killed

Inside the compound I filmed the cages. There were many dogs, all emaciated. Two guys came to me and started guiding me towards the gate with their hands on me, while a crowd of people associated with the slaughterhouse were laughing and spitting on the floor. I wore video glasses that recorded my every move. After a few minutes of getting nowhere and the atmosphere getting heated, I got into the taxi and left.

Dogs I estimated to be over 150

Dogs I estimated to be 70-90

Later that evening in the hotel lobby, I saw Marc Ching and his volunteers, who were going to that same slaughterhouse to move dogs to Nanning (a city about three hours to the west). I spoke with Marc about my experiences at the slaughterhouse and asked why he wasn’t he there when I arrived. He told me the deal had fallen through and that the police were involved, but that now the deal was back on with the help of the “Tree of Life” monastery in Guangzhou. I was confused, as it all seemed a little strange and vague.

Marc had a cameraman with him who I spoke briefly to, asking how he was going to film in such dark conditions. His camera wasn’t very good in the dark, but he told me he had to go with Marc to “get the shot.” I found out that Marc had hired this cameraman, who was based in Hong Kong, to follow Marc around and film his every move, and not just in Yulin. The cameraman told me he wasn’t allowed to film anything in butcher shops or slaughterhouses, which he thought was strange. I asked if I could go with them and report at the slaughterhouse, but once again I was refused.

I later found out that Marc was making a documentary with Shaun Monson the creator of the film, “Earthlings.” I thought to myself, ‘so this is what this is all about – Marc Ching is making a movie about the dog meat trade.’ At that moment everything started to click into place in my mind.

Marc and his helpers left for the slaughterhouse, so my colleague and I went into Yulin to observe the restaurants. There were no live dogs outside the restaurants, as had been the case in the past, but you could see dead dogs with their fur removed being prepared for the kitchens. The restaurants were full of clients.

The next morning when we went down for breakfast we saw Marc eating alone at a table with his back to us. He saw us and came over to the breakfast bar and said he could do the interview now if I liked. I grabbed my microphone and started the interview.

I asked Marc very directly if he was using Yulin to elevate his profile. He claimed he was there to bring awareness, had respect for all animals, that the message was clear ,and that he would help close down Yulin. I asked Marc again if all this was about making a movie. Marc told me that while this was a possibility, his trip was not all about making a movie, but about saving dogs.

I asked a number of questions and got many conflicting answers, mostly about the number of dogs that were allegedly saved and the slaughterhouses he’d closed down. I asked Marc why it was posted on social media that he had closed down ten slaughterhouses, and how was that possible? When he told me he’d never said that, I showed him the post that his foundation had written to that effect.

Marc then told me he had suspended the trade at Yulin by paying several slaughterhouses not to sell dogs during the festival (I later learned it had cost him $1,000 per day). He said he hadn’t come to Yulin to buy dogs. I asked him if he thought that paying out huge amounts of money would only inflate the trade and postpone the inevitable. He told me that what he believed he was doing was neither right or wrong, but that he wanted to try something different than what had already been done by activists in years past. I said, ‘if you buy all the pets from a pet store, you aren’t closing it down, you’re only contributing money plus profit to restock it.’ Surely this was the same scenario? But Marc didn’t seem to see it that way.

When we got into actual numbers of dogs and what happened from that outcome really bothered me. The numbers are still not correct and I still don’t really know who did the deals (I have asked Marc many times for final figures but they still keep coming back conflictingly), but lets just say for argument’s sake that 900 dogs were bought from the Yulin slaughterhouses. Dogs went to a shelter Marc had set up in Nanning, a Buddhist temple in Guangzhou called “Tree of Life,” and some to Humane Society International under the supervision of Peter Li, the organization’s China policy specialist.

I have asked Marc many times for final figures but they still keep coming back conflictingly so for the sake of this article, i’m going to stay with 900.

Prior to the festival, Marc had met a Chinese guy in Yulin we’ll call “Baldy,” who is a dog trader and breeder. There have been many rumors stating that Marc bought all the dogs from this guy and had them delivered to the festival, but I can’t find any evidence to back this up. Marc told me he used Baldy and other locals to introduce him to slaughterhouse owners so that he could do deals to suspend their trading. Thousands of dollars changed hands, including money paid to Baldy for introductions. Yulin took on a new meaning to many of the slaughterhouse owners who found themselves with a new source of income.

Marc told me that every dog saved by him (excluding the ones that went to the “tree of life” and the HSI) would come to the USA because the USA love their dogs, they have beds to sleep in, love, the dogs he knew in America lived a dream,  he said “not that people wouldn’t give them love elsewhere but these are considered his children and he made a promise to the animals” every surviving dog would go to the USA.

The heat in Yulin was sweltering. Many of these dogs were emaciated and undernourished. Even the ones I saw the day before at the slaughterhouse were pretty lifeless. What Marc was about to tell me turned my stomach.

Peter Li told Marc that if he didn’t make a statement on the his foundation social media page stating that HSI was helping Ching’s organization save dogs, Li would have the dogs they’d bargained for put back in the slaughterhouse (obviously Li must have had some deal with these people, too). Li told Ching that he had one hour to post the statement or the dogs would go back as promised. Marc told me he was forced to do what Li asked for the sake of the dogs’ lives.


Li then loaded an estimated 140 dogs into a truck and transported them 35 hours north of Yulin without any water, shelter, or food. When Marc found out he told Li to turn back and leave the dogs with him so he could put them in his shelter in Nanning rather than allow them to endure such a deadly journey. Li basically told Ching that the dogs would survive on adrenaline and if they die they die. Many of those dogs did perish. (PLEASE LISTEN TO THE AUDIO BELOW IN MARC’S OWN WORDS)

Marc told me this information was off the record but I have insisted that this be told for the sake of the animals and donors. I wrote to HSI in July, asking them to make a statement, but to this day they have ignored me.

I was angry with Marc that a deal like this could be done, that the dogs were put in an even worse situation than they had already been in. I told him that all these deals had set back all the good work that other anti-dog meat organizations like Animals Asia have done. Marc started to cry, as he had many times in our interview, telling me he was going to close down his foundation because he was in such a “dark place.”

It can’t be denied that what Marc Ching did at Yulin was reckless. He wasn’t saving lives, he was creating a new, bigger market for the slaughterhouse owners who had only profited from dog meat sales in the past. This time they had a guy throwing lots of money around, a guy who didn’t own the animals but was merely postponing the death of so many doomed dogs. One of the slaughterhouses Marc had paid to suspend its operations was still trading when I visited. Why wouldn’t they, with no one hanging around to monitor them?

I found out that Marc’s team had been to Yulin 30 days prior to the festival to set up a shelter in Nanning, so obviously they had intentions of buying dogs, otherwise setting up a shelter would be pointless. Still, Marc continued to insist that he was not in Yulin to buy dogs. We kept going around and around, and he couldn’t see what he was doing was damaging to the movement.

As we were about to leave the restaurant, Marc received a call from the Tree of Life monastery, saying that dogs were ill and dying. In Nanning the dogs there were also ill and dying. Marc said he would get veterinary help and arranged with his translator to leave for both places. He went back to the U.S. that same day after visiting Nanning and Guangzhou.

There has been a lot of hearsay about what happened to the dogs of Yulin. I’ve heard some disturbing things but I have no proof so I can’t write about that here – I can’t write things based on hearsay. Marc now tells me that all the dogs have had veterinary care and only a few died, so I have to take his word for it.

One thing I do know is that from the texts I saw between Peter Li and Marc Ching doing deals with dogs’ lives is that Li is a disgrace. I hope someone calls him out for this.

I believe Marc Ching was very naive, but hopefully he will learn from his experiences. I have been in touch with him since the festival and believe he now knows that his actions were wrong. You can imagine that at next year’s festival the traders will be waiting eagerly for people to turn up with fistfuls of dollars, and that the demand for dogs will be greater. I’d like to ask Marc, ‘if he knew then what he knows now, would he do it the same way?’ I sincerely hope not.

I am not writing this to start a fight with Marc Ching or his supporters. I hope Yulin has been a huge lesson for him, and that he realizes that what he did was wrong. Unfortunately, his difficult learning experience cost a lot of dogs their lives. Marc is not a movie hero, just a human being, and human beings make mistakes. Rambo only exists at the cinema.

Ten Yulin slaughterhouses were never closed down – NO slaughterhouses were closed down, there were SIX suspended for the duration but there was nobody to monitor their actions. To this day, dogs still suffer and die in them. Those who wanted to tell the world that they saved dogs at Yulin have long gone home and moved on. If you believe you have heroes working in Yulin and other places around Asia, and you want to donate your hard earned money, would you not want to know how your money is being used?

Because of this controversy, I have lost many so-called friends on Facebook, people who I thought believed in me. I have gotten into arguments with people who have never been on the frontline, yet think they know best, and many of these arguments have gotten personal.

As I said in my opening statement, I have nothing to gain here. Money is the common factor among many groups fighting for animal rights. The more organizations there are, the more donations get diluted, so the best thing these groups can do is rubbish their competitors. Followers begin squabbling with other followers, and it only gets nastier and uglier. I saw it at Yulin and I’ve seen it everywhere in the world.

Once someone donates their money to your organization, they really do own a piece of you, and you have to become accountable for your actions. That, I think, is fair.

I have no doubt that Marc Ching had the dogs’ interests at heart, but I do believe that his rise in popularity went to his head. He felt he needed do do something different at Yulin, yet he didn’t think about the damage he could do. What also disappoints me is that if you love animals and you know someone is using them for some kind of gain or advantage, you should call that person out. He didn’t and he knows this. HSI and Animals Asia should disavow Peter Li.

In a an article in the Daily MailPeter Li stated: “We don’t believe buying dogs is the right approach, especially buying dogs at the festival and in great numbers. It encourages the trade. I hope what happened at Yulin this year will not happen again.” Yet you WERE part of the problem, Mr. Li. You bought dogs yourself and knowing how you treated them for financial gain is disturbing. You found any avenue to use the animals to elicit funding and generate emotions. You blackmailed Ching and then tortured these dogs in a 35-hour trip without access to water, food or shade from the grueling elements.

The reason it’s taken me so long to tell this story is because I needed to find the truth. I didn’t want to race out with a scoop like you’ve seen other journalists do, just to spread gossip around. Some people will swear that black is white, and many people will read this and accuse me of fabricating and sensationalizing things. I can’t stop that – it’s their right to do so.

I had given this article to Marc Ching to read BEFORE it was posted here so that he could fact check it and convince me that parts of it were wrong. Marc doesn’t agree with some of it so I omitted certain content.

The reason for this posting is simple: it’s for the dogs at Yulin, and all the kind-hearted donors who wanted so badly to help save them. It’s for the gentle pensioner in Plymouth who lives between each pay day, yet gave what few pounds he could spare to help the animals. It’s for the wonderful young lady in Yorkshire who works so hard for the money she earns, yet believed what she read online and donated to save those poor dogs. And most of all, this is for all the animals who were left behind.

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