I have never been to China, do not speak Chinese, and have not met Mrs Yang (Yang Xiaoyun) in person. Despite this, I was moved by the life of Mrs Yang. As well as being an elderly widow who chose to dedicate her life to saving dogs and cats, Mrs Yang bravely challenges dangerous dog and cat meat traders to save animals intended for the pot. The global media styled Chinese pensioner Mrs Yang as the “symbol of hope” of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Animal lovers across the world wanted to help Mrs Yang help the dogs and cats in her shelters.
In recent months Mrs Yang has been the target of unsubstantiated allegations from a small number of Chinese and British sources. Mrs Yang has also been at the centre of an online smear campaign through Weibo, Twitter and Facebook.
I am not a charity. I am not a Chinese dog rescuer. I am not getting paid to write this article. I have no vested interests. In this case, I am guided by a moral compass pointing towards social justice. It appears that the fame and experiences of Mrs Yang are being used and abused by others for financial gain. With a limited online voice, the global media should once again be speaking out for Mrs Yang.
Defamatory claims that “Yang is a scam” can be found on Twitter and Facebook. The quality of shelters and standard of animal care has also been questioned. One such source is a UK registered charity whose Trustees visited Mrs Yang unannounced at some point between August 24 and 30, 2015.
What such people seem to have overlooked is the fact that animals in China do not have the same privilege and protection of animal welfare laws found in the UK. Comparing the Chinese context to the UK shows cultural ignorance, legal naivety, and a troubling imperialist approach to charity. Generally, dog meat trade dogs are not treated like pampered pets before they become meat. If rescued, dog meat trade dogs keep their lives. Money matters when feeding and sheltering them.
Animal rescue is highly political. Globally, all charities need donations to exist and to survive. On the ground, rescues compete for support. The only way to find out the realities of Mrs Yang, was to speak to independent professionals who met her in person and have with no vested interests.
I chose to chat with award winning Producer and Film Director MK Pak (also known as Eddie Pak) of MANKIND Films. Between August 30 and September 7 2015, Pak independently visited and interviewed Mrs Yang with his film crew. He had no NGO assistance. When I mentioned some of the allegations targeted at Mrs Yang his response was:
“It sounds like a drama! She is a retired teacher at the age of around 70. She is highly educated. She had a great, warm chatting session with all my Tianjin ladies. We never got a sense of any gangster background related to her. My opinion is she sacrificed her family and friends. She chose dogs instead of humans. She has a good paid retirement, and doesn’t need to sleep in the dog shelter. Her dog cages have heaters. Her room / dog food store does not. I personally think she is honest.”
Pak continued, “She is fighting towards zero dog meat eating in China. The rescued dogs need adoption and a better building structure for the shelters.”
Another public figure who corresponds with Mrs Yang is Kenneth Chong, co-founder and CEO of Peace Prize Foundation. Chong maintains:
“Mdm. Yang faces many challenges from poor health, lack of support and local harassment from authorities. I have no doubt as to her sincerity to help animals though I believe there could be better ways to go about it. However, under the circumstances in China, she is making the best effort she could to mitigate. To her, it is all about saving whatever dogs and cats that need saving. “A life is still a life.””
Mrs Yang remains resolute in response to smear campaigns:
“I couldn’t care less about the negative remarks on my dog saving efforts. Insulting me by saying I use the donation funds. When dogs arrive at my shelter they will be looked after, fed and have a roof over their heads. This is my assistance to them.”
If you want to see the realities of Mrs Yang for yourself, please watch ‘A PLACE CALLED HOME 流浪的庇护所’ published on October 14 2015, and share widely.