China currently has no animal-welfare laws.
In 2006, Zhou Ping of the National People's Congress introduced the first nationwide animal-protection law in China, but it didn't move forward.
In September 2009, the first comprehensive Animal protection law of the People's Republic of China was introduced, but it hasn't made any progress.
Several traditional Chinese worldviews emphasize caring for animals, including Taoism and Buddhist vegetarianism. Taoist Zhuang Zhou taught compassion for all sentient beings.
In more recent times, Prof. Peter J. Li suggests, many in mainland China have become relatively indifferent to animal suffering, perhaps partly because of Mao Zedong's campaigns against bourgeois sentiments, such as "sympathy for the downtrodden". Caring about animals was regarded as "counter-revolutionary". Since 1978, China has emphasized growth and avoidance of famine, which the government considers important for political stability. Local officials are evaluated based on local jobs and revenue. This has led to less concern for animal welfare.
Livestock farming has grown exponentially in China in recent years, such that China is now "the world’s biggest animal farming nation." In 1978, China collectively consumed 1/3 as much meat as the United States. By 1992 China had caught up, and by 2012, China's meat consumption was more than double that of the U.S.
Almost 3/4 of China's meat is pork, and China's 476 million pigs comprise half of the world's pig population. China produces 37 million tons of farmed fish—more than 60% of the world's total.
A 2005-2006 survey by Prof. Peter J. Li found that many farming methods that the European Union is trying to reduce or eliminate are commonplace in China, including gestation crates, battery cages, foie gras, early weaning of cows, and clipping of ears/beaks/tails. Livestock in China may be transported over long distances, and there are currently no humane-slaughter requirements.
In 2008, more than 40 animal activists in Beijing gathered to protest skinning and cooking live cats in Guangdong province. A 2010 article featuring content from Tiexue and Mop news sources showed pictures of skinned cats being submerged in boiling water.
The 2010 documentary San Hua by Guo Ke is the first to depict China's cat-meat industry. In one scene, Guo and fellow activists stop a transport truck and find "more than 300 cats crammed into cramped wooden cages, unable to move"—some missing tails and others "crushed into unconsciousness." In another scene at Fa's Cat Restaurant, Guo used a hidden camera to film cooks beating cats with a wooden stick, dumping them into a fur-removal machine, and then boiling them.
Pictures have also circulated featuring two dogs in boiling water in China. It is claimed that this is because some Chinese prefer the taste of adrenaline-soaked meat. In some areas, dogs are beaten to death in order to release blood into the meat.
Yin Yang fish involves deep-frying fish while it is still alive. The practice has been condemned by animal-rights activists. Many chefs in Taiwan are no longer willing to prepare it, but it is popular in mainland China.
Some chefs cook a carp's body while keeping its head wrapped in a cloth so that it can keep breathing. In 2009, a video of Chinese diners prodding and eating alive a fried fish went viral on YouTube and provoked an outcry from PETA.
On streets in China, live scorpions are "scooped up alive and wriggling, skewered on a kebab, and deep-fried in oil."
Drunken shrimp are eaten while struggling to get away. One tourist visiting China described eating drunken shrimp as follows: "Everyone at the table reached into the bowl, chose a particularly feisty little (or rather quite big) shrimp, and placed him on their plate. As poor Mr. Shrimp jumped up and down [...] you picked him up, ripped off his head, and proceeded to peel him as fast as you can."
Some Chinese food markets include live animals, such as live scorpions.
China farms about 10,000 Asiatic black bears for bile production—an industry worth roughly $1.6 billion per year. The bears are permanently kept in cages, and bile is extracted from cuts in their stomachs. In Jan. 2013, Animals Asia Foundation rescued six bile bears, which had broken and rotted teeth due to gnawing at their cages.
Jackie Chan and Yao Ming have publicly opposed bear farming. In 2012, over 70 Chinese celebrities took part in a petition against an IPO application by Fujian Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Co. due to the company's selling of bear-bile medicines. In 2013, the company pulled its IPO application.
According to Jill Robinson, over 1,000 Chinese medicine stores have committed to not selling bear bile, but this compares with over 40,000 such shops in all of China.
China is the biggest fur-producing nation. Some fur animals are skinned alive, and others may be beaten to death with sticks.
In Nov. 2013, PETA released a video of a live angora rabbit in northeastern China having its fur torn off. The video received 200,000 views on China's video site Youku within a month and prompted UK retailers like Primark and Topshop to stop imports from China of products using angora wool.
Asian palm civets are farmed in battery cages to produce Kopi Luwak ("civet coffee").
China has a $32 billion beauty market, and over 300,000 animals are thought to be used each year for required product tests. China is the only major buyer where mascaras and lotions need to be tested on animals.
In 2013, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) relaxed its testing requirements by allowing Chinese companies to verify safety using data from overseas tests, including non-animal tests. Foreign companies are still required to perform animal testing, but Humane Society International was hopeful about further humane reforms to come.
On 30 June 2014, CFDA eliminated its requirement for animal testing of "ordinary cosmetics" like shampoos and some skin-care items as long as companies provided alternative data showing safety. This change does not extend to imported cosmetics or to "any special-use products, including hair dyes and sunblocks."
Some animal tests are likely to continue for now even on exempt products because some testers do not have the technology for alternative in vitro methods. Animal activists were excited by the announcement, and over 50 of them took to the streets of Dalian in northeastern China to celebrate, wearing bunny ears.
According to Prof. Peter J. Li, a few Chinese zoos are improving their welfare practices, but many remain "outdated", have poor conditions, use live feeding, and employ animals for performances. Safari parks may feed live sheep and poultry to lions as a spectacle for crowds.
In Beijing, vendors sell fish, turtles, and amphibians as key rings and mobile-phone decorations. Animal-rights activists condemn the practice because the animals may run out of air and die quickly, and they may also pose hazards to human health.
Ideas of animal welfare and animal rights were introduced to China in the 1990s.
China's animal-protection movement is growing, particularly among young people, especially those in urban areas and on the Internet. International NGOs played some role in igniting China's animal movement, but local groups are increasingly taking over.
China is home to 130 million dogs, mostly pets. As China becomes wealthier, more people are owning pets, which increases opposition to animal cruelty. In Apr. 2012, activists rescued 505 dogs that were headed to slaughter from a truck where they had endured harsh conditions.
Chinese activists prevented introduction of a bullfighting project in 2010 and rodeos in 2011. Activists have pre-empted a foie gras factory, ended live feeding in zoos, and rescued thousands of dogs and cats from being killed for meat. Vegetarian restaurants are increasing, though partly because of fashion rather than ethics.
A 2011 survey of about 6000 Chinese found that while about 2/3 of respondents had never previously heard of "animal welfare", 65.8% expressed at least partial support of animal-welfare laws, and more than half said they were fully or partially willing to pay more for humane animal products.
Tsinghua University professor Zhao Nanyuan argues that animal rights represents a form of Western imperialism ("foreign trash") that is "anti-humanity". He argues that animals are not sentient and therefore don't have rights. He encourages China to learn from the example of South Koreans who refused Western protests of its dog-meat traditions.
Critics have pointed out that while non-human animals are not as advanced in their needs and desires as humans, they do share some basic needs, such as food, water, shelter and companionship.
Some claim that it is contradictory for the U.S. to condemn China's mistreatment of animals while engaging in its own forms of animal cruelty. Chinese animal-welfare groups censured an American-style rodeo, as well as Jackie Chan's support for it. One Chinese commenter said of Chan: "You made a video about the protection of bears, and now you're promoting the mistreatment of cattle, it's a massive contradiction. Brother Chan, you've hurt me deeply."