- Animals in China: Law and Society by Deborah Cao
Strong reasons compel animal ethics to take a global turn. For one thing, free-living animal crises or animal abuse are never isolated phenomena, exclusive to any particular country; they often have common roots shared by all countries, manifestations, and connecting networks that exceed national boundaries and require concerted action at the international level.1 China, with the world’s largest population, booming economy, growing global influence, and rising civic consciousness, is fast becoming a significant global agent of abuse as well as of change in the field of animal ethics that one cannot avoid when confronting the animal question at the global level. It is therefore timely and apposite that we see a new addition to the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series that deals with this important subject: animals in China.
Animals in China: Law and Society by Deborah Cao is an extension of her earlier work in the Chinese language: Animals Are Not Things: Animal Law in the West (Beijing, 2007). In her earlier work, written for the Chinese audience, Cao introduces the key philosophical ideas and law concerning nonhuman animals in the West to Chinese readers. In Animals in China, Cao does the exact opposite, by introducing Chinese philosophy and law concerning nonhuman animals to an English-speaking audience. Both are worthy bridge-building attempts that can enhance our mutual understanding and facilitate a dialogue between East and West that is essential for tackling the animal question at both the local and transnational levels.
This, however, is no easy task. When cultures meet, cultural bias and insensitivity abound. One therefore marvels at the sensitivity and evenhandedness with which Cao carries out her task. Instead of privileging any single cultural tradition, Cao foregrounds animal suffering and takes the common ground of a humanity that sins as well as carries the potential for change. “Animals feel and suffer in African jungles, Chinese food markets, European research laboratories and American intensive farming factories,” (p. 4) Cao reminds her reader at the outset. She further states that, besides the cruelty to animals existing in all cultures and the globalized complicity often involved in them, all have valuable intellectual traditions that can inspire action as well as people to speak up for their fellow companions on earth, with Chinese society being no exception.
Animals in China is first and foremost a work about the law. It offers a comprehensive explication of the Chinese laws and regulations concerning different types of animals in China. China today does not yet have a national law for animal protection—although efforts toward realizing one have been ongoing for years, and it does have [End Page 109] numerous laws, regulations, and directives concerning the protection and regulation of free-living animals and certain domesticated animals. After first presenting an overview of animals in philosophy and law in ancient China, Cao in her main chapters examines in detail the legal provision relating to different types of animals one by one: free-living animals, companion animals, performing animals, and animals used in labs. In each case, she takes care to distinguish the law in theory and the law in practice, illustrating the topics at hand always with a discussion of the existing legal provision as well as any related prosecutions and court rulings. For example, in Chapters 3 and 4, Cao examines in depth the legal regime in relation to the protection of free-living animals, the major area of law concerning nonhuman animals where China does have a comprehensive regulatory system. However, the Wild Protection Law (1988), which was erected for the conservation of rare, valuable, and endangered species, Cao points out was guided by an instrumental thinking that regards animals as resources and the means to human ends, whose protection and management is directed toward the higher object of sustainable commercial utilization by both the state and private businesses. The licensing system that the Wild Protection Law sets up, which allows protected species to be...