Dr. Junhong Li

Stop Animal Cruelty: A Call for an Animal Welfare Law in China

This piece was written for Lewis & Clark’s Emerging Topics in Animal Law course. All views expressed are those of the author.

By Dr. Junhong Li

Along with the improvement of living quality, Chinese people are paying more and more attention to animal protection.

For better protection of wildlife, China has taken some actions recently due to the outbreak of COVID-19. In February 2020, the National People’s Congress of China (hereinafter as “NPC”) adopted a Decision which provides a strong legal basis for law enforcement and judicial organs at all levels to crack down on illegal trading and eating of wild animals.  In October 2020, the NPC deliberated the Wildlife Protection Law of China (revision draft) which prescribes specific provisions on the scope of wildlife protection, fasting and banning of illegal hunting and illegal trade. On February 9, 2021, National Forestry and Grassland Administration of China and China Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Areas jointly announced the newly adjusted List of Wildlife under National Key Protection, which adds 517

In terms of other animals, however, things are different. Recently, a live video of cat abuse was exposed.[2] The abusers in the video not only broadcasted their cat abuse process but also turned on the “gratuity” mode, which means that the viewers can customize the way of killing kittens as long as they pay.[3] In January 2021, a kitten was found with a burnt tail, in March 2020, a stray dog was found whose bones were broken by external force and whose wounds festered all over his body.[4] Concerning farmed animals, the limited confined environment and inhumane methods, within the context of profit priority, have resulted in such harmful effect on these animals as the depression, abnormal behavior, short lifespan, excessive abuse of antibiotics, insufficiently stunned slaughter, and so on. 

These activities have significant impact on social security, ethical value and economic development. According to the research of criminal psychology, many perpetrators of violent cases often had the experience of abusing animals before committing a crime, usually in their adolescence.[6] Among the reasons why children or teenagers abuse animals, imitating the behavior of parents or other adults towards animals is an important reason Undoubtedly, no legal regulation of such activities would affect the social security and moral standard of the whole society, especially when animal abuse is used for making money[8]. In addition, in recent years, the international market has paid more and more attention to the food safety of livestock products, production environment, livestock and poultry breeding methods and so on. Due to animal welfare problems, animal products exported by China are rejected, returned and destroyed from time to time,  which seriously affect economic development of China. For instance, from 2004 to 2011, the EU animal welfare standards seriously inhibited the export of major animal derived products such as beef, pork, poultry and offal. 

So far, penalties for abusing small animals such as dogs and cats mainly rely on moral evaluation and public opinion. For example, the perpetrator of the “boiling the cat” incident in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province was fired by his company after the incident; the college student in Shandong province who photographed the torture of a cat to death by means of fire, electric shock, peeling and other means, and sold the video online was expelled by the school. 

All these measures are far from enough for animal welfare. Even for the protected endangered wild species, the laws are adopted mainly for the purpose of sustainable use under which animal welfare is not the priority. To protect animals for the sake of animal welfare, in May 2020, Professor Er Xiaomei, a member of the CPPCC National Committee, submitted a proposal to the general assembly to establish a legal system for animal welfare protection. However, legislation on animal welfare is not on the agenda of NPC Standing Committee yet.

Difficulties for adopting an animal welfare law concern many factors. Firstly, it lacks legal basis. The current Constitution only protects precious and endangered animals, and the related laws only provide legal protection for rare and endangered aquatic and terrestrial wildlife and beneficial terrestrial wildlife with important economic and research value.[12] Secondly, it lacks promoters for the legislation. From the perspective of legislative process, China is basically based on departmental legislation. For example, Ministry of Ecology and Environment takes the lead in promoting environmental protection laws. For small animals, who is their spokesperson? The absence of promoters will inevitably greatly affect the legislative process. Thirdly, there are some difficulties in how to define “abuse” at the legal level because the issue of animal protection involves many factors, such as industry development, ethnic customs, religious customs, ethics and morality. Fourthly, at the current technical level, improving the welfare of farmed animals may affect industries’ profits, which is a big resistance.

These obstacles can be resolved through the following measures.

First, constitutional revision. In the past two years, along with the improvement of people’s living standards, the call for revising the Constitution for the sake of animal welfare has increased. The German Constitution can be used as a reference that explicitly prescribes the protection of animals by legislation and regulates that concurrent legislative power is granted in the areas of food animal production and animal disease management.[13]

Second, multi-lateral cooperation mechanism and one unified law. Currently, at the national level, there exist several authorities on animal protection from different aspects. For instance, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Areas is in charge of aquatic wildlife protection and farm animal management while National Forestry and Grassland Administration is responsible for the protection of terrestrial wildlife. Since Chinese Law on Animal Epidemic Prevention, which regulates the management of dogs, prescribes that department of agriculture and rural areas is the competent authority, the companion animal protection especially pet animals shall fall into the management of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Areas. As such, to protect animal welfare, these departments should cooperate and set up a multi-lateral cooperation mechanism under the leadership of State Council to push the legislation on animal welfare. Notably, if the relevant provisions on anti-cruelty to animals are scattered in various laws and regulations, it will not only be difficult to realize the comprehensive protection of existing animals, but also may bring problems in the application of laws.

Third, clarification of abuse and cruelty of animals from a legal point of view. The existing relevant laws and regulations do not provide a legal definition of “animal abuse” or “animal cruelty”. The wildlife protection law and experimental animal regulations mainly focus on the usefulness of these animals to humans. Although the regulation of Beijing Municipality on animal epidemic prevention stipulates that animal breeders shall not abandon or abuse animals raised,[14] this regulation does not provide the legal definition of “animal abuse”. As such, borrowing the definition of cruelty in foreign laws, animal cruelty or animal abuse can be defined as the infliction by omission or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human animal. It encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. The cruelty can be intentional, such as kicking, burning, stabbing, beating, or shooting; or it can involve neglect, such as depriving an animal of water, shelter, food, and necessary medical treatment.

Fourth, the improvement of public participation in and public awareness of these issues. Public interest litigation concerning environment and food safety is legally recognized by Chinese law, which empowers qualified organizations and prosecutors to file actions against the infringers. Hence, lawsuits on food safety and quality as well as environmental pollution for the sake of farmed animal welfare can be filed. The capacity-building of qualified organizations and prosecutors shall be improved for such litigation, which may cover the competency of finding case clues, identifying evidence, damage appraisal along with sufficient understanding of current laws and regulations. Meanwhile, public awareness of animal situations and animal welfare knowledge needs to be enhanced. Although China has made some progress in economic development, it should be admitted that most Chinese people are still struggling to survive. People do not have enough time and energy to care about the situation of animals or animal welfare since animals are still legally considered property or tools for humans. To change this situation, the first step should start from reality and make the public aware that the protection of animals is of significance to the economy and human health, such as the pandemic countermeasures through better protection of wild animals. Then, community advocacy and education about animal welfare and current animal status should be conducted for the public to realize the seriousness and urgency of the problem so that they can play a positive role actively such as supervision, monitoring, and reporting case clues and illegal activities.

In conclusion, whether the reason is economic development, social stability, ethical demands, or legal necessity, China needs a unified law on animal welfare that covers the welfare of not only protected wildlife but also companion animals, farmed animals and experimental animals to stop animal abuse and animal cruelty. For this, the relevant authorities, experts, animal advocacy organizations, prosecutors as well as the public should make joint efforts and take concerted action.


[1] Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on comprehensively banning the illegal trade in wild animals, eliminating the bad habit of indiscriminately eating wild animals, and effectively ensuring the life, health and safety of the people, Xinhua Net (2020).

[2] Cat abuse live broadcast, how sick is it?! , KWANGMYONG NET, October 20, 2021, https://www.sohu.com/a/496091311_162758.

[3] Id.

[4] Qu Rong, Research on the Legal System of Companion Animal Welfare in China (2020), pp13, www.cnki.net.

[5] Factory farming: do humans abuse animals when improving economic benefits? , August 10, 2021, https://new.qq.com/omn/20210810/20210810A04NT900.html.

[6] Chong Mu, From abusing animals to abusing people, there is a common psychological basis behind it, October 29, 2020, https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1681853552942314533&wfr=spider&for=pc.

[7] Psychological analysis of animal abusers, May 9, 2018, https://wenku.baidu.com/view/f5bd472af08583d049649b6648d7c1c708a10b97.html.

[8] Examples include the intubation and water injection to stretch goose liver, live broadcast cat abuse on social software, and so on. See Xiao Min, et al, Economic analysis of opposing for-profit animal abuse, 19 June 2020, Modern Trade Industry, Vol. 20, 2020, https://www.fx361.com/page/2020/0619/6792138.shtml.

[9] The export of meat products encounters the threshold of animal welfare, 16 January, 2017, http://www.zhuok.com/flyz/355-24.html (Access on November 25, 2021).

[10] Li Huaizheng & Chen Jun, The impact of EU animal welfare standards on China’s meat products export, Business Research, 2021.

[11] Extremely cruel! A “blood color trading chain” behind the killing of small animals, 20 October 2021,


[12] Constitution of the People’s Republic of China of 2018, Article 9.2.

[13] Article 40A & Article 74.

[14] Article 30.


Junhong Li