First a big “WOW” to the Austrian lawyer Georg Zanger, who has filed a lawsuit against the Spreadshirt company on account for the “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” T-shirt. VIENNA.AT – Vienna Online published this news on 23 March 2017. He is of Jewish descent and not a Chinese, but is willing to fight for what he thinks is correct. I wish to be like him to fight for what I think is correct, with the benefits of other peoples and not just my own in mind.
So many people know how to speak out their own perspectives in a constructive way. I should also learn to voice my own opinions in a way that improves mutual understanding. Here are my further thoughts on this incident. First, I think the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese,” from a Chinese perspective, is suggestive of a certain form of servitude. Accidentally bumped into this 7-minute long video, where a Chinese professor (王洪涌) from Central China Normal University explains the interesting historical evolution of the Chinese characters “犬” (big dog) and “狗” (small dog). As you may know, the shape of a Chinese character and its cognate forms often suggest the words’ meanings. As she explains, the cognate forms of the characters “犬” and “狗” are related to hunting activities (e.g., 突，伏，etc.), and it can be deduced that dogs were primarily conceived as humans’ helpers to hunt other animals. There is no discussion of dog meat as a Chinese cuisine, but she does highlight how the Chinese proverbs reflect the Chinese attitudes towards dogs. On the one hand, the Chinese proverb 犬有湿草之恩, which is baed on a legend where a loyal dog saved its master from the burning fire, praises the dog’s ability to repay human kindness. On the other hand, a dog’s submission to its master can also symbolize an extreme form of servitude. So the Chinese, to my knowledge, will never dare to compare a human being to a dog unless they want to highlight a person’s despicable subjection to another person (e.g., 狗奴才，狗腿子，猪狗不如，etc.). In this light, I can understand why the Chinese (including I) are especially offended by the comparison between a dog and a human being. Such a suggestion of servitude coming from the non-Chinese with a history of imperialism can cause the Chinese deep suspicions and misunderstandings.
Second, the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese commits the fault of over-generalizations and can be slanderous. The T-shirt’s statement seems to be based on a false premise that every single Chinese must have eaten a dog. The research of Frederick J. Simoons’ monograph “Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry” shows that “many ethnic groups in China rejected dog flesh…as food, some of them, such as Moslems, because they consider dogs unclean; some, such as Buddhists, because they viewed the dog as a friend and protector of the family and opposed killing dogs and eating them; and some, non-Han minorities, because they considered dogs to be their relatives. In Kwantung, the Yao, like other Yao groups in South China and Vietnam (the Man), believe they are descended from a dog ancestor and reject dogs as food for that reason, though dogs may be sacrificed and eaten by priests and the afflicted in efforts at curing illness…Among the Chinese, there has been a decline in the acceptability of dog flesh since ancient times, especially in North China” (p. 310). The book goes on to state that “in North China dog flesh is eaten as food only among the poorest sorts of people, and in South China only in certain regions” (p. 310). The article in Huffington Post suggests that “nearly 70 percent [of the people in China] have never eaten dog meat.” Moreover, it is slanderous, if not blasphemous, to accuse the Chinese Buddhists/Moslems and many other Chinese vegetarians of dog-eating.
Third, the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” is discriminatory in nature and is thus guilty of inciting racial hatred. According to Simoons’ monograph again, dog-eating has persisted in certain places in Europe and other parts of the world. Early in the twentieth century, “J.S. Thomson…wrote of dog eating in Germany, where, he said, roughly 8000 dogs were ‘slaughtered for food purposes’ in the previous year , 1400 of them in the cities of Kassel (Cassel) and Chemnitz. Schwabe…also writes of dog eating in parts of modern Europe, and not merely in times of famine. He provides details of how the Swiss prepare ‘Dried Dog Meat,’ and presents a defense of dog eating in nutritional and other terms” (p. 309). Wikipedia contains further information about dog eating in all parts of the world. Yet the T-shirt company/designer has singled out the Chinese as the only national/ethnic group practising dog-eating. The public display of such a T-shirt on the website encourages the dissemination of national/racial/ethnic stereotypes, which can unjustly render the Chinese living in Europe the target of school, university, and workplace ridicules and bullying. The mockery can in turn escalate into more social problems in Europe. In my encounters with some non-Chinese, I have been asked the same question “Do you eat dogs” several times. My experience shows how deeply entrenched the stereotypes are. The problem is I have never eaten dog meat. And I have seldom bumped into the Asians who eat the dog meat. In fact, I have only learned about dog meat through the Western reports. I don’t deny that their reports can be true, and some do perhaps eat dog meat in certain regions. But does this jsutify the stereotypical image of ALL Chinese as dog-eaters?
Lastly, you may want to say this is all a joke/a sarcasm. Why can’t the Europeans have some fun? I can say very clearly that I have zero tolerance of people having fun (not even a little bit) on hurting human dignity, especially when it is related to my family and friends. I bet the Hutus had a lot of fun calling the Tutsis “cockcroaches” during the genocide in Rwanda (a former German and Belgian colony). I am biased. I do not endorse the abuse of animals, but honestly I am not a vegetarian. I do not assign the same value to both human life and animal life. I think the German constitution is also biased when its first article gives such a prominent place to human dignity. The first article states:
(1) Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt. (Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is an obligation of every state power.)
(2) “Das Deutsche Volk bekennt sich darum zu unverletzlichen und unveräußerlichen Menschenrechten als Grundlage jeder menschlichen Gemeinschaft, des Friedens und der Gerechtigkeit in der Welt. (The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, of peace and justice in the world.)
I like the fact that it not only stipulates that every state power should give proper dignity to human beings, but it also suggests that the German people should take their own initiatives to respect and protect human rights. I have grave doubts that the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” advertised and sold by the Spreadshirt company based in Germany coheres with the emphasis on human dignity enshrined in the German constitution. But maybe we are living in an ever-changing world, where cannibalism can indeed overcome humanism one day. In that case, I can do nothing but see the T-shirts hanged all around the world to proclaim our transition into another epoch of barbarism.
P/S: I really don’t want to get into such an elaborate argument against the stupid T-shirt, if I haven’t felt that this incident is a tip of the iceberg of the ongoing racial tensions in Europe. I want to share my opinions honestly with you because I believe continuous communication can help alleviate more and more misunderstandings/racial profilings. You have perhaps read my embittered encounters with some of the Europeans/Americans in Göttingen. History can repeat itself in such a short time, can’t it? Barbaric stereotypical remarks can also come out of the mouths of the so-called “social-elites.” On 26 October 2016, Günther Oettinger, a European commissioner from Germany, for whatever conflict of interests in his mind, gave a public speech in Hamburg and described all the Chinese people as “Schlitzohren und Schlitzaugen” (sly-dogs and slit-eyes). Part of Oettinger’s speech is available on Youtube (attached below). For the Spiegel‘s report of this incident, please click here. After several days of pressure from his opponents, Oettinger did apologize for his offensive remarks. His supporters said that “his remarks merely reflected the colourful language typical of his home state.” See the Welt‘s report here. Does that mean that we should all be so engrossed in our own cultural quagmire that we should never jump out of it and critically reflect on it? In light of this, I especially admire people such as the German publisher Sebastian Marquadt who could stand out of his own cultural comfort zone and expose Oettinger’s racial slurs on Youtube. There is always a mixture of good and bad eggs in one country, right? 😉