| Global Times | 2012-7-19 19:10:03
By Li Ying
Qin Xiaona, 66, has earned a reputation in China over recent years as an animal rights crusader in a country where animal cruelty is rampant. It's a mission that has courted as much support as it has controversy, with stunts including blocking highways to save dogs crammed in trucks bound for hot pot restaurants, campaigning to scrap rodeos and even condemning televised magician stunts involving goldfish being lauded and lambasted alike.
Qin is the director of Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA), an NGO she founded in 2000. The association only has three staff members, but its push to lobby lawmakers for tougher punishments for animal abusers and raise public awareness about the plight of strays is unrelenting.
Sitting cross-legged on a sofa during our interview, it's easy to see Qin's passion for animals and the love they have for her. A black cat jumps up onto the sofa and nestles itself comfortably into her lap. Another ginger tabby with white stripes named Monday sidles up to her. Unable to leap up due to his paralyzed limbs, Monday is content to gaze at his owner and let out an affectionate purr.
"See the desire for life in their eyes? They used to be stray cats abandoned by their owners," she says. "But how can we be indifferent and not help them survive?"
Outlawing dog meat
Qin, a former reporter and editor at Beijing Television, is passionate and articulate when talking about animals. On the eve of our interview she had just returned to Beijing from Shenzhen, where she attended the three-day 2012 Shenzhen China Charity Fair.
Perhaps the most notable legacy of Qin's association is a local regulation issued in June in Weixian county, Shandong Province, that banned consumption of dog meat. The law, which followed intense lobbying from CAWA and is the first of its kind in China, sent shock waves across a country where eating dog meat is a traditional culinary custom in many rural areas.
Qin, though proud of the association's achievement in ensuring the law was passed, was disappointed it failed to attract much media attention at the time. The law not only prohibited dogs being slaughtered for their meat, it also included what Qin describes as "pioneering" provisions requiring all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies.
Qin hopes other counties across China will follow suit by passing similar laws, but acknowledges one of the key challenges lies in persuading the public to push for these amendments.
"The association is playing the role as a bridge connecting public opinions with the government," she noted.
Dependent on public support
Appeals to the public from CAWA have had mixed results, with some acts of animal cruelty prevented and others ignored. In 2009, Qin led activists protesting a bid to bring a Spanish bullfight to Huairou district, Beijing.
She also presented evidence to local government officials outlining animal cruelty at rodeos, leading the Rodeo China show slated for Beijing's "Bird's Nest" National Stadium on October 3 last year to be scrapped.
"Qin is willing to take responsibility and is passionate and determined," said CAWA's administrative assistant Li Wei, specifically referring to how Qin on April 15 last year helped rescue 520 dogs loaded in a truck bound for a slaughterhouse in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. "Qin was up until midnight calling many different people, including police and government officials, to coordinate the rescue."
"Animal welfare is linked to the mental health of society. If we can learn to respect animals, it will help wipe out hatred among human beings, too," Qin said.
Qin again caused a stir after China Central Television's Spring Festival Gala in 2011, which involved a famous magician making goldfish swim in formation. The show proved a hit and videos of the act went viral on the Internet, but Qin branded the illusionary feat as "animal cruelty" because the magician, Fu Yandong, allegedly force-fed his fish metal objects then used magnets to manipulate their movements.
One of Qin's major influences was her mother, who shared food with strangers in periods of famine during the Great Leap Forward (1958-61). Qin said since childhood she has been willing to lend a helping hand to others.
She studied Urdu at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute, today known as the Communication University of China, and taught Chinese for a period.
But it was her experience shooting a TV program about sheep 20 years ago that aroused her sympathy for animals. The program detailed how a lamb was brutally slaughtered by being crushed by a train on a railway.
"The lamb's mother witnessed the death," Qin recalled. "The ewe was bleating and I couldn't help but be moved by the sadness and helplessness in her eyes. Animals share the same feelings as human beings."
Communicating with officials
Qin became a volunteer at a Beijing-based animal welfare association in 1994 while preparing to establish her own such organization. She used her monthly salary at the time of about 600 yuan ($94.10) to build an animal shelter and spearheaded fundraising efforts in her spare time. She finally registered CAWA with the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau in 2000.
Qin's 91-year-old husband Bai Jiefu, who served as vice mayor of Beijing during the 1980s, has helped her more effectively and directly talk to government officials. "It's because of his support that I can be so resolute and persistent in defending animal rights. I'll always respect him," she said.
Pressed to discuss her personal life more, Qin was reluctant, insisting that "matters about the association are more interesting and significant."
Qin knows that earning the public's trust - no easy feat given the amount of skepticism directed at many Chinese charities - is critical for CAWA's survival.
The association regularly publicizes its statements of expenditures and donations to remain as transparent as possible to volunteers and the public.
But with only three members and dwindling financial support, Qin worries about the uncertain fate of the association.
"I have seen the determination and potential of young animal rights activists. I believe they are the future for defending animal rights in China," she said.
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