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Documenting the slaughter

  • Source: Global Times
  • [22:14 August 31 2010]
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Cats in a bag for sale to restaurants in a farm products market in Chongqing on November 14, 2005. Photo: IC

By Liang Chen

On a chilly night in late December last year, a blue minivan and a silver gray Hyundai raced on a highway in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. The minivan almost drove at full speed, with its engine buzzing. About 50 meters away, the Hyundai was closing on the minivan and sped up.

Minutes later, when the minivan arrived at the Wangjiangting tollgate, several middle-aged women jumped from the Hyundai, stopping the minivan.

"How can you steal others' cats to satisfy your own needs?" yelled a woman with a Shanghai accent. She grabbed the car door, opened it and scratched a middle-aged man in the driver's seat. Another woman ran to pull out the key.

At the meantime, other women opened the back of the minivan, pulled away a black cloth and found more than 300 cats jammed in more than 30 small wooden boxes: Some uttered piercing yowls, some bled from severed tail wounds and some were unconscious.

"These cats are stolen, you see, there are some with collars," said Zhu Qian, an rescuer on abandoned animals said. She has been saving abandoned animals for more than 10 years. According to Zhu, the cats were stolen from neighborhoods in Shanghai and were destined for restaurants in Guangzhou Province.

This was not the first time Zhu and her partners stopped cat dealers as they tried to deliver their illegal, pitiful catch.

"If I were able to chase cat dealers like this all the time, I would find one or two dirty deals every day," Zhu said.

Thus opens the film Sanhua (Three Flowers), the first documentary in China revealing the illegal theft, transportation, killing and eating of cats. Produced by Ai Weiwei Workshop, it aroused a lot of public attention and concern about animal cruelty from the hundreds of people who've seen it following its release in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong from late June through August.

Birth of the film

In 2007, an animal rescue organization phoned Ai, the noted artist, cultural and social commentator and activist, to adopt some cats in Tianjin after they rescued them from cat illegal dealers.

"I was shocked when I saw hundreds of seriously-injured cats lying in the corner of the barn," Ai told the Global Times. He was sitting in his loft house in the Caochangdi Art Zone on East 5th Ring, Beijing.

It was then that he decided to eventually make a film revealing the highly profitable cat kidnapping and killing trade.

Then in 2010, another phone call pushed Ai's idea into reality.

It was Zhu Qian, the outspoken woman featured in Sanhua, who was calling from Suzhou in Jiangsu Province to say she had been tipped off that hundreds of cats were going to be transported to Guangzhou from Shanghai, and she and her supporters planned to stop it.

Immediately, Ai decided to act and sent cameraman Guo Ke to Shanghai.

"We wanted to show the public the whole picture about how bloody and big the cat consumption market is," Ai said.

Ai sighed and added, "I want to push every audience member into a corner that makes them realize the suffering and misery of cats and other animals, so they cannot sit by and let them die.

"They must do something," he said.

Finishing this, Ai turned his head to the window. There, sunshine shone through the glass, and a white cat, Tiantian, walked elegantly to him, jumped onto the table and rested its soft body on Ai's arms.

Tiantian was one of the adopted cats that moved Ai to produce the film. While Tiantian enjoyed a sweet moment with Ai, the film's namesake, Sanhua, another adopted cat, strolled back and forth in the courtyard amid green grass and bamboo.

"I named the film after Sanhua," Ai said. Sanhua was named for the three colors of its fur: yellow, white and black. According to Ai, tri-colored cats such as Sanhua are the most valuable to the gruesome practice.

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