In Chinese bullfighting the bulls fight each other

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Chinese bullfighting among the Yi people in the southwest of China

OPINION – COMMENT: It is said that Chinese bullfighting is more humane than Spanish bullfighting because the bulls fight themselves whereas in Spain the bulls are mercilessly killed by a matador. Chinese bullfighting is rooted in a centuries old rural tradition of the Yi people, an ethnic minority in the south-west province of Yunnan, China which is also known for a summer fire festival. They want to turn this festival into a source of income.

Chinese bullfighting among the Yi people in the southwest of China

Chinese bullfighting among the Yi people (an ethnic minority) in the southwest of China. Photo: Kenrick Davis/Sixth Tone.

During the festival they have bullfighting tournaments which have become a popular spectator sport. They set the buffaloes against each other. In one tournament there were 70 cattle fighting on a one-to-one basis in a succession of knockout rounds with the winner being crowned the “king of the bulls”. Big money is involved. The winning bull brings in over 160,000 yuan ($24,000) in cash.

Tickets are sold for the tournaments and prize money is awarded. There is also an underground betting market, which is illegal gambling, resulting in the authorities cracking down on it. In Shilin county, last year, the region’s fire festival lasted seven days and 170 animals participated.

Cruel

Tournaments can attract over 3,000 people. The problem, for animal advocates is obvious: if this is less cruel than Spanish bullfighting it is still cruel. It is still using and abusing animals to entertain people. It is little different to cock fighting or dog fighting. Satisfying humankind’s bloodlust.

PETA, the well-known animal advocacy organisation are mortified, I’m sure, at this Chinese tradition. I’m told that the bulls rarely die in the ring in China which means that some do die in the ring and therefore there must be many injuries. Is this not animal abuse and cruelty?

Fun and therefore not violent?

One local business owner who participates fully in this form of bullfighting is Yang Liping. He has 10 fighting bulls and he invests in the sport because it’s an important part of Sani Yi culture. He argues that at its core it isn’t about violence. He says people regard it as something akin to fun. The spirit behind it is important to the spectators and he said that they “revere and respect the bulls’ bold courage and indomitable mentality”. Comment: yes, the bulls are brave and indomitable but they are entertaining people at the expense of their welfare and health. That is immoral to animal advocates.

Unallowed in some provinces

Ancient Chinese writings describe this sort of bloodsport in which various animal species fight each other including bulls. It used to take place all over China but is now disappearing from most areas because few local authorities are unwilling to approve it. Comment: therefore, I can conclude that there are some people in authority who consider it inhumane and a backward step.

Backward step

Earlier on in the article I said that the people of this region want to expand bullfighting, to market and commercialise it. This too is a backward step when forward thinking countries are trying to make progress with respect to animal welfare. In Spain, there has been a campaign against bullfighting for many years and it’s on its last legs. Bullfighting was banned in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia by the Catalan parliament in July 2010. The top Spanish court overturned the ban in 2016 but Catalan News tells me that no bullfights have taken place since 2011. Spain is wrestling with a ban on bullfighting while the Chinese are wrestling with how to expand it. Which country is correct?