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Yulin, a province in southern China, is home to a famous annual festival devoted to dog eating. For the past two years, the festival has become a focus for Chinese animal activists, fighting to shut it down. They recently delivered a petition to pressure the Chinese government. It was signed by 11 million people from around the world, an unprecedented show of support. 

The ranks of protesters in China are growing, due to the rising awareness of animal rights and a surge in dog ownership. A 2015 study shows that one in every 13 people in China owns a pet. Of those, 60% are dogs.

But activists are fighting against more than a single festival. The tradition of eating dog meat is a very old one, dating back almost to the very origins of the Chinese civilization. And although canine cuisine is openly served in only a few regions nowadays, there is a big, lucrative black market that preys on pets. Some researchers say the black market has been around for about 30 years and spans a vast area of China.

Animal rights activists successfully shut down a dog eating festival in Zhejiang, an eastern province in China in 2011. And their protests in Yulin have persuaded the government to scale back the festival there. But the authorities seems reluctant to do more. They say they can’t end a tradition, especially as there are no animal welfare laws in China.