The opening moments of the 2010 amateur documentary San Hua are as dramatic as they are harrowing. A small but determined group of cat lovers, predominately 60-something Shanghainese women, chase a truck down an interstate highway. Its high-stakes cargo: hundreds of captured cats, pets and strays alike, headed for tables in Southern China’s Guangdong Province. While most Chinese disapprove of eating cats, in the culture of the far south they are considered delicacies.
Capture, transport and slaughter for food ranks only among the worst of the indignities that cats navigate in China. San Hua, which means “three flowers” and is named for activist filmmaker Guo Ke’s own pet cat, is the first film to explore the longstanding cruelty of culinary cat trafficking in China, as well as the new but growing ranks of impassioned animal lovers advocating against it and other abuses. They operate in a context where more Chinese are beginning to keep pets and, in the past decade, cats in particular are becoming a regular part of many Chinese families. While still far from ideal, societal and generational shifts have made Chinese cats’ existences far less precarious. Cat keeping is beginning to keep up with that of dogs, popular much earlier due to their public profile as prestigious possessions. However, remaining misconceptions result in large populations of abandoned pets who find themselves at high risk of abuse in a country where anti-animal cruelty measures, while proposed, have yet to be approved.
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