There was once a time, when the fervor of Communism was still strong, that the People’s Republic of china was a place where cruelty to animals was not only widespread but an expected norm. Poaching for food and furs was profitable, dogs were a choice edible meat and the hapless star of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, and bears were kept in farms to extract their bile (a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicines) using torturous methods. While certain things haven’t changed even at present, the attitudes of most Chinese to blatant animal cruelty can be perceived in their reaction to a viral picture posted recently of a dead rat strung up by a shopkeeper after it was caught eating stored rice grains.

Amazingly, people were angered by the display, something PETA also took notice of.

Caught dead-handed

The pictures were found posted on China’s largest social network Weibo, and it depicted a large rat that was found inside a shop which was selling rice. The giant vermin was killed and, in what the owner probably thought was a nice joke, the rat’s carcass was tied spread-eagled in front of a row of boxes, like a jungle sacrifice. To add insult to death, signs were then hung around the rat’s neck with various messages, which were then photographed and uploaded into Weibo. One of the “signs of shame” shown on the dead rodent’s chest was translated as “I won't dare do this again." The photos quickly racked up comments from Chinese social media posters, and their take on the matter was a far cry of sorts from the China of decades ago; they were furious.

Check out one commenter’s admonition: "You can kill (a rat), but don't torture it…Even though rats are harmful, please respect life." Another actually sympathized with the vermin’s situation, saying it was merely eating the rice to survive, and putting up its corpse for sight gags was “cruel”. Here is where PETA comes in. Their VP for international campaigns in Asia, Jason Baker, denounced the pictures as a sick stunt and lauded the upset reactions from the Chinese media for making it clear that decent people wouldn’t want animals, event vermin poaching food from them, to be humiliated in death like so.

He noted, "The inability to empathize with the plight of the most helpless among us quite rightly horrifies caring people everywhere and is a cause for concern in the community."

China’s animal rights status

In a way, China has gone far with its measures against local animal cruelty. In 2014 they prohibited animal testing for cosmetics and plan to halt ivory trading by 2017.

Chinese celebrities like Yao Ming and Jackie Chan have pitched in to advocate things such as killing sharks for their fins used in soup. But the dog eating festival is still on in Yuling, and bear bile farms continue operating. And that rat's still online, even in passing.