Rodeo row in China

Guest post by Chinese NGO, Green Beagle 

Seventy Chinese campaign groups, including Green Beagle, have written an open letter to US ambassador Gary Locke calling for the cancellation of an event intended to bring the American wild west to China. 

“Rodeo China”, a major cultural exchange project between the United States and China, is accused by the animal rights groups of being based on “violence and lies”. They argue that the project does not show the essence of US culture, and emphasise that their opposition to the show is not about anti-Americanism: “there is no doubt that any country bringing rodeo to China would undermine the friendly relations between the two countries”. 

The day before Locke was sworn in as American ambassador to China, the US embassy flagged up on its microblog an essay by a member of staff at the US State Department, entitled “How to correctly view rodeo”. The author of the piece, named Xiao, claimed an injustice had been done against the organisers of “Rodeo China”, arguing that “with the progress of history, organisations for protecting rodeo animals have led to increasingly stringent laws and regulations. We can say that in modern rodeo, the abuse of animals has been rare.” 

The article cited a report in the January 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, stating that, in 26,584 rodeos, only 15 animals were injured – that is to say, for every 1,772 rodeo shows, only 1 animal got hurt. 

This data prompted fury among Chinese animal rights groups, who say there is no reason to believe the “American Veterinary Medical Association” would have access to accurate data on rodeo animal injury rates. 

They point to the “Cheyenne Frontier Days” rodeo in the US state of Wyoming, where, just three days into the event, a 4-year-old mare had died and five calves and three bulls injured. The campaign groups said: “We do not need 1,772 rodeo events to wait for an animal to be injured. These are incomplete statistics. We do not want a new record to be created in China.” 

In 2001, Karen Chapman, a writer for Extra magazine, described how a rodeo horse died in the competition’s final. “A 14-year-old horse named Prairie, part of a bare-back riding competition, received a broken bone and died. In front of 17,000 spectators, he was stretchered off and, although ESPN, were showing the event live, there was a seven second delay before broadcast. The audience knew nothing of the incident as the cameras were cut off when the horse fell down and the commentator did not mention it. An hour later, the horse’s body was disposed of.” 

This another reason for the poor reputation of American rodeos among Chinese animal rights groups. US sports network ESPN is a partner of the American Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The latter organisation publicly said that ESPN does not have the right to decide on what is broadcast. In broadcasts, ESPN does not show the real casualties experienced by the animals. 

Chinese animal rights groups are outraged that Rodeo China’s American sponsors will use ESPN-style camera work and want Chinese organisers to show how much they love animals. On the website,you can clearly see an illegal “jerk down” manoeuvre used on a calf, which is flipped on to its back in a calf-roping competition. 

There is a lot of evidence to suggest the 60 animal welfare regulations mentioned by Xiao are not being implemented, and the rodeo industry is just plastering over the cracks as the brutal nature of rodeo remains the same. 

Locke has appealed to the animal rights groups to understand rodeo, yet the campaigners still hope that China will cancel the event. They would prefer to see an exchange that showed off the real essence of American culture in China, as a means to promoting friendship between the two countries. 

Original article:

Letter to Gary Locke:  

Translated by chinadialogue’s intern Chris Hay