Chinese Culture, Public Attitude, Scientific Research on Farmed Animal Welfare

April 1, 2021Zihao Yu


Farm animal welfare has gradually become an important issue in most parts of the world. In China, livestock is traditionally raised in the backyard and is regarded as an important part of family wealth. The industrialization of animal welfare has recently attracted attention to farmed animals in China, but the modern concept of animal welfare has not yet been promoted, and there is a lack of comprehensive understanding of how consumers and farmers view animal welfare. This article will discuss the traditional culture, public attitude, and scientific research with regard to farmed animal welfare.


Mencius (l372-289 BCE also known as Mang-Tze or Mang-Tzu) was a Confucian philosopher during The Warring States Period in China (c. 481-221 BCE) and is considered the greatest after Confucius himself for his interpretation, formulation, and dissemination of Confucian concepts. Mencius developed the Confucian concept of basic human goodness as his central claim, arguing that people will behave well if they are encouraged to develop virtuous thoughts and habits. Mencius emphasized four virtues as essential which are Ren – benevolence/humaneness; Yi – righteousness/goodness; Zhi – knowledge/wisdom; and Li – propriety/proper ritual.

Gentlemen stay away from the kitchen”(“君子远庖厨”) by Mencius (《孟子》《梁惠王章句上) is one of the most influential statements with regard to human-animal relation. He said “Here's the perception of a gentleman on animals... Seeing them alive, cannot bear to see them die. Hearing their sound, cannot bear to eat their meat. Therefore, gentlemen stay away from the kitchen.Mencius' message isn't about cooking or keeping away from it, it's about how a good person should have empathy and compassion and show them toward even animals.

A King (Qixuan) asked Mencius how to rule the country. Mencius gave the answer as Ren – benevolence/humaneness. Mencius told a story that the King pardoned an ox used for sacrifice when the King saw the ox trembling with fear, and suggested using a goat as the alternatives. Mencius thought the reason why the King chose the goat instead of the ox was that the King saw the ox suffering but not saw the goat rather than the concerns of the price. Mencius thought this kind of intolerance is an expression of Ren – benevolence/humaneness.

For Mencius, the goodness of Ren – benevolence/humaneness is one of the four essential virtues for human beings. It is the earliest statement of people shall show mercy (Ren – benevolence/humaneness) towards farmed animals that it is not good to see an animal suffering in Chinese culture 2400 years ago. Seeing and hearing cruelty towards animals can make human beings feel uncomfortable that can neither bear to see them die nor bear to eat their meat.

"A couple of relaxed pigs" by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Public attitude towards farmed animal welfare

One survey in 2011 about the “Chinese Citizens’ Perceptions on Farm Animal Welfare” by Nanjing Agricultural University was with over 8,000 collected questionnaires (6,006 effective questionnaires, 75.1% of total questionnaires), covering over 150 cities or counties selected from 29 provinces and autonomous regions in China. The survey put on four issues: (1) public awareness of the concept and connotation of ‘animal welfare;’ (2) public opinions on current intensive factory farming; (3) the public’s level of satisfaction with the legislation of animal welfare; and (4) the public’s level of contentment on the market supply of pork and eggs.

Survey on Animal Welfare

There were 3 dependent variables under this issue, including “being aware of animal welfare or not,” “being appropriate or not to use cement floor for raising a pig,” and “being appropriate or not to kill fowls near cages in which they are kept.”

As revealed in the survey among 5,982 respondents, the majority of the public have not ever heard of the concept of ‘animal welfare,’ while 36.6% have ever heard of ‘animal welfare.’

The first set of questions includes three statements with a focus shifting from human beings to animals. The results show that, among 5,916 respondents, 4,314 of them (72.9%) choose an “instrumental reason” to decide how humans should treat animals as “Humans should improve the rearing conditions for pigs and domestic fowls to ensure the quality and safety of animal products;” 1,135 of them (19.2%) agree that animals themselves should enjoy some basic rights as “Pigs and domestic fowls should enjoy a happy life and be free from troubles as humans do;” and 468 people (7.9%) support anthropocentrism as “Pigs and domestic fowls are the only beast, and people can treat them as they wish.” The survey came to the conclusion that “the majority of Chinese public treat animals as instruments and part of the public think that animals themselves should enjoy some basic rights.

For the questions of “to use cement floor for raising pigs,” and “to kill fowls near cages in which they are kept,” 49.2% of the respondents of the first question and 43.5% of respondents of the second think these actions are “somewhat inappropriate.” 20.5% and 30.8% of respondents of the two questions think these actions are “extremely inappropriate.” However, 15.0% and 10.4% of respondents of the two questions think these actions are “appropriate,” and 15.4% and 15.2% of respondents of the two questions think these actions are “unimportant.” This shows the majority is supporting the idea of farmed animal welfare to give animals the freedom to live in a natural way.

Survey on factory farming

Four choices are given to the respondents. Among the 5,705 respondents, a little more than half (56%) show a positive attitude towards factory farming in China including 21.5% of respondents select “a very good way of production” and 34.5% of respondents believe it is a scientific way; at the same time, a little less than half (44%) express negative opinion including 23.8% of respondents think this way limits the freedom of pigs and domestic fowls; and 20.2% of respondents dismiss this as a cruel way.

But for the detailed questions, quite a number of people make negative comments on factory farming products – 71.9% of respondents are worried about the overuse of additives; 49.9% are concerned about the overuse of antibiotics and 48.3% complain about “bad taste.” A little more than half of the public are willing to pay more for animal welfare for pigs, including only 9.4% of respondents who are “gladly willing to” spend more and 45.1% of them are willing just “to some degree.”

Survey on Animal Welfare legislation

Among 5,772 respondents, 81.6% of them think the general animal welfare law in China is necessary; whereas 18.4% of them don’t think so.

For the specific question that “Do you agree on establishing mandatory laws of animal welfare to compel producers to provide better living conditions for farm animals such as pigs and fowls to help them grow and survive?” the proportion of people who approve including both “completely” or “to some degree” approving has a drop of 16 percent from 81.6% to 65.99%. The drop shows that the awareness of farmed animal welfare is not widely accepted as general animal welfare.

In this study, the elements of gender, age, education, career, income, and locality have been designed as independent variables.

“The survey conducted by the researchers reveals that only about one-third of Chinese public have ever heard of animal welfare. In other words, most Chinese have never heard of it. Moreover, considering the relatively high educational level and young age of the respondents, it is possible that the real proportion of Chinese who have ever heard of animal welfare would be even lower.”

Read more: A Survey of Chinese Citizens’ Perceptions on Farm Animal Welfare

"Chickens" by sermoa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific research on farmed animal welfare

A report provides a literature review of 854 academic publications on pig and poultry welfare in China, using Chinese scientific databases from 2008 to 2018 written in Chinese other than English. The review was focused on chickens and pigs, the two most commonly farmed terrestrial animals in China. The databases used in the search were three Chinese retrieval platforms.

“Within these publications, two broader areas of significant attention were addressed in the context of animal welfare; yield and product quality, such as feeding, biosecurity, and antimicrobial resistance, including immunity and second, the relationship of animal welfare with the Chinese philosophy of ‘ecological agriculture.’ Holistic systems were advocated to maximize sustainability and maintain a healthy environment, such as the creation of fermented bedding for pigs. Environmental enrichment was also a focus of attention, demonstrating an interest in animals’ mental welfare, which was usually conjectured from their behavior. Few of the articles were translated into English or other languages and therefore most were largely unavailable to the English-speaking global scientific community.

From 2008 to 2018, the number of publications per year is increasing. “Rearing systems,” “disease treatment and prevention,” and “normal behavior” are the most common topic categories from the collected dataset, and “fear and distress” and “stakeholder knowledge and attitudes” are the least common topics. Within the Chinese animal welfare literature, substantially more focus was placed on pigs than poultry.

In general, “elements of the rearing environment, which can be related to discomfort, disease and injury and behavioral studies related to natural behaviors” were the most focused areas. The second-largest focus of the literature on both species was disease and injury, and the third-largest focus was on animal behavior. However, the areas that received most attention indicate a focus on animal welfare tied to improving production, yield, agricultural sustainability, and biosecurity, rather than for improving or understanding welfare for the animals’ sake.

Read more about the report here.

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