Teaching about Animal Rights
- Lei Li, M.Sc. .
Biology Department, Beijing Normal University Attached Middle School, Beijing, CHINA
The subject I discussed with my students in class was the “Ethical Limits of Animal Use”. My students were all interested in it. In China, the use of animals has a history of thousands of years. In order for students to be able to relate to this topic, I thought that it would be more appropriate to start by discussing Chinese traditional culture such as Chinese medicine.
The Chinese Medicine is reputed the treasure of the Chinese traditional culture. The animal products are widely used as important parts in the Chinese medicine. Tiger bones, rhinoceros cornus and bear livers are all valuable contents of Chinese medicine. I once projected two films to my students. One showed the bloody scenes of butchering tigers and rhinoceros. Students knew that these two kinds of animals were forbidden to sell by the International Tread Agreement because of their dying out. There have been new medicines, which have the same results as animal products, to replace them in Chinese medicine. And all the students were shocked by the other film, which showed them black bears imprisoned in iron cages. These cages were nearly the same size as their bodies. They could only move their front limbs to catch food. Their livers were contacted with the ducts directly so that people could draw guts from them at any time they like. Some of their wounds had been rotten. The students never thought that those things could have happened and were allowed by law just because those black bears were tame ones but not wild ones. In fact, the effective components of bear guts can be replaced by man-made substitutes. Why do these brutal ways still exist?
“How do people feel about animals and what do they do with them?” I asked my students to talk about “Ethical limits of animal use” and what they thought about them. My students mentioned that the skins of snakes were stripped when they were alive in some restaurants, that many chickens were closed in one small cage by their sellers, and that some animals were forcibly taken away from their partners and were treated badly. My students felt confused about what should be done when people are in real need of animal medicines; whether people should eat meat when the rights of animals are emphasized; whether it is too cruel when people make use of animals in Chinese traditional culture; whether it is practical to make laws to protect animal rights in China.
For the first question, I gave my students some data investigated by International Fund For Animal Welfare in Beijing and Shanghai. Take drawing guts from living bears for example. The data showed that 70 percent of people never heard of it before, and when they knew it, more than 86 percent of people thought it was very cruel, but at the same time, 30 percent of people thought that people could do it for their own interest. After they knew they could use substitutes, only 16 percent of people chose bears- guts products, because they believed that it was better to use natural products. Even when people knew how cruel the way was to make animal products, there were still two thirds of people agreeing to use them, only because doctors said these animal products were useful for saving life. But if they were merely common medicines or nourishments, there were only 11 percent of people agreeing to use them. After discussing these data, my students thought it was important to offer information and judge animal products in Chinese medicine. In fact, it was about the “necessity and desire”. There are many kinds and large quantity of animal products in Chinese medicine. Some of them are received from man-raised animals. This can reduce the pressure of the wild animals caught in the wild for our environment. For these man-raised animals, we should do with the same problems as poultry. People should not maltreat animals in the process of raising and getting products. But this is not the key of the problem. Is getting animal products “necessity” or “desire”? This problem is more important. In ancient China, people could only depend on Chinese medicine when they were ill, and animal products
. pp. 583-585 in Macer, DRJ., ed., "Challenges for Bioethics from Asia" (Eubios Ethics Institute, 2004).