Eyes on China

China follows in U.S. footsteps—shuttering small farms and building large-scale factory farms. But a growing sentiment of kindness toward animals is spreading too.

Millions of fish live trapped in China’s Luoyuan Bay.

Just off the coast, beneath a network of floating wooden walkways that sprawl over the bay, are miles and miles of nets. They create a system of aquatic cages where fish are bred, spend their lives confined, and ultimately die.

More than 60 percent of the world's farmed fish come from China.

Aquaculture systems like those that fill Luoyuan Bay extend along most of the country’s eastern shoreline. Fish are also raised in crowded tanks and enclosures in lakes, ponds, and streams.

The factory-scale fishing in Luoyuan Bay is just one story among thousands in China, where life has greatly worsened for animals as the country’s population and economic power has grown.


Not long ago, food was harder to come by in China. Older generations can still recall widespread famine that took the lives of tens of millions of people. For much of the 20th century, all farmland was owned by the state. In 1981, the rights to cultivate the land, but not of ownership, were distributed back to villages.

China has been run by the Communist Party of China since 1949. Relationships hold the key to pushing changes through institutions; while citizens elect local leaders, the party determines higher appointments.

Given this history, animal protection strategies will look different in China. Common forms of activism are banned. Crowds cannot gather, and even planning a protest is against the law. The government censors the internet, including social media. Activists are subject to detention or punishment without due process.

The environment is different, but the degree of animal suffering is the same.

As China’s middle class has grown, so has its appetite for meat. Decades ago the Chinese diet was 97 percent plant-based. The average person in China eats half as much meat as an American, and consumption is increasing.

As appetites have changed, so too has the farming industry. Small family farms are being replaced with giant facilities on the scale of U.S. factory farms. China may already have up to 64,000 factory farms, more than three times as many as exist in the U.S.––a shift that has been backed by the Chinese government. And today half of all farmed animals in the world are raised and killed in China. In the east China province of Anhui, one of the country’s largest dairy factory farms confines about 40,000 cows. Calves live in row after row of tiny hutches, while cows stand on concrete floors and are treated like milking machines.

Fish farming in Fujian, China
Credit: redstone/Shutterstock

These facilities promise jobs and a secure income to villagers, but the reality doesn’t match up. Jobs are fewer than advertised, and surrounding villages experience negative environmental and health effects—water contamination, air pollution, and overwhelming odors. Seven hundred million pigs are raised and slaughtered in China each year, making the country the world’s largest pork producer. At a facility on Yaji Mountain, pigs are kept in a seven-story cement building, and plans are in place for a new 13-story facility.

The chicken industry is just as terrifying. Chickens are confined in huge windowless sheds, in cages lined up on top of one another. The conditions are filthy and the cages so small the animals can’t spread their wings or perform other natural behaviors. Excessive antibiotic use keeps the birds alive.

Even farmed fish must be heavily medicated to survive in miserable conditions. Imagine the stress these animals, who have evolved to swim freely in expansive oceans or lakes, must feel stuck inside small netted areas. At some fish farms, as many as 30 percent of fish die before slaughter.


Despite the devastating reality of China’s factory farming landscape, there is hope. Most Chinese residents are aware of the negative health effects of eating meat. And in a recent survey, a whopping 84 percent stated they would be willing to adopt a vegetarian diet for at least one day a week.

However, activism strategies that have worked in the U.S. may not work in China. In another survey, more than half of respondents said they had never heard the term “animal welfare.”

Yet 70 percent said they believed it was “somewhat” or “extremely” inappropriate to raise pigs on cement floors, and 74 percent consider killing birds in front of other birds “somewhat” or “extremely” inappropriate.

In bigger cities, thousands of people attend veg fests every year. At last year’s annual Shanghai VegFest, attendees enthusiastically swarmed MFA’s table to pick up vegetarian resources and ask questions about how animals are treated at factory farms. Even more encouraging, many expressed interest in helping our cause.

A growing movement of animal activists in China is making progress on issues ranging from animal performances to experimentation and farming.

And while no law currently exists to protect farmed animals, China does have strong laws protecting wildlife and endangered species.

The sentiments that inspired these laws could give rise to new legislation to protect farmed animals. MFA plans to help make this happen.


MFA has staff in Asia focused on building out Chinese-language resources and bringing plant-based advocacy to the region.

Active Facebook and Weibo communities keep MFA supporters connected and informed on farmed animal advocacy issues. And the platforms expand the grassroots network of people ready to take more action for animals.

The Chinese version of MFA’s ChooseVeg website—66Veg.com—provides resources, tips, one-on-one support, and recipes. A free vegetarian starter guide and series of helpful emails set people on a path toward meat-free eating. In Latin America and Brazil, MFA’s food policy program is reshaping how major institutions like hospitals and schools serve food—reducing meat and dairy by at least 20 percent. Public health and the environment have long been important to people in Asia, so introducing this program in the region has the potential to create immense impact.

Your support is helping us grow our programs and build a network of local, on-the-ground activists in the region who are ready to change the game for animals.

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