When I was a student in secondary school, I was in the science stream and studied physics, chemistry and biology.
In biology class, I vividly remember dissecting fish eyes and insects. I’d never conducted any experiments on live mammals.
I was therefore very surprised and highly curious when one of my former students posted some rather graphic images of animal testing in his WeChat Moments.
China is known for some animal rights controversies, such as the famous Yulin dog meat festival where man’s best friend is slaughtered for its meat.
I’d never encountered any animal controversies personally – until now.
I therefore felt compelled to investigate and expose the practice of animal testing in university laboratories in China.
Animal testing in general
Animal testing is an emotive and hotly debated topic in Western countries.
On the one hand, animal rights activists argue that this practice is cruel and inflicts unnecessary suffering on innocent animals.
Some animal rights activists have even gone as far as deliberately sabotaging the facilities of companies known to be involved in animal testing.
Scientists on the other hand, argue that many of today’s scientific discoveries would not have been possible without animal testing.
Animal testing in China
According to a website that focuses on cruelty-free products, the rationale behind animal testing in China is as follows:
- Products that are manufactured in China, but not sold in China, aren’t subjected to animal testing.
- Only some very specific products that are sold in China are subjected to animal testing. However, it isn’t known exactly which products need to be tested.
- Some companies have different manufacturing plants – one for products that are to be sold in China and another for products that are to be exported. That way, those companies can still claim that their products are cruelty-free.
- Finished and packaged products from abroad can be sold in China without being subjected to animal testing in certain cases but there are many restrictions and fees involved.
- Products can be made and sold in Hong Kong without being tested on animals at all.
My research methodology and its limitations
For any research to be reliable, a researcher needs to be aware of the advantages and limitations of the research method used and to take these into account when drawing conclusions.
For the purposes of this study, I sent the student a questionnaire by email. This method is inexpensive, practical, quick and easy to analyze.
However, I acknowledge that respondents may not be truthful with their answers, may not answer all the questions posed, may have a hidden agenda, or may misunderstand the questions.
My respondent profile is as follows: A male university student majoring in clinical medicine who has been carrying out experiments on animals for the past one-and-a-half years.
The aim of his research was “to explore the mysteries of human life and control human diseases and senility”.
From his response to my questionnaire, I found out that:
- The animals are given local anesthetic so that they don’t feel any pain but remain fully conscious throughout the experiment. This can take up to two hours.
- After the experiment, the animals used will be killed by an injection of air into the bloodstream or by having their spines twisted.
- Animal testing is widely used in universities in China and is most common in medical schools.
- The student posted the photos of animal testing on WeChat because it had been a difficult experiment and he was proud of his success.
- The student believes that although animal testing is brutal, it is necessary for exploring the mysteries of human life as well as to control human disease and aging.
- The student believes that it would be impossible not to carry out animal testing because “true knowledge can only come from practice”.
Reliability of findings
The biggest problem with my survey is the sample consisted of just one respondent. Most people would argue that such a sample would be totally unreliable.
The fact that animal testing takes place at one university in China can’t be used as evidence that animal testing in China’s universities is widespread.
I therefore asked the student if he knew of any other universities at which animal testing takes place.
He advised that several of his high school classmates were also studying medicine at Xuzhou Medical University, Soochow University and Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine.
They all regularly share photos of animal testing on WeChat.
In addition, the student claims that animal testing regularly features in the daily news shared by medical students from all over the country on social media site, Weibo.
Since interviewing this particular student, I have also met other medical students who were able to verify the claims made.
These students even showed me the relevant sections in their textbooks that required them to carry out live animal testing.
This is not surprising, given there are numerous articles on the internet that expose the practice of using laboratory dogs in medical schools.
For example, in China generally and in Xi’an Medical School in particular.
From my own research into the matter, the following observations can be made:
- An injection of air into the bloodstream would take several minutes to kill and it would also be excruciatingly painful, a bit like having a heart attack.
- The student is clearly unaware of the alternatives to animal testing, like in-vitro testing, computer modeling, research with human volunteers and human patient simulators currently in use in other parts of the world.
- Encouragingly, however, the general attitude of people in China towards animal welfare issues appear to be changing for the better, especially among the younger generation.
- Although China instituted new regulations in June 2014 to allow domestically produced cosmetics to avoid mandatory animal testing, these regulations don’t apply to international airports. This resulted in The Body Shop deciding to remove all its products from China’s duty-free stores.
What does animal testing have to do with teaching in China?
I’ve been teaching in China since 2013 (you can read about my experience as a British-born Chinese).
For foreign teachers in China, does this issue even affect us at all, and if so, how?
Well, many people in the UK and other Western countries are passionate about animal welfare issues.
They love their pets as members of their own family.
Some people have even become vegans or vegetarians because they don’t want to be part of the system that inflicts cruelty on animals.
And there have been many campaigns that aim to dissuade people from buying fur coats or from eating chickens that have been raised in battery cages.
What some people might want to ask themselves is, “Would I be happy to work in a country where certain practices run contrary to my morals and values?”
On the other hand, we need to remember that China is not our country. We can’t expect China to conform to our values and our beliefs.
Should you teach English in a country where animal testing takes place?
The TEFL industry in China is buoyant and there are countless job opportunities. Should we sacrifice our principles and ethics for the sake of a job?
Some would say ‘aye’ and others would say ‘nay’.
At the end of the day, it’s very much a personal decision that only you can make for yourself.
Do you have any insights on animal testing in China? Please share them below.