Online outrage over officials at Party meeting in Tibet wearing endangered animal furs

wild animal pelts

Images in Chinese state media showed delegates to Party conferences in Lhasa this week apparently wearing wild animal pelts, which sparked angry comment on social media.



  • Tibetan netizens have expressed outrage at images of some delegates to important Communist Party meetings in Lhasa this week wearing the pelts of protected wild species saying this goes against China’s laws.
  • There has been a cultural shift in Tibet against wearing wild animal pelts since the Dalai Lama made a call in 2006, sparking the burning of furs across Tibet thereafter. While this was described by conservationists as one of the single most successful initiatives against the illegal wildlife trade, the Chinese authorities responded in some areas by encouraging, or requiring, Tibetans to wear wild animal pelts in order to showcase ‘exotic’ Tibetan culture, in some cases as a deliberate political statement against the Dalai Lama.

Images from the meetings (annual Tibetan People’s Congress and Tibetan People’s Political Consultative Conference), from January 16-22[1], show a number of delegates who appear to be wearing furs from wild animals as part of their attire. Comments posted online – mostly in Chinese on social media – expressed outrage at the delegates’ lack of sensitivity. Feelings ran high among the netizens, with the issue a hot topic of conversation over the past few days.

One Tibetan noted in a posting that many of the delegates “were wearing animal skins such as otters, leopards, lynx, tigers, fox, which are meant to be protected by the national laws.” They called for the officials to be called to account. Another agreed, saying that the national protection of wildlife was embedded in Chinese law, and that officials should be leading initiatives for protection – so delegates of the People’s Congress and members of the communist Party should be setting an example, and not wearing the furs of endangered wild species. The same netizen called on China’s leader Xi Jinping to explain why this was allowed although the Chinese Constitution under Xi has adopted the “establishment of ecological civilisation.”[2] The netizen wrote that Tibetan people were adhering to this concept by giving up the wearing of wild animal skins.

animal pelt

Images in Chinese state media showed delegates to Party conferences in Lhasa this week apparently wearing wild animal pelts, which sparked angry comment on social media.

Observers feel that the Tibetan sensitivity towards the issue has also been shaped positively by the call made by the Dalai Lama during a major religious festival in India in 2006, urging Tibetans to stop wearing the pelts of endangered animals such as tigers or leopards. Immediately afterwards, Tibetans all over Tibet began to burn animal skins – in monetary value the equivalent of burning family cars or houses. It caused the trade in endangered animal pelts to plummet, which was acclaimed by conservationists worldwide. There have been increasing concerns among environmentalists about the illegal wildlife trade between India and Tibet and the lack of enforcement from the authorities in preventing wild animal pelts being sold in Tibetan areas.

animal pelts

Images in Chinese state media showed delegates to Party conferences in Lhasa this week apparently wearing wild animal pelts, which sparked angry comment on social media.

On July 13, 2014, the website XZ.workercn.cn published an article by China Tibet News which stated that hunting wild animals was wrong, and that: “In the future Tibet’s various festivals and events should not promote wearing clothes made of the pelts of tigers, leopards, otters, foxes, or other animals, restoring original Tibetan ethnic clothing.”

But the Chinese authorities have encouraged Tibetans to wear furs to showcase “exotic” Tibetan culture, including the encouragement or requirement of Tibetans at official events or performances to adorn themselves with expensive hats and robes made of pelts from endangered animals. Officials appear to have been doing so less frequently in recent years, which is one of the reasons why the delegates in this week’s meeting in Lhasa became the focus of a flurry of comment by Tibetans on social media.

The Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser wrote on her blog in 2009: “Obviously wearing fur has become an expression of one’s political standpoint, and [at one festival in 2007 in eastern Tibet] the high officials on their platform were watching to see which people from which parts of Tibet had ‘political consciousness’. But the people watching the performances were wearing considerably less fur than in previous years; many wore colorful cotton where once they wore fur trim.”[3]

burning pelts

The burning of animal pelts in 2009.

During Tibetan New Year in February, 2009, Tibetans burned thousands of dollars worth of wild animal pelts in the Tibetan area of Amdo, eastern Tibet, in a dramatic assertion of Tibetan identity at the height of a crackdown on dissent following the 2008 protests. Tibetans sought to mark the New Year in 2009 by mourning those killed in the protests, and in defiance of the Chinese authorities’ attempts to enforce celebration of the New Year.[4]

China has participated in almost all global multilateral environmental agreements, according to the Chinese state media, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and has a Wildlife Protection Law.

wearing wild animal pelts

Images in Chinese state media showed delegates to Party conferences in Lhasa this week apparently wearing wild animal pelts, which sparked angry comment on social media.



Footnotes
[1] The meetings were the Third Session of the 10th National People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region from January 18-22, and the Third Session of the 10th Political Consultative Conference of the Tibet Autonomous Region, both from January 16-20, 2015. The meetings were covered in Tibet Daily and other state media this week.
[2] In November 2012, when China’s new leadership included the “establishment of ecological civilization” into the Party’s constitution.
[3] Cited in ICT report, May 27, 2009, http://www.savetibet.org/new-images-of-burning-of-wild-animal-pelts-in-dramatic-act-of-dissent/
[4] Images at http://www.savetibet.org/new-images-of-burning-of-wild-animal-pelts-in-dramatic-act-of-dissent/

 

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