Cartoon: “Guizhenland”, on Bear Bile Controversy

A repeat of last year’s attempt at an IPO by bear bile farmers Guizhentang has once again sparked uproar, fuelled by celebrity involvement, online video of bile being drained from whimpering animals, and the Chinese Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine chairman’s widely mocked portrayal of the farms as a kind of idyllic ursine spa.

In his World View column at Bloomberg, Adam Minter has gathered a range of reactions to the Guizhentang controversy. Between familiar arguments in defence of animal rights or Chinese tradition sits the question of how exceptional the bears’ treatment really is:

Xin Yan, a doctor affiliated with Guang’anmen Hospital, perhaps China’s leading institution for the practice and teaching of traditional Chinese medicine, argued this on Sina Weibo:

[The drug] Heparin is extracted from the small intestines of pigs and ox’s lungs, and is used to treat pulmonary thrombosis, and its manufacturer is listed on the stock market … It’s against nature to milk a cow every day, but we have to develop dairy industry.

Dr. Xin’s last point -– that the manner in which humans cultivate food is equivalent to the cultivation of bear bile -– has been embraced by many netizens, but none quite with the vigor of novelist and online provocateur, Xia Shang …:

I just want to say that we live in a carnivorous country which cultivates hundreds-of-millions of chicken, duck, and fish, and quite a few of us are still proud to eat delicacies from land and sea and even nationally protected animals and endangered species. But now some people are putting on an act to suggest they care for the rights of animals. Ridiculous hypocrites.

Shanghai Daily reports that Guizhentang’s netizen support appears to have been artificially inflated:

In another development, netizens complained yesterday that their microblog accounts were hijacked, as they found their accounts publishing posts in support of Guizhentang.

In a particularly egregious example, an account “Shina719” on, China’s biggest social website, started to publish continuous posts supporting Guizhentang on Wednesday – even though the owner of the account had been dead for about three months.

His furious friends complained to the website, and the posts were deleted.

On Google+ (via CDT Chinese), Weibo user @zeeko suggested parallels between the bears’ lives in “Guizhenland” and his own in modern China:

Guizhenland (“Returning-to-Truth Land”)

Here, cages aren’t free …

Food isn’t free …

If you don’t have money, there’s no medical treatment …

We have responsibility for the old above and the young below …

You have to toil every day to make a living …

But you still have to have your stomach pulled open …

To get “bile” … [character on armband means “tax”]

And you still have to go and yell …

We are not in pain …
We are happy …
Thank you, Guizhenland …

I sympathise with the bears …

But in Guizhenland …

The bears feel even more sorry for us.


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