Hackers, protesters, and more than 70 Chinese celebrities, including Yao Ming, are opposing an initial public offering made by a Chinese company called Guizhentang Pharmaceutical, whose key ingredient is bear bile. The bile is cruelly "milked" by inserting tubes in the animals abdomens three times a day, "sometimes for years," reports The New York Times.
The bears’ teeth are invariably worn down from gnawing on the bars of their cages and their feet are often in pitiful shape because few of the animals have ever walked on the ground. “The catalog of abuse they’ve endured is appalling,” Ms. Field said.
If you haven't already hopped a plane to Shenzhen sporting a bear suit and a heavy heart, here's the backstory: The bile is used in traditional remedies said to "shrink gallstones, reduce fevers and sooth the aftereffects of excessive drinking." To sell more hangover cures, Guizhentang wanted to use the IPO money to increase its stock of captive bears from 400 up to 1,200.
But after Chinese news outlets like Shanghaiist posted undercover footage of the animals, typically Asiatic black bears, trapped in tight cages and yowling in pain, the company withdrew its application.
The Times says the battle for animal rights in China is typically cast as bourgeois urbanites and "foreign-financed traitors" opposing, "such hallowed Chinese traditions as dog meat hot pot, ivory carving and dried deer penis, consumed to increase virility."
Supporters of bear bile farming are even running a "pro-bile public relations campaign," suggesting that animal welfare advocates are in the pocket of Western medicine. At a press conference in February, the chairperson of the Chinese Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine went as far as claiming:
"The process of extracting bear bile is like turning on a tap: natural, easy and without pain. After they're done, the bears can even play happily outside. I don't think there's anything out of the ordinary! It might even be a very comfortable process!”
Well if it's that chill, how about you get in the cage for awhile?
Scientists have not been able to definitively conclude whether bear bile has any actual health benefits. However, traditionalists remain unconvinced that the synthetic alternative to raw bile, which can sell for half the price of gold ($24,000/kilogram), has the same powers, even though consuming bile from sick bears "pumped with antibiotics" poses a health risk. According to the Times:
For animal welfare advocates, the challenge is to convince Chinese consumers that the barbarity of bile farming outweighs the supposed medicinal benefits of natural bile
[There was a video here]