Chinese TV show under fire for animal cruelty

Society & Culture

We Are Friends (神奇伙伴在哪里 shénqí huǒbàn zài nǎlǐ), a Chinese reality TV show mainly featuring two animals — a bulldog named Dōngdōng 冬冬 and a two-year-old chimpanzee called Mǐyà 米亚 — is facing accusations of animal abuse and mistreatment.

Produced and broadcast by Zhejiang Television, the show is branded as the first show ever on Chinese television to “place animals at the center and tell stories from their perspectives,” although a more accurate description might be “dressing animals in ridiculous clothes and anthropomorphizing them in, literally, a dog and walking ape show.”

In each episode, the show puts animals in a setting that is supposed to be natural, and then films their behavior in the new environment. You can watch an episode on YouTube. It’s in Chinese and there are no subtitles, but even if you don’t understand Chinese, you will understand exactly what is going on.

Today, PETA Asia, an affiliate of the world’s largest animal rights organization, posted a note to Weibo, accusing the show’s trainers of using questionable methods such as physical punishment to coerce the animals to behave in an entertaining way.  

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The alleged abuses came to light after a former senior staff member contacted PETA Asia’s Weibo account, with an eyewitness report of how animals were trained from January to March 2017. According to the person, the chimpanzee Miya was forcibly separated from her long-term keeper when she joined the TV program. Because she was too young to understand and obey orders from the trainers, they often resorted to abusive measures like beating (打 dǎ), which drove her into self-harming behavior and violence toward people around her. The former staffer also said that Dongdong and Miya received excessive training (训练 xùnliàn) every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with only a two-hour break.

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Accompanying the message is a collection of photos showing internal conversations among staff members and a clip documenting how two women attacked Miya and Dongdong during a training session. In a chat group with 12 employees, one person said, “Miya is now screaming miserably” (米亚现在叫的特别惨 mǐyà xiànzài jiào de tèbié cǎn). When asked by another group member about the solution, the person simply replied, “Beating” (打 dǎ).

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PETA Asia has called for a boycott against the show, which it describes as “an elaborately orchestrated animal performance.” The show has not yet responded to the accusations of animal cruelty.