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Death of Tsinghua's beloved "Cat Curator" triggers renewed calls for animal welfare legislation

The mysterious and tragic death of a stray cat nicknamed “Cat Curator” of China’s renowned Tsinghua University on July 5 has saddened many in China since the news broke out a week ago. On July 13, a seminar chaired by Professor Jiang Jinsong (蒋劲松 weibo @心齋老蔣) of Tsinghua University's Institute of Science, Technology and Society is held in memory of the cat, calling for proper education about animal welfare and legislation on the protection of animal rights in China. It was the first time a Chinese university responded to a case of cruelty to animal happened on its campus.

The late Cat Curator of Tsinghua University's library. Photo: weibo.com

In August 2010, the tortoiseshell cat, once a stray, chose Tsinghua University’s library as her new home. She was then adopted by a library worker referred to by the students as “Uncle Dakan” (大侃大叔) and enjoyed the right to roam the library and pick her resting place at will, be it the student’s bags or their laptops. The cat, widely loved by the students, was given an endearing name “Cat Curator”, reminding people of the famous American library cat Dewey that has famed throughout the world.

The beloved cat was fondly remembered by many Tsinghua University students. The news of her death, first posted by the university's library @清华大学图书馆 on Weibo, quickly became a hot topic, generating over 14,000 comments. Photo: weibo.com

Chen Xinyi, a member of the Tsinghua Small Animal Protection Association, informed the audience about their investigation into the death. The cat, which was found dead on the lawn in front of the library two hours after it went missing early on the morning of July 5, was lying rigid with a wet and distorted head. An investigation has ruled out the cat being scalded to death or dying from eating rat poison. But it was still believed that the cat died of unnatural reasons. Respecting the wish of her de facto owner Uncle Dakan, they did not exhume the cat’s body for autopsy.

Further evidences later surfaced on Tsinghua’s blog site “THU treehole” where an anonymous person claimed to have murdered the cat. However, due to the anonymous nature of the blog posts and the lack of security video evidence, the investigation did not yield any incriminating result.

It was not the first animal abuse case that happened in a university, let alone the whole country. The culprit of the notorious sulfuric acid attack on bears at the Beijing Zoo in 2002 was also a Tsinghua student. The 2006 Fudan cat abuse offender was a postgraduate student at Shanghai's Fudan University. In 2012 alone, there were at least four malignant stray animal abuse and killing cases in universities and one case in a middle school, the seminar disclosed yesterday.

Attendees of the seminar included World Animal Day's China Ambassador Zhang Dan (张丹),  Chairman Yu Fengqin (于凤琴) of Beijing Green Cross Green Ark, an NGO aimed at protecting wild animals, who is also a senior member of the China Wild Animal Protection Association, and representatives from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)'s Beijing office, who all shared their views on the current lack of proper education about animal welfare and the Chinese mentality of treating animals as inferior creatures incapable of feelings.

Stories shared by Madame Yu were poignant. "The lack of respect for life in China, particularly in rural China is appalling." She recalled witnessing small children in the countryside of western Hunan watching adults gutting and skinning snakes with fascination. "The children laughed at the sight of the snakes writhing with pain as the scissors cut through their body. It was as if they think of the snakes as something without life, something incapable of feeling pain." In another story, she tried to persuade a little girl in Jiangxi to release a red and white giant flying squirrel which she caught and sold to a food vendor. "It needs to go home to find its mom. Just like you do." Yu said to the girl. The girl's heartless answer shocked her, "But I am a person. She's a white face (local name for the animal). "

"Many of our children are not taught to love animals and respect life, which is deeply worrying because when they grow up, the wild life in China will suffer even more. It is the top priority for animal rights activists to go into schools and teach our children about the right and healthy attitude towards animals and life. It is more meaningful than just saving the lives of the stay animals. "

A student drew this painting in memory of the late Cat Curator on which he wrote: The library in heaven needs a curator so God sent me to work there. Please don't cry. I love you all. Photo: sino-us.com

In a joint letter from 64 animal rights organizations across China which was sent to Prof Jiang and shared with the audience, it was mentioned that the animal abusers are more inclined to domestic violence as well. Animal abuse is also closely linked to other violent and anti-social behavior such as robbery, rape, arson, etc. according to western studies. Prof. Jiang said, "The Fudan University poison case and the Zhu Ling case are all warnings to us. If a person is indifferent to the life of animals, how can you trust him to value people's life? "

Prof. Tian Song from Beijing Normal University echoed the view in the letter, " The cruelty to animals is the manifestation of the inner void, aloofness and fear of the person. Such a person has lost the ability to feel for other lives, and the ability to get along with others. The reoccuring cases of cruelty to animal are a reflection of the severe defects of the young people's mental state, even the flawed psychological state of the entire Chinese society. "

After the seminar, Prof. Jiang (third from right) led the speakers and the students to Cat Curator's final resting place, the gingko tree in front of the library and paid their respect. Photo: sino-us.com

The lack of a law on prohibition of cruelty to animals in China was another focus of the seminar. "Without legislation, there is no way to put a curb on such behavior." said Prof. Jiang. In the joint letter, Su Peifen (苏佩芬), executive director of ACT Asia for Animal (行动亚洲动物保护团队) said that the witnesses of cruelty to animals are likely to become perpetrators themselves. "We look forward to the Chinese government to pass a law on animal protection, and put a stop to animal abuse in China."


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