China and Inner Asia
Northwestern University, United States
What role did the protection of nonhuman animals play during the traumatic Second Sino-Japanese War, when millions of humans perished in gruesome violence? Historians of modern animal protectionism in China often blamed the outbreak of the war for disrupting a pro-animal movement centered on the lower Yangzi delta. However, my research shows that instead of the alleged decline, the so-called "Life Protection Movement (husheng yundong)" persisted in major cities in two orientations: religious and humanistic. Through a comparative study of urban history, I illustrate how animal care could be crucial to people facing disasters. In Japanese occupied Beijing, the Lotus Society, a syncretic religious order created a series of public campaigns dedicated to animal lives. Central to their claim was a belief in karmic retribution and the cosmic connection between political affairs and nonhuman lives. Just as the spiritual wing of the Life Protection Movement persisted under occupation, the humanistic wing survived in the wartime capital of the Nationalist government in Chongqing. Despite the challenges of Japanese bombings and limited supplies, local police still investigated cases of animal cruelty, reflecting the continued belief in the connection between animal care and a more "civilized" China. Meanwhile, the Chongqing government's protection of "national treasures" like the giant pandas and the propaganda of "animal war heroes" also revealed a calculated need to humanize the war through the innocence of animals.