For many residents of China’s southern town of Yulin, the peak of summer is the perfect time to get together with family and friends - and eat lots of dog meat.
As many as 10,000 dogs, many of them strays or stolen pets, are slaughtered for the annual dog meat festival held deep inside the largely rural and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Dog ownership was once looked down upon as a decadent bourgeois habit, but China’s growing middle class has started to fight what it sees as nasty abuse of man’s best friend.
On Monday, a group of about 25 animal rights activists briefly showed banners in front of the city government office, demanding an end to the festival, but they were quickly hustled away by unidentified men.
While many Chinese have signed online petitions seeking a ban on the festival, Yulin's dog market has become a site for clashes of supporters and opponents of the trade.
"There are all sorts of cultural norms about what you can eat, you eat turkey, so why are you trying to force us to not eat dog meat?" shouted one dog meat supporter.
Eating dog is good for your health at the hottest time of the year, say supporters, and it is just like any other meat.
Apparently concerned about the adverse publicity, the local government says it has no ties to the event, issuing a statement saying it did not officially sponsor or promote the festival. It said authorities would tightly control public order and punish any incidents of stealing or poisoning dogs. Traders would no longer be permitted to slaughter dogs in public, place carcasses on display or serve meals outdoors, it said.
Despite such restrictions, restaurant owners said the festival continued to attract enthusiasts for the dish.
“Eating dog meat is a local tradition, it has nothing to do with the local government,” said a receptionist at the Longmen Dog Meat Restaurant reached by phone.
This year the festival has been targeted by British Comedian Ricky Gervais, who posted a series of messages on Twitter with the hashtag “StopYuLin2015”.