China's younger generation no longer finds fur fashionable
○ The Chinese fur industry is experiencing a chilly winter this year due to a sharp decline in sales
○ Younger generations of Chinese are increasingly aware of animal welfare issues
○ Fur farmers are calling on their industry to introduce more humane methods of skinning animals
As a resident of Northeast China where women hold a particular fashion interest in fur clothing to withstand the region's brutal winters, Su Yun has made her own rules: she works at a mink factory, yes, but refuses to wear fur.
She knows that some animal rights activists have long protested against the use of fur as fashion for the industry's cruelty. This resistance now permeates the fashion industry itself. Several Italian luxury fashion brands announced this year that they would stop using animal furs.
In China, in just the past two years, fur industry profits have plunged. In 2016, mink fur sales dropped 41 percent. Fur sales figures are not optimistic this year, either, according to Huang Yanjie, director of China Leather Association.
Mink coats that once sold for 10,000 yuan ($1,513) in China can now be purchased for only 3,000 yuan.
Huang told the Southern Weekly that about 5 million people involved in the Chinese fur industry are currently experiencing a "chilly winter" due to the global backlash against animal pelts and furs for clothing.
He noted that an important reason behind this widespread resistance is that people tend to believe that animals are being skinned alive. "But according to normal operations in the industry, it's impossible to rip furs from living animals," he said.
To correct people's misunderstanding, many Chinese fur farms have been making an effort to improve animal rights, especially the way the creatures are executed, in a bid to revive the industry. But long-held prejudices against leather workers and furriers have thwarted their efforts.
'It's too cruel'
In 2005, a video clip showing a raccoon hurled onto the ground and skinned alive circulated online. The video regained attention recently and aroused heated online discussions about the industry's cruelty of animals.
Reports determined that the footage was taken at a fur market in Suning county, Hebei Province. Later, the Suning government declared that this was only "an individual case." In February of that same year, China's fur industry made an official announcement that the video "failed to show a real and whole picture" of Chinese furriers.
But among the younger generations of Chinese, many are no longer willing to purchase fur after watching the video.
In random interviews recently conducted by Southern Weekly, more than half of all interviewees said that they had seen similar videos of Chinese furriers or leather workers mistreating animals.
One woman in her 20s said that she stopped wearing fur coats after seeing that Suning video clip. "It feels like I'm wearing these poor abused animals' corpse. It's too cruel!"
Mark Rissi, director of the 2005 documentary Fun Fur that the video clip was extracted from, told the Southern Weekly on November 8 of this year that the clip was shot by a Chinese coworker. He confirmed that it is common to kill animals this way in that region. "Other media exposed this, too," he said.
Huang believes that the video "seemed to be manipulated by the director." He said that, in fact, skinning animals alive will harm the value of their fur.
Correcting past mistakes
China's fur business can be traced back to the 1960s as a method to earn foreign exchange through exports. The country first imported live minks from the former Soviet Union and later from the US. The minks were mainly raised in State-owned farms.
At that time, fur and especially mink as a Western symbol of "luxury." Fox and raccoons were also raised for their fur.
This trend spread to China in the late 1980s, when an increasing number of Russian women wearing fur coats began appearing on the streets of Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, which borders Russia.
After China joined the WTO in 2005, Xu Jiabao, Su's boss, was among the earliest Chinese entrepreneurs to tap into the fur industry. Xu visited a fur farm in Denmark and brought back superior "Danish mink," which became quite popular among fashionable, upper-class Chinese women.