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La marginalisation des animaux en Chine

Michel CARTIER

fr Anthropozoologica 18 - Pages 7-15

Published on 01 May 1994

The marginalisation of animals in China

Although generally considered as a vegetable culture, the classical Chinese material culture nevertheless gave an important part to hunting and pastoral activities. The present article attempts to evaluate special relationship between Chinese and domestic animals by introducing a fundamental distinction between the breeding of "labour animals" (cattle, horses and camels) and pastoral activities aiming at the production of food and primary materials. Recent statistical data from Mainland China concerning agriculture clearly show that, whereas the share of animal products in food consumption is still limited, cattle and horses play a significant part as labour animals for cultivation as well as transportation. The present situation should not be connotated as cultural but could be viewed as the consequence of a pluri-secular trend related with both population growth and agricultural intensification. Ancient literary documents and archaeological data both testify to the importance played by cattle breeding - and possibly hunting - in Ancient and Medieval China. The first millenium of the Christian era is justly considered as the "golden age of domestication". It is possible to distinguish between three main types oriented toward the utilisation of draft-animal (land cultivation and transportation), the production of animal products (meat, leather and even milk), but also war-fare and leasure-activities (hunting and sport). The modem situation is on the contrary the consequence of a progressive marginalisation of the last two types combined with a "delocation " of horse breeding, presently committed to pastoral populations living in the periphery of the Chinese oikoumene, and a sharp reduction of the consumption of animal products. Latest developments both on the Chinese Mainland and in Taiwan are a clear indication that this situation is liable to be modified and that the balance between labour animals and other domestic animals might be altered.

Keywords :

Agriculture and pastoral activities, Consumption of animal products, Warfare, Transportation, Hunting, China.

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