This is a guest post by Rebecca Kanthor, a journalist based in Shanghai.
Who showed up to Shanghai's first anti-fur benefit show on a recent Thursday night? Local indie pop band Candy Shop and opening emo band Forget and Forgive rocked, rapped, screamed and headbanged their way through an energy packed set to a almost packed house of mostly young Chinese people. Two hundred sixty people squeezed into local rock venue Yuyintang on a weeknight to hear the bands and experience the results of the volunteer effort."We just came for fun, we don't know anything about this action," said 30 year old Zoe Shi, echoing a popular sentiment among the fans. While "free" might have been the attraction, they seemed open to hearing about 81fur.com, the PETA anti-fur campaign Chinese website that the show was promoting. But some were more in the know. "I've seen a lot of videos," said 23-year-old Xiao Chen, who was there with his girlfriend. "I support anti-fur. But I came because it was free."
PETA is cool with that. "I love the idea of people coming and not knowing the issues," says Jason Baker, director of PETA Asia-Pacific. "If they do know then we're speaking to the converted. The key to PETA outreach is that oftentimes people don't want to hear about our message. People turn away, people turn off. So you have to find a way."
Show organizer Andy Best has been a familiar face on Shanghai music scene for the past seven years, but this was his first foray into local activism, and he was surprised at how everyone he asked to participate was so willing to join the event. "The idea that you can have your beliefs but you can't change anything is all a myth. I was all nervous about asking people and everyone said yes."
"It's the first time we've been asked to do this kind of show. Before we just played for fun," said Sammy, a bit breathless after rocking the crowd. "We thought this had a lot of meaning, so we should do it."
The team of organizers had just a week to pull off their "Be Happy in Your Own Skin" photo shoot for the show and the short time frame pushed everyone to the wall (one went straight from the shoot to the hospital, suffering from a fever), but the result was worth it. Candy Shop's Sammi and KK braved the freezing January weather to strip down
to their skivvies for photographer Tim Franco. Even Best and fellow organizer and vegetarian Little K joined.
The show attracted a lot of attention, and 900 people signed up to attend it on Douban.com, the local social networking site where Best promoted the event. Although he was worried that the rain would keep people away, he already knew it was a success. "I don't care what side they fall on, the fact they know, that it's in the public domain, then we've won. The goal has already been accomplished, the discussion's
Andy's timing was perfect. The day of the show, PETA launched a new undercover investigation on the Chinese fur industry. Attention to animal rights issues is becoming more mainstream as an animal welfare law is being drafted. The success of the show and the number of clicks on PETA's Chinese website are hints that popular opinion in China is changing in animals' favor.
"There's so many signs that point to the attitude in China of people towards animals being put in a good light. They're talking about it more than ever before," said Baker. "It's a vibrant youth culture thing. It's exciting really. We see big changes in the coming years."