Deng Xiaoping: Lover of Dog Meat

May 17, 2009
*Special to asia!

The late Chinese leader, famous for reforms that transformed China into a booming economy, never stopped hankering for his favourite dish.


On the 25th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s trip to Shenzhen that kick-started China’s economic reform, a story was going around the Western media.

It is a tale known to many Chinese but seldom told to Westerners. The reason being, it involves Deng practising the venerable Chinese custom of eating dogs – and many Westerners are dog lovers.

In the West, the dog may be a man’s best friend. In China – as well as Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan – a dog is often a man’s best dish.

Eating dogs is one of the things that unite the vast country of 1.3 billion. From Guangdong in the south to Heilongjiang at the Russian border, and Zhejiang fronting the East China Sea to the western mountainous Sichuan, canine meat, cooked with lots of garlic and herbs, is considered a delicacy during the winter months.

(Dogs are seldom eaten in the summer. According to traditional Chinese medicine, dog meat, being “heaty”, enhances the male part of the human spirit, and should be eaten when the weather is cold so that the delicate ying-yang balance in the body can be maintained. Eating dogs in hot weather can lead to severe coughing and other illnesses, the Chinese say.)

Deng, a native of Sichuan, grew up eating dog meat. A long trip to France as a student failed to cure him of the habit. In fact it made him hanker even more for what was reported to be his favourite dish.


A golden bust of the late Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is displayed in front of a portrait of Deng in Hong Kong August 24, 2004.

A golden bust of the late Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is displayed in front of a portrait of Deng in Hong Kong August 24, 2004.

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In 1978, Deng was rescued from exile by a group of generals sickened by the mass killings and destruction of the Cultural Revolution and put to lead China away from the path of Maoism.

Deng proposed a set of reform and opening policies. A key ingredient was the setting-up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the coastal cities. Shenzhen, until then a small fishing village, was turned into a SEZ in 1980 and thrived.

In 1992, Deng’s reform was stalled in the north by his equally aged Communist comrades. The canny strategist decided to push through his plans from the rear and took off to Shanghai and Guangdong, ostensibly to enjoy the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in warmer weather.

Once in the south, he took off to Shenzhen, by then a booming metropolis. In the city Deng gave his famous speech describing “the way strode by Shenzhen in the past 12 years is a new socialism way with Chinese characteristics". This, coupled with another famous comment that “getting rich is glorious”, unleashed a wave of momentous entrepreneurship that has been expanding for the past quarter century which we witness today.

All this is well known. But omitted from the official report was the meal Deng took in Shenzhen – dog meat prepared specially by a follower.

Soon after, to commemorate his visit, a 10-by-30-metre portrait of Deng was erected in the city center. Now a symbol of the still rapidly developing city, it attracts many thousands of citizens and tourists each year.



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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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