(CNN)The social media post, from one of China’s largest newspapers, included a crying-laughing emoji.
It showed a dead rat after it was caught stealing rice in a shop. Spreadeagled and strung up by its limbs, it had a sign hung around its neck reading “I won’t dare do this again.”
But the almost 6,000 commenters who weighed in on the Weibo post — versions of which have gone viral on the Chinese web in recent days — weren’t finding it funny. Many wrote how they were disgusted by the display and expressed sympathy for the animal.
“You can kill (a rat), but don’t torture it,” read one comment. “Even though rats are harmful, please respect life.”
Another wrote: “Every ordinary thing has life, why torture a rat? If you were a rat, wouldn’t you find this cruel after you were killed? Stealing rice is part of a rat’s nature. It did it to survive.”
The largely negative reaction to the viral rat photos shows how attitudes in China — a country once notorious for cases of animal cruelty — are changing.
Jason Baker, Asia vice president of international campaigns for PETA, which denounced the rat photos as a “sick stunt,” said that the reaction “made it clear that people don’t believe any animal should be treated like this.”
“The inability to empathize with the plight of the most helpless among us quite rightly horrifies caring people everywhere and is a cause for concern in the community,” Baker said.
In 2014, China revoked a law making animal testing mandatory for cosmetics, while a study by researchers from Nanjing Agricultural University in the same year found a majority of respondents supported stronger animal welfare laws.
While researchers said that in China “animal welfare is still at the early stage of development,” they found that the “necessity of establishing animal welfare laws is widely recognized by the public in China.”
Chinese celebrities — including NBA star Yao Ming and actor Jackie Chan — have helmed prominent campaigns against bear bile farming, the ivory trade, and the consumption of shark’s fin soup.
In December, China announced it would phase out ivory trading by the end of 2017.
Thousands of people have also signed petitions to free Pizza, the “world’s saddest polar bear,” from his tiny display in a Guangzhou shopping mall. Pizza was recently temporarily relocatedthanks in part to public pressure.
FROM THE DESK OF ANIMAL RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA.