As a local festival featuring the consumption of dog meat approaches, retailers in Yulin, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said business has been hurt by the protests of animal rights groups and dog lovers.
Traditionally on the summer solstice - June 21 this year - local residents in the region celebrate with dog-meat hotpot, lychees and liquor. At least 10,000 dogs are eaten during a typical festival.
As Saturday approaches, animal right groups and dog lovers are pouring into the city, hoping to save dogs by discouraging residents from following the custom.
At around 5 am on Thursday, activists searching for dog-slaughtering locations stopped a tricycle carrying eight animals. The carrier agreed to sell the dogs and two cages for 1,150 yuan (S$230) after a lengthy argument. The activists also bought six puppies at a dog market for 1,200 yuan.
"As long as we can save one dog, we will do it," said Yang Yuhua, 64, from Chongqing municipality.
A dozen Buddhists and dog lovers from Guangdong, Sichuan and Chongqing provinces performed a religious ceremony on Wednesday in a major retail dog meat market.
Console the souls
They said they hoped that the rite would console the souls of the slaughtered dogs and convince local people to change their habits.
The team, headed by a Buddhist monk, walked around the Dongkou market, reciting prayers.
On Wednesday evening, eight activists took to the street where more than a dozen restaurants that serve dog meat are located. The activists carried posters calling on people to stop eating the meat and handed out pamphlets.
Local dog-meat eaters engaged them in a lively debate, as dozens of passers-by listened in. The activists proclaimed that dogs are friends of humans, and that eating dog meat can be unhealthy.
Dog eaters, however, said it's their right to eat the meat, the same as anyone who eats pork or beef. Dealers complained that the "extreme behaviour" of the outsiders has hurt business.
"My grandfather, my father and I all sell dog meat. I could sell dozens of dogs a day last year during this time, but I only sold a few this year," said 55-year-old Zhou Jian, one of the retailers.
"We almost have no dogs to kill and sell because of those people's extreme behaviour," said a female butcher who declined to give her name.
"The government has prevented trucks carrying dogs from entering Yulin because of pressure from them," she said. "We have no choice but to collect dogs from rural areas."
She said her business volume is off 50 per cent from last year.
According to media reports, the Yulin government has asked retailers and restaurants to stop killing dogs in public. It also asked public servants to refrain from eating dog meat.