How sharks in coffins are attacking China’s finning trade

Y&R Shanghai sharks fin campaignY&R recently made an art installation for animal rights group International Fund for Animal Welfare to oppose the shark’s fin trade in China.

In this interview, Y&R China’s assistant creative director Handsome Wong, talks to Mumbrella Asia’s Robin Hicks about the idea behind a campaign to end a cruel but centuries old custom.

Your art piece consisted of a shark in a coffin, which was placed in cities around China to raise awareness about the cruelty of the finning trade. Where did the idea come from?

China is the biggest shark fin-consuming country in the world. But I have never seen anyone who sells or eats shark meat. So a question came to my mind: where does the shark’s body go?

After doing some research, I discovered that the shark’s fin only takes two per cent of the animal’s whole body. Sharks are slaughtered for that body part by fisherman in order to save store space. The rest of the shark’s body is discarded. People think of nothing but the shark’s fin, and as a result, the shark’s death is forgotten. Sharks will die after their fins are cut off, drifting to the sea bed and drowning. Which is why only the fins are visible outside the coffin in the art installation.

How did you amplify the message to ensure it went national?

Culture and traditions in China are united even though China is a big country with a large population. The message that the coffin represents death can be understood by most Chinese people, since it’s a tradition that people will be placed in coffins when they die. In the campaign, people can scan a QR code which leads them to a website where they can sign a petition to support anti-shark fin activity. They are also encouraged to share this activity among friends and family.

Shark coffin stunt in ChinaThey say you can’t fight culture. And the culture of eating sharks fin is a long-held custom in China. Do you seriously think this campaign can have a significant impact in China?

Yes, it’s difficult to change culture. But I believe that this custom can be changed, although it will take time.

This can be done in two ways. Firstly, living healthily is a strong culture in China, and most Chinese care about what they eat. The idea that shark’s fin is healthy food is one of the main reasons why Chinese people it. But shark’s fin contains a lot of mercury, which is poisonous to the human body. Therefore, Chinese who care about health should be resistant to the idea of eating it.

Secondly, most Chinese don’t know how cruel the shark’s finning process is. Besides, as the shark is top of the ocean’s food chain, the reduction in sharks numbers will destroy the ocean’s ecological balance, which places humans under threat just as much as it does animals.

With the popularisation of higher education in China, the concept of environment protectional is now a much bigger issue among Chinese. Our campaign will tap into that rise in the green movement.

How are you measuring the effectiveness of the campaign, and what has the response been like so far?

sharks fin campaignOver 49,000 pledged their support during the campaign. A further 700,000 online pledges came within just one month. And 11 per cent of restaurants in Shanghai no longer serve shark’s fin soup. Over Chinese New Year, sharks fin sales in restaurants has decreased by more than 70 per cent.

There’s no doubting that this is a great one-off stunt. But how can you ensure that the message spreads across the country to have a national impact?

The art installation, which is more than five metres in length, is the size of a real-life shark. It has been placed in big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin and has generated a lot of press coverage. The coffin shark has been reported on by more than 120 media online, in newspapers and on TV, so has been attracting a lot of attention.

There is a lot of anti-sharks fin sentiment in the West and increasingly in Asia, but where do you think China is right now in terms of the national sentiment towards eating sharks fin at weddings and official events?

More and more Chinese are beginning to resist eating shark’s fin and shark’s fin consumption has reduced significantly at weddings and festivals in recent times.

The IFAW works with government and other NGOs on animal welfare issues. What plans does Y&R have to build on this campaign with IFAW to curb the sharks fin trade in the future through marketing?

Y&R will continue to work with IFAW on new ideas to oppose the shark’s fin trade. There’s plenty still to do to encourage Chinese to stop eating shark’s fin, and popularize the anti shark’s fin movement.


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