The infamous and controversial Yulin dog meat festival has begun where tens of thousands of dogs are set to be killed and eaten in southern China from Wednesday (21 June). The event is taking place amid false rumours that it had been banned by the local authorities.

The festival, otherwise known as the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, sparked controversy and harsh press reports around the world due to distressing images of mass animal cruelty. This is because dogs and cats are sold and slaughtered for their meat in the Chinese city of Yulin, in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Earlier it was reported and believed that the event was cancelled and that the ban on dog meat sales would come into effect from 15 June. Animal rights campaigner too claimed that local vendors had been told by their authorities about the ban.

However, some vendors holding stalls at the festival told the BBC that they heard no news about the ban from officials. The city officials too confirmed that there was no ban, the broadcaster reported.

AFP news agency cited an animal rights group as saying that vendors and officials reached a compromise where a vendor has been limited to display only two dogs in each stall.

"Despite the fact that there does not seem to be a ban on all dog meat, the festival appears to be smaller this year, with fewer dogs losing their lives to this cruel industry," Irene Feng of Animals Asia said.

The local government in Yulin said they could not ban the event as they were not the official organisers. The sale of the dog meat is not illegal in the country.

Local media reports suggested that the festival began with heavy police presence outside the market and on the streets.

The scale of this year's event is not known yet.

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Dead dogs are on sale at a stall, ahead of the dog meat festival in Yulin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region ~ file photo Reuters

The event's organisers have come under severe pressure to cancel the festival because it violated the norms of the international community.

Activists describe the event as brutal as dogs are allegedly beaten and boiled alive reportedly in the belief that the more terrified the animals are, the better its meat tastes.

The Chinese tradition of eating dog meat dates back to around 500 years as it is reportedly believed that eating the animal wards off the summer heat, besides bringing good luck and health. However, Westerners react in outrage over the idea of eating man's best friend.

More than 10 million dogs are reported to be killed for human consumption every year in China, according to the Humane Society International, a charity that campaigns to end the Yulin festival.

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Dogs are kept in a cage at Dashichang dog market ahead of a local dog meat festival in Yulin, Guangxi Autonomous Region ~ file photo REUTERS

The Western outrage of the Yulin festival has been criticised for its double standards and cultural bias. Many have argued that those who campaign to ban dog meat sale do not think about chicken, beef, pork or lamb and the way they are killed for human consumption. Whereas slaughtering dogs for meat has caused moral outrage.

Chinese who take part in the festival have defended the event saying they kill dogs in a humane way and that eating them is no less or more cruel than consuming beef, chicken or pork. They also claim that dogs are not stolen to be killed for consumption.