It’s where pheasants come from. Charlie Jacoby goes undercover in China to see if hunting and guns are really banned
First it was luxury goods, then it was Wimbledon, now the Chinese are getting into sport hunting.
Guns and hunting were banned in China in 1949. I am in China to find out whether hunting survives in any form – whether you really can prevent a quarter of the world’s population going hunting in a country that gave us the pheasant and several species of deer, and where eating game is such an important part of cultural life.
The short answer is that guns and shooting are not banned. They are tolerated and, in a few places and for a few people, encouraged. Up in the beautiful limestone hills of Canton, walking through the rice paddies with an ancient French-made hammer 12-bore, it is easy to forget that the state plays an integral part in everyday life in China. The locals I am out pheasant hunting with today want their faces blobbed out in the film I am making, and they have no desire to be interviewed on camera. However, the dozens of people we pass on the road and in the fields do not bat an eyelid when they see a party of men carrying guns.
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China may have won more medals in shooting events at the London 2012 Olympics than any other country but there is no gun culture here. Indeed, it is touch and go whether the shotgun I am carrying will explode and send hot metal zinging in all directions every time I pull the trigger. At least it’s not as bad as my hunting buddy’s gun. That is a single-barrel hammer 12-guage he proudly says he made himself.
There is a hunting dog culture. The gundogs they use are the ‘chow’ breed, seen all over China and known for their stoic, inscrutable approach to life – a sensible approach for a dog that could easily end up on the table itself. These are not the yappy spaniels or dim Labradors I see out shooting in the UK. They work slowly and even unwillingly, hunting the hilly country for birds to flush. Any birds will do. We put up as many brown crakes as pheasants.
I admire the connection each local shooter has with his dog. When there is a pheasant to flush, both dog and shooter seem to know it at the same time, and set about it without a word.
The country here is a gift for game. Anywhere that is not built over or farmed is a six-foot high tangle of almost impenetrable undergrowth. The rural China you see is hacked out of thick undergrowth. There is a lot of China you do not see.
The deer and bird tracks, and the tracks of the occasional leopard cat (it fills the ecological niche of the fox) shows just how much game is here. There were tigers in Canton until the 1950s but the government came and shot them out.
We shoot a brace of crake, five pheasants and a pigeon. We turn down several coveys of quail – the Chinese consider them a waste of a cartridge. And then we eat them all, at once, liberally washed down with something labelled Martell VS Cognac. Lunch is at a collective farm where we eat with the workers. This kind of generosity is normal, charming, and it only costs a few bob. The Chinese are much more in touch with what they eat than we are in the West. In rural areas like this you are woken each morning at 4am by the squeals of whatever is on tonight’s restaurant menus. No need for a game meat marketing executive here. If you can turn up at a remote farmyard with fresh game, all the better.
Next stop on my hunting tour is a paradise island that promises deer, goats and rabbits. I leave the Chinese mainland behind me and take a half-hour air-conditioned whiz in a speedboat over the East China Sea past dazzling James Bond scenery.
The first Chinaman in modern times to own land in the country is a petrochemicals millionaire who has bought a lease on an island not far from the city of Ningbo. Instead of opening a casino or a shopping centre, he has opened a hunting reserve. A Dutch viewer of my weekly YouTube show emails to say that he is based in Ningbo and would I like to come?
The gamekeeper hands out the firearms to me, to my new friend Erik van der Horst and to Mr Yang, a Chinese industrialist. The 12-bore shotguns are marked with the word Ying – there: Yang with Ying – though it’s hard to know if Ying is the make of the gun or its dynasty.
Through our translator, Mr Yang explains that he is here with his girlfriend (“not my wife”). She would horrify the tweed and hunting pink set back home, going for our twice daily walk-and-shoot around the island with a parasol and unsuitable shoes. We are looking for muntjac deer, goats, rabbits and pheasants. There were wild boar but, the gamekeeper explains sadly, they swam to another island.
Mr Yang and the gamekeeper have little interest in a quick kill. They want to disable the animals if possible. Do not come hunting in China if you are squeamish.
On our first morning, we reach what Erik disparagingly calls ‘the farm animals’ – a group of goats we spot on a rocky outcrop. Erik and the gamekeeper stalk forward. At 50 yards, the gamekeeper tells Erik to shoot. That is a long shot at a large animal with a shotgun loaded with bird shot, and it makes Erik cross. “It is a great and interesting stalk, but I am not going to shoot a goat at 50 metres or more with a shotgun,” he says. “We will let our Chinese friend have a go.”
Another complaint Erik has is the speed at which the Chinese stalk. Because they have little hunting heritage, they don’t know that you walk slowly and spend more time stopping than moving. Mr Yang marches the animals down, occasionally getting a flash of a startled muntjac deer which disappears into the, yet again, thick undergrowth, followed swiftly by a couple of ounces of lead.
“Fastest stalk I’ve ever done in my life,” says Erik.
By 9am, the temperature has reached 30 degrees centigrade and the game is lying doggo. We head for the hotel, where I ask Mr Yang what he thinks of the morning. Mr Yang is disappointed.
“He says there are not too much game in this island,” says the translator. “Here the hunting is forbidden at night. But if we go out at night we may hunt some deers.”
I also want to know what the Chinese think of shooting and hunting – and do they enjoy it?
“He says in China people are only hunting on islands, Gobi Desert and forests. In northern part of China and eastern China, people hunt bears, and in Mongolia people hunt wolves.”
Late afternoon before dinner we head off again, this time after bunnies which we have seen near the hotel and which look suspiciously un-nervous. It is only a few yards and we come upon a rabbit, which Mr Yang shoots. Another 20 yards and there is another rabbit lurking behind some rushes, but otherwise oblivious to our presence. Erik shoots it. A short way up the path, it’s my turn to shoot and bring down another rabbit. Mr Yang then edges ahead with first one rabbit, and then another – but after we have one each, Erik and I are not quite so keen on the sporting side of Chinese rabbit shooting. They look like they may have come over on the same boat as us.
The Golden Sand Bay Hunting Resort is expensive, but much of the cost is tied up in the price for hiring the boat. One night there comes to £200 a person, including ferry, bed, board and two outings shooting. Also, the price goes up significantly once the manager decides you are rich. If you want to find out more and you either speak Mandarin or you don’t mind Google Translate’s version, have a look at http://plus.google.com/109767925018785525044/
Another hunting resort advertising in China is the Oriental International Hunting Park in Shanxi province, west of Beijing. Visit East-Hunt.com
When it becomes legal – and I have no doubt it will – I would like to come back to China with a reliable 20-bore shotgun, a mixture of six shot and buck shot cartridges, a couple of British gundogs, a couple of books so I can point out to the locals what I want to shoot and a butterfly book so that I can identify the dozens of fabulous insects that I will see. I would like to spend a week walking the padi fields of China in among this gorgeous scenery.
This is a country of a billion+ people. Around a quarter of the world’s population is Chinese. The government here tolerates fishing but it says that hunting/shooting is banned. That’s not what I’ve found. Just look at the restaurant menus. They go from pheasant through deer and anything you can pull out of the water, right up to jellyfish and whale meat. It’s probably a good thing that the Government doesn’t encourage hunting any more than it does, otherwise there’d be nothing left. It is clear that this is a country that loves its fieldsports.
ITALS: Charlie Jacoby runs Fieldsports Channel www.fieldsportschannel.tv which produces a free weekly TV show about the best hunting, shooting and fishing. To see Charlie’s film about hunting in China, visit bit.ly/huntinginchina
Follow Charlie on Twitter, Twitter.com/fieldsportstv
For free-use high-res pics of hunting on the ‘paradise island’, visit www.flickr.com/photos/fieldsportschannel/sets/72157634231753070/
For free-use high-res pics of hunting in Canton province, visit www.flickr.com/photos/fieldsportschannel/sets/72157634231735826/