Animal Testing In China: An Autoethnographic Experience




Hey all, in light of the recent laws passed in regards to animal rights in China, I am going to tell you about my autoethnographic story of animal enlightenment.

The methodology behind my research into the Chinese cosmetic industry’s use of animals, follows Ellis, Adams and Bochner’s 2011 Autoethnographic approach. This is as quoted “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.” This basically mashes the methodologies of autobiographies and ethnographic research.

An aspect of autoethnography that I employed during my research is; focusing on research and writing about socially just acts rather than a preoccupation with accuracy and also using analytical, accessible texts that change us and the world we live in for the better (Holman Jones 2005, p. 764). This influenced the aspect of my research, as I decided to delve into a subject that isn’t too well known of to spread awareness. This provides anyone interested in the opportunity to look into the topic further and make their own conclusions. My experience that will follows is included to hopefully attract those who may not be interested in cosmetic testing on animals in China.

As I could not physically visit China to immerse myself in the research of Animal Rights due to time and financial constraints, I had to settle for a wide research approach and hopefully through the least bias process I could manage from my computer in Australia.

I’ll quickly outline my cultural background so you can understand my biases in beginning this research. I grew up in rural NSW and have a background in family farming and up to this point hadn’t researched into animal rights topics. I have never agreed that using animals for cosmetic testing is ethical but haven’t actively purchased products that did not. If anything this research has taught me about the alternatives to animal testing and I can become a more informed consumer in order to support non-animal tested products.

So whats been happening in China?

Up until 2014, all cosmetic products created and imported into China had to be animal tested by law, but in June 2014 the China Food and Drug Administration removed the requirements for ordinary cosmetics produced within the country to be tested by animals. This includes, make-up, skin, hair and nail care product and fragrances. Special use products such as sunscreen and hair dyes still need to be tested (Huang, 2014).

This was the first step for animal activists in opening the cruelty free cosmetics market in china (Graef, 2014). It was not possible until 2014 for Chinese consumers who are conscious of animal testing to purchase cruelty free products. This often lead to consumers being mislead into thinking they were doing so (Gentlemen Marketing Agency, 2017). A China Food and Drug Administration spokesperson said the change was due to “the fast development of the economy, and animal welfare and protection becoming so popular”(Hall 2012). The China Food and Drug Administration had started to undertake considerable research into testing alternatives.

There is a way for the Chinese consumers to get around these regulations, if products are purchased on foreign e-commerce websites for shipment, then it does not require animal testing. The other alternative to this, is for foreign companies to ship their products to Hong Kong (where there is no animal-testing regulations) where an agent will then send the products directly to the consumer. Another way international companies got around this was by shipping semi-finished products for bottling or re-packaging in China, as by law this is considered as final ‘manufacturing’ and therefore not requiring animal testing (Reach24H, 2016). This does help the cruelty free consumers in the mean time, but this is not a long term fix, as consumers should have access to purchase cruelty-free products locally.

China didn’t always require animal testing, it was only in 1990 that safety regulations required special-use products to be tested on animals. And in 2012, this was extended to ordinary products, therefore cutting large international manufacturers such as The Body Shop and Lush out of the market due to their committed non-animal testing methods. Some companies loosened their non-animal testing policies to remain in the market. The Chinese cosmetic industry is a fast-growing market with nearly $1.7 billion imported each year (Huang, 2014). This was too enticing for some companies to remain loyal of their commitment to non-animal testing methods.

These changes to the animal testing are extremely behind the times, Britain banned animal testing in 1998, and the EU in 2013 (McKie 2015). Artificial skin cells are now used for cosmetic testing, and is cheaper that the cost of using animals (Humane Society International, 2017). So why are animals still being tested on in China?

The Institute for In Vitro Sciences focuses on non-animal testing methods and has been persuading the Chinese government to accept non-animal methods for cosmetic testing. In 2016, the Chinese government said that they would be recognising data from a completely non-animal test method for safety evaluations of cosmetics (PETA, 2016).

So the Chinese government is starting to move towards a cruelty free future, but this is taking a long time. Through my research I have noticed support from domestic and foreign companies as well as the consumers within China supporting non-animal testing methods.

I read through a report investigating the regulation of domestic non-special use cosmetics and animal testing by the Reach24H Consulting Group China 2016. This group provides efficient and cost-effective regulatory compliance solutions for manufacturers and importers (Reach24H, 2017). The report explains that some of the reasons that China is still relying on animal testing is the barriers to alternative testing methods. The ethics surrounding human trials also makes the conservative authority rely on animal testing for the safety of the Chinese consumers (Reach24H, 2016).

Another barrier to alternative testing is the differing level of expertise in Chinese labs, meaning that alternative tests may not have the ability to be repeated effectively (Reach24H, 2016). These barriers are however being overcome by international scientists lending their expertise to the Chinese market to increase the accessibility of alternative testing methods. This has included scientists from Britain training Chinese scientists in techniques to replace the use of animals in cosmetic testing(McKie, 2015). It seems that China and its consumers are open and invested in animal testing alternatives, but unwilling to completely ban the practice until there are safe alternatives in place. If companies and consumers continue to support the development and accessibility of these alternative techniques then this will make the process much faster.

One thing I have learnt from this experience, is how ruthless animal rights companies and lobbyists can be. For example The Choose Cruelty Free Campaign, sent a letter to all the companies registered on their list and stated that if they “entered a market where animal testing of your products is required they will be removed from the Choose Cruelty Free List” (Choose Cruelty Free, 2013). This means that companies that are still selling cruelty-free products in other markets will lose their accreditation if they decide to enter into a mandatory animal-tested market. This threatening behaviour is perhaps what the market needs. Companies are often too interested in profits and if the Choose Cruelty Free List has an impact on the companies overall profit and image as a brand then I applaud them for making this stance.

Through conducting this research, I have a greater understanding of the role consumers have to play in shopping wisely and informing themselves. This is to ensure they do not support companies that have the opportunity to use animal testing alternative but choose not to. This should be extended beyond the Chinese market and consumers, because all international markets and consumers have to opportunity to make an impact and change the products we see on our shelves. If anything, I have learnt that we individuals have a part to play in supporting cruelty-free products so that we create a market share large enough that forces companies to use non-animal testing methods.

Thank you for listening, all sources used in this podcast will have links below if you wish to research further. I hope you’ve learnt a bit more about the use of animal testing in China and how you can make a difference to your own market.




2013, ‘China plans to phase out mandatory cosmetics animal testing’, Newspaper Source Plus, 11 September, <;

Choose Cruelty Free 2017, China – what’s the story?, Choose Cruelty Free, viewed 20 October 2017, <>

Doke, S.K. & Dhawale, S.C. 2013, ‘Alternatives to animal testing: A review’, Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 223-229.

Ellis, C, Adams, T.E & Bochner, A.P. 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol. 12, No. 1, <;

Gentleman Marketing Agency 2016, ‘I am not A Goods’, image, Cosmetics China Agency, viewed 8th September 2017, here

Gentleman Marketing Agency 2017, Welcoming Gesture of China for non-animal tested imported cosmetic products, Cosmetics China Agency, viewed 8th September 2017, <;

Graef, A 2014, It’s Official! China Ends Mandatory Animal Testing for Cosmetics, Care 2, viewed 8th September 2017, <>

Hall, C 2012, ‘China Eyes End To Animal Testing’, WWD: Women’s Wear Daily, vol. 203, no. 57.

Harris, D 2014, China Cosmetics From Overseas. Animal Testing Required, China Law Blog, weblog post, 29 July, viewed 18 October 2017, <>

Hartung, T & Leist, M 2008, ‘Food for thought on the evolution of toxicology and the phasing out of animal testing’, University of Konstanz, vol. 2, pp. 91-96. <;

Hoffman, S 2016, ‘On the road to animal-free skin sensitisation risk assessment: Cosmetics Europe’s assessment of testing strategies’, Toxicology letters, vol. 258, pp. 208-209.

Holman Jones, Stacy (2005). Autoethnography: Making the personal political. In Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp.763-791). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Huang, S 2014, ‘China Ends Animal Testing Rule for Some Cosmetics’, The New York Times, 30 June, <>

Humane Society International 2017, Costs of Animal and Non-Animal Testing, Humane Society International, viewed 20 October 2017, <>

McKie, R 2015, ‘UK scientists to help China stop animal tests on imported goods’, The Guardian, 8 November,  <>

PETA 2016, Update: China to Approve First Non-Animal Cosmetics Test, PETA, viewed 20 October 2017, <>

PETA 2017, PETA Funds Non-Animal Methods, PETA, viewed 8th September 2017, <>

REACH24H Consulting Group China 2016, Investigation Report on Regulation Status of Domestic Non-special Use Cosmetics Related Animal Testing, REACH24H Consulting Group China, viewed 18 October 2017, <>

REACH24H, Welcome to REACH24H, REACH24H, viewed 18 October 2017, <>

Reisinger, K 2015, ‘Systematic evaluation of non-animal test methods for skin sensitisation safety assessment’, Toxicology in vitro, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 259-270,

Seidle, T 2016, ‘China, Cosmetic Animal Testing and Cruelty-Free: Untangling the Web’, HuffPost, 31 May, <>

Siegel, E 2017, ‘A world without animal testing?’, Allure, Issue 11, p 92-93. <>

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