Beijing: Motivated by wildlife protection campaigns and Buddha's teachings, more than 50 million Chinese defied deep-rooted tradition of meat eating and turned vegetarians, making the Communist nation one of the fastest emerging countries with a vegan population.
Although there are no official statistics about China's vegetarian population, Public Radio International, an independent non-profit multi-media organisation, reported in July that China's vegan population has reached more than 50 million, state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.
According to the world vegetarian outfits, India where the vegetarianism was rooted in the religion and culture estimated to have over 500 million vegetarians, who shun meat in their meal, the Xinhua reported.
For the Chinese vegetarians, their traditional New Year currently being celebrated all over the country is perhaps the toughest time to maintain their eating habits when faced with the country's deep-rooted tradition of sharing meat dishes.
Chicken and fish are indispensable part of many Chinese families' feasts because they symbolise luck and abundance.
In Chinese, the words for chicken and fish sound like those for "auspicious" and "abundance," so people eat these proteins on Lunar New Year's Eve in the hope of luck.
However, the country's growing numbers of vegetarians, who are especially concentrated among the young skipped the ritual this year.
Chen Yuan, a 17-year-old high school student in Hefei, the capital of east China's Anhui Province, is a vegetarian and has avoided eating meat for two years.
Chen decided to stop eating meat after seeing public- interest advertisements advocating the protection of wildlife.
The "message carried by those advertisements really made an impression on me," she said.
Xu Zihan, her classmate, said she was inspired by vegetarian celebrities from China and overseas, including singer Faye Wong, Kung fu star Jet Li and actress Natalie Portman.
"It is cool to be a vegetarian. You won't get fat and, most importantly, you are compassionate," Xu said, adding that some of her friends stopped having meat after rearing pets.
Unlike the two teenagers, Liu Haiyan represents another type of Chinese vegetarian - those motivated by religion.
The 35-year-old Shanghai resident is a Buddhist. For her, eschewing meat and dairy allows her to follow the teachings of the Buddha.