For decades, the Xi'an Beilin Museum, or Forest of Stone Steles, in central China has been a popular tourist destination for people curious to see its collection of ancient stone monuments from past dynasties. But recently, the museum’s courtyard has become home to another attraction for visitors and internet users: a family of stray cats. After visitors began posting pictures of themselves with the furry family on the Chinese microblogging service Weibo, the cats became internet celebrities of a kind.
However, when the museum announced its plans to evict the famous felines last week, its internet followers spoke up in outrage, according to China Daily’s Chen Mengwei and Zhang Zhihao.
The museum was planning on catching and giving the cats away last week after complaints that one of the cats had scratched a small child who was trying to play with her kitten. While the mother cat was probably being protective, the mother human had harsh words for the local tourism bureau, which resulted in museum officials spending several days trying to catch the strays, as well as posting signs warning visitors not to play with the cats.
Once internet users got wind of the plan, however, the museum’s Weibo page was flooded with thousands of angry comments. Some people threatened to boycott the museum if the cats were not allowed to stay, while others pointed out that the cats were one of the reasons that they were looking forward to a future visit, Brian Boucher writes for artnet News.
"Cats don't attack people unless provoked, it's humans that need to keep themselves in check,” one Weibo user wrote, Alicia Tan reports for Mashable. “Don't blame cats who can't speak up for themselves!"
Luckily for the cats and their legions of fans, the museum had a change of heart. After seeing the outrage sparked online, officials announced this week that the cats will be allowed to stay after all, Boucher writes.
As the museum announced via Weibo this week:
The cats can stay! Thank you everyone for their concern and support over the past few days. The museum will ensure to better supervise these cats, even providing them with vaccinations, insect repellent, and sterilization, and continue to put up signs warning visitors about interacting with the cats. We are dedicated to providing a warm and loving environment for the cats and our visitors.
Now that the cats are officially becoming part of the Forest of Stone Steles’ family, the angry users seem to have come around. The post has since received more than 10,000 likes and shares, and the museum’s feed is once again filled with photos of the happy-looking cats.
"Not many institutions, I should say very few in my memory, can do what they just did," Wang Liqun, founder of the Beijing-based Good Dog Good Cat Companion Center, tells Chen and Zhang. "Their attitude should be promoted. I always believed that how people treat animals reflects how civilized a society is."
Just remember: if you go to visit, don’t try to pet the cats.