HANGZHOU, Nov.10 (Xinhua) -- For some Chinese, fur jackets, coats and hats are a way to show off wealth and success. For others, though, fur products represent nothing more than animal cruelty and environmental destruction.
"Chinese consumption of fur products is surging," said Ren Youfa, the vice chairman of the Chinese Leather Association (CLA).
According to Ren, three to four fur products are owned among every 100 Chinese people.
Chinese consumers have purchased 1.5 million fur products this year, about two-thirds of global production.
The CLA recently said people are increasingly concerned about the inhumane killing of animals and the environmentally-damaging chemicals used to produce fur products.
Ren estimates that no less than 400 million Chinese people have the economic resources to consume fur products, pointing out the large potential of the Chinese fur products market.
Torben Nielsen, the managing director of Kopenhagen Fur, the world's leading fur skin auction house, said the Chinese fur trade accounts for more than half of the world total.
Fur products were popular at the ongoing 17th China Leather Exhibition, held from July to November this year, in Haining City of east China's Zhejiang Province, where a large leather business center is located.
Haining Leather City, a business center, has recently set up new branches in Heze City of east China's Shandong Province and Tong'erbao economic zone in northeast China's Liaoning Province.
It is not the only entity taking an interest in Tong'erbao. Businesses from Hong Kong, Guangdong and Shanghai have invested more than 4 billion yuan (597 million U.S. dollars) in Tong'erbao's fur industry.
"Fur clothing, as a symbol of fashion and status, is very popular among consumers in northeast China," said Duan Yanling, an local official in Tong'erbao.
Ren, who is also chairman of the board of Haining Leather City, said the sluggish export market helped to promote the rapid development of China's domestic fur market.
"Many western countries resist buying fur out of consideration for protection of animals and environment, which has hindered the development of the export market," Ren said.
In some nations, fur clothing fashion shows are always accompanied by protests from animal rights groups.
However, more and more Chinese in recent years have joined the fight against fur consumption, believing that killing animals for their skins is cruel and that chemicals used to cure the furs harm the environment.
The Design Against Fur (DAF) competition, an international art and design competition focusing on works by college students that aims to reduce the number of potential buyers of fur, has attracted millions of entries from Chinese students over the past four years.
In this year's round of the DAF competition in China in September, Chinese college students provided more than 12,000 works to demonstrate their opposition to buying fur products.
"We cannot stop rich people buying fur, but I hope we can at least change the minds of university students, who are potential buyers, from doing this in the future," said Zhang, DAF's Chinese regional director.
Animals killed for fashion include rabbits, foxes, cats and dogs. The rabbit is the theme of this year's competition. "To make one fur coat, people have to kill 30 to 40 rabbits," Zhang said.
Zhang Qian, a 20-year-old student with the Shanghai Film Art Academy, won the Most Popular award for her work titled "Please, don't take off my clothes," which depicts a bunny begging not to be skinned.
Zhang admitted that she once bought a fur coat because it was warm. "But now if I spot someone wearing a fur coat or shawl, I will tell them 'Hey, that's not cool. You're killing animals.'"
Zhang Yang suggested using artificial fur to spare animals from cruelty.
Considering the pollution problems caused by curing skins, many leather companies are now using natural ingredients that can be easily broken down by the environment, according to Ying Wenjun, head of a clothing company in Haining.
"We hope consumers will look at fur goods from an environmental perspective," Ren said. "On the other hand,China's fur business should realize restructuring through keeping a balance between environmental protection and fashion demands."