Even primitive civilizations eschewed the kind of inefficient slaughter committed in the Yunnan province of China over the past week (for the five-day period ending Tuesday). Local Chinese officials butchered an estimated 50,000 dogs—even as their owners held their leashes—in an effort to control the spread of a rabies outbreak.

The dogs were beaten to death—apparently in an attempt to spare bullets and the havoc these might cause (as if these dog-owning Chinese citizens weren’t shocked enough by the bludgeoning of household pets before their eyes). The citizens had been offered 63 cents to kill their own dogs . This was after three human cases of rabies were discovered in the province. When the citizenry did not comply, the local health officials called for the massacre.

Even in China, where the state-controlled media typically massages public relations debacles of this sort, the public outcry has been swift and fierce. How useless is the government’s management of its public’s health that mass murder (via cudgel, no less) is their  answer to a problem caused by their inexcusable failure to simply and inexpensively vaccinate its dogs?

Let’s leave the obvious aside for a moment—the cruel method of distributing veterinary care—and concentrate on the public health issue alone: In China an estimated 2,000 people contract the deadly rabies virus each year. Dogs are the primary transmitters of human rabies in China. Yet only 3% of dogs (in a society where 70% of the rural population owns dogs) are vaccinated.

There is no excuse for the kind of incompetence that dispenses with fifty-year-old technology in favor of the primitive club. China apparently failed Public Health 101.

Q: How can China, whom we regard (and the US envies) as the world’s most promising emerging economy, be so backwards in its basic services?

A: How can we expect a country with China’s staggeringly unmanaged growth rate to attend to its citizen’s most essential healthcare precautions? Its leaders are too busy mitigating the effects of our currency on theirs (by proclamation) and controlling the religious expression of wayward religious sects (by incarceration).

Ultimately, the answer lies in simple human greed and lust for power: China is too busy emerging as an economy to evolve as a stable society. And our country is eagerly helping them emerge, as if we expect this creepy caterpillar to burst at its seams at any moment in a shower of golden butterflies. Picture an earthworm controlling a huge, dirty goldmine. Now, that’s more like it.

Cheap China-bashing aside, the obvious loss of control within their public health sector, exemplified by this disgusting display of ineptitude, is deeply emblematic of how China handles other domestic issues. From human rights to the environment, China clearly has a long way to go.

I only hope China’s citizens continue to rally on behalf of their pets as they have so far. It’s heartening to finally see China’s citizenry speak their minds. And, for the record, it took dogs to make that happen.