Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Chinese Pig Tales Volume 49 Number 2, March/April 1996
by Ka Bo Tsang

A popular tradition mirrors a people's ambivalent feelings about swine.

The Chinese attitude toward the pig reveals a long-standing love-hate relationship that began with its ancestor the wild boar. The boar was thoroughly detested by farmers for destroying their vegetable crops, but it was also admired for its great strength, speed, and ferocity, and the therapeutic values of various parts of its body. The ancient Chinese drew on the traits of the wild boar to characterize people and even governments. In time, the Chinese domesticated the wild boar, and over a long period it evolved into the pig. The pig provided meat, an important source of protein, and countless by-products. Its fast growth and reproductive power made it an emblem of wealth and prosperity. Pigs also played a role in rituals related to death and the afterlife, and pig effigies and bones were often included in burials. Pigs were also thought to be efficient guardians of children.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America