Year of the Pig: Pigs in Chinese Culture


According to the Chinese calendar, 2019 is going to be the “Year of the Pig”. So today, let’s look at pigs in Chinese culture – and see how these animals have been regarded in China through history.


Pigs in Traditional Chinese Culture

Since the dawn of time, Chinese people have had a special kind of affection towards pigs. This animal was the “head” of six domestic animals (六畜 ♦ liùchù), along with ox, goat, horse, fowl and dog.

When people in China celebrate New Year, they especially like a horizontal scroll (横批 ♦ héngpī) with the saying ‘five grains flourish, six animals thrive’ (五谷丰登,六畜兴旺 ♦ Wǔgǔ fēngdēng, liùchù xīngwàng).

Pigs in Chinese Culture

“五谷丰登” wǔgǔ fēngdēng means “to wish plenteous harvest”;

(五谷 wǔgǔ – five crops, 丰登 fēngdēng – plentiful harvest);

“六畜兴旺” liùchù xīngwàng means “wish domestic animals to thrive”;

(六畜 liùchù – six domestic animals, 兴旺 xīngwàng – to thrive).


Pigs in Chinese Culture: Symbol of Home

Now let’s look at the character. A ‘pig’ in Chinese is 猪 zhū. The character was formed from the pictogram 豕 shǐ, which you can also find in the character  jiā (family, home).

Pig 猪 | Pigs in Chinese Culture

So “home” in Chinese is literally a “pig” () under the “roof” (). This interesting combination has its own explanation:

✔ In ancient times in China, it was incredibly important to have a pig in the house. It was quite all right not to own the other five animals; but a pig was a “must-have”, as it was a guarantee for the family members that they wouldn’t starve during the winter.

✔ Main way of life for Chinese peasants was farming.

So you can see that in Chinese traditional culture, a pig has always been a symbol of home.


Pigs in Chinese Culture: Symbol of Earth Goddess

Mother Goddess | Pigs in Chinese Culture
Mother Goddess (picture from Baidu)

There’s more proof that pigs have been highly valued in ancient China. Not so long ago, in Zhejiang and Henan provinces, archaeologists have found ancient (7000 to 8000 years old) burial sites, which had pig bones along with human bones. This means that pigs were considered quite sacred, and represented fertility and Mother Goddess, the bounty of the Earth (地母神 ♦ dìmǔshén).


Pig as a Chinese Zodiac

Pig Zodiac | Pigs in Chinese Culture
Year of the Pig (picture from Wikipedia)

Being one of 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, Pig symbolizes wealth and good luck. The twelfth character of the calendar is 亥 hài, which means “pig”, and also stands for “collecting all things on earth” (which points at wealth).


As you can see, attitude towards pigs in China is really different from the West.

Or is it similar in your country?

Share with us in comments or reach out to us on twitter!

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That’s Mandarin Blog offers tips and advice on living and studying Mandarin in China, and explores the stark cultural differences between the East, the West – and everything in between.

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