By Kuo Tse 果澤
The management of New Taipei City’s Sansia Zushih Temple in 2012 said it would stop holding its annual heaviest pig contest and sacrificial pig ceremony after last year, having come under pressure from animal rights advocates.
However, this so-called “divine pig contest” is still being held to celebrate local god Lord Cingshuei Zushih’s (清水祖師爺) birthday, which falls on the sixth day of the lunar year.
This year, even more “divine” pigs were sacrificed, with the largest pig weighing in at 1,487 jin (892kg). As is customary, the temple awarded a genuine gold medal and a certificate of merit to the largest pig and its owner, while issuing warnings during the event that contestants should never feed their pigs inhumanely.
When a pig has been intentionally grown to such a weight, which is seven to eight times heavier than an ordinary domestic pig, it is difficult to understand how that pig could have been fed “humanely.” In urging pig owners not to abusively feed their pigs while awarding medals in recognition of the heaviest pig, the temple administration is either talking nonsense or deluding itself.
The public once called into question the necessity of sacrificing ultra-overweight pigs, as Lord Zushih — who was a Chan (Zen) Buddhist monk during his lifetime — is supposed to be merciful, not to mention vegetarian. The temple administration responded to this argument by providing the historical background for the ritual.
Apparently, a long time ago, when Chinese immigrants from Fujian Province’s Quanzhou area — where Lord Zushih was deified and widely worshiped — settled down around Yingge (鶯歌) and Sansia (三峽), now two neighboring districts in New Taipei City, as well as what is today Taoyuan’s Dasi District (大溪), they were frequently attacked by wild boars and Aborigines.
Desperate, these immigrants, who were later to become the ancestors of many Taiwanese, slaughtered pigs and offered them as sacrifices to the mountain gods. Worship of the mountain gods on the eve of the Lunar New Year eventually became part of Lord Zushih’s birthday celebration, occurring a week later, and gradually evolved into the “divine pig contest” of today.
Even if true, the historical explanation would only require that the worship sacrifice a pig, not hold a contest for the heaviest fattened pig.
Although the temple administration is clearly aware that Lord Zushih was a vegetarian, pigs first offered to the mountain gods are still being presented under the eyelids of Lord Zushih.
Even worse, the pig owner with the heaviest pig — who therefore abused the creature under his charge to the highest degree — is awarded a prize, rather disingenuously, in the name of Lord Zushih. A fabricated divine directive allows the pigs to gain 100kg more than they normally would, as if the animals were not heavy enough to begin with.
These practices mislead the public into believing that Lord Zushih would actually enjoy such a cruel exhibition and would encourage his followers to mistreat animals. This custom degrades the divine, and disrespects Lord Zushih.
Many farmers of “divine” pigs and those who purchase them become infuriated when they hear people call the fattening animal cruelty. They insist that they treat their pigs with the utmost consideration, in a way not dissimilar to how they would treat their own grandparents.
If pig farmers really attended to their grandparents the way that they treat “divine” pigs — full-body massages, edible delicacies, soft music and an air-conditioned, albeit confining, environment — their grandparents would likely not be impressed, because the farmers’ primary concern is to avoid the beasts’ untimely death, which would waste all their previous effort.
However, the winner of the contest always mistakenly attributes the incredibly heavy weight of the pig and the winning of first prize to being blessed by Lord Zushih, as if the god had been their accomplice in meting out the cruelty.
According to reports in the Japanese colonial era Taiwan Daily News, it was not until the early 20th century that the pig contest became customary. At first, farmers allowed the pigs to walk freely about the pigsty. A “divine” pig became heavier than the other ones only because it was fed relatively more and kept longer — its weight was by no means as morbid and abnormal as the hugely overweight pigs seen today.
Cruel acts such as confining the chosen pig in a specially dug pit and force-feeding it are the result of modern supply-chain farming — a combination of financial interest and human vanity — and the deception that the temple administration wields over the public, which distorts tradition, cultural heritage and divine opinion to lure more people to the temple to make donations.
The real tragedy during the whole farcical affair is that these divine pigs go through such misery and have to be sacrificed for nothing.
The pig-fattening contest and the inhumane slaughter of the pigs during the worship ceremony are dressed up in the beautiful words of culture, tradition and religion. This is further combined with a feeling of local kinship on the part of the whole neighborhood, and a common dream among certain local communities.
In the eyes of the innocent and those of goodwill, this part of cultural tradition presents nothing less than distorted ethics and disturbed minds.
Kuo Tse is the director of a medical company’s legal department.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming