Animal protection groups, together with many well-known Hakka figures, have called for an end to “divine pig” contests during the Hakka Yimin festival, calling the rearing and ritual slaughter of the pigs inhumane and saying it abuses the animals. I wholeheartedly agree with them.
According to pig farmers and the head monks of several Yimin temples, the divine pig contests are part of a Hakka tradition that dates back 180 years. They say that people who object to the contest lack respect for Hakka culture. In fact, the entire process behind the modern divine pig contests, from the selection of the animal, to its rearing and slaughter, as well as the ritual offering of the pork to the gods, is more about making money and one-upmanship and is vastly different from how things were done in the past.
Prospective divine pigs are mostly selected from black stud boars, or pigs deemed past their studding days at pig farms. To make sure the pigs quickly put on weight, they are often not castrated until they have reached between 180kg to 240kg. Some farmers prefer not to castrate the pigs until the animals are between 360kg and 420kg, to make sure their legs are strong enough to take the weight and so they can grow even bigger. The fatter the pig gets, the riskier the castration process is. No anesthetic is used and the wound is often not treated properly, so many of the pigs die as a result of the pain, excessive blood loss or infection.
There is absolutely nothing “divine” about the way pigs are castrated for rituals nowadays. After looking through some old records, I found that boars ritually offered to the gods must never have had intercourse or been castrated.
A friend once spent three years rearing a pig that weighed more than 640kg, which he intended to offer to the gods. Over time he and his wife grew very fond of the animal. His wife cried for three days after it was slaughtered and when I called him to find out how he had raised the pig, she burst out crying again.
The divine pig contests are judged on the weight of the pig and sometimes, before the animal is weighed, unscrupulous breeders will try to stack the deck in their favor by force-feeding the pig food mixed with gravel or iron filings, or smearing it all over with cream and covering it in gravel. I’m not sure whether people in the past resorted to such immoral and underhand methods when they were offering animals to the gods.
As soon as the weighing is completed, the pig is slaughtered, surrounded by onlookers, its legs bound. The ritual butcher steps up with a long-bladed knife and stabs the animal in the base of the neck on the left side, searching out the heart. Blood gushes out. The pig squeals and dies. It’s an -ignominious death. How very divine.
According to the records, when these sacrifices were traditionally carried out in China, the pigs would have been bound to a tilted wooden frame, its head to the top, its rear facing the ground. The butcher would make a cut in the groin to drain the blood. This method is evident on a 1,700-year-old mural in a tomb dating to the Wei and Jin dynasties, in which bristle-backed boars lie, waiting to be offered to the gods and banquet guests. This depiction of the sacrifice diverges significantly from that in Taiwan today.
The pig used in the ceremony was shaved, with the exception of a strip on the head resembling one of David Beckham’s haircuts. This strip of hair identified the pig as a freshly slaughtered offering for the gods to gorge themselves on.