Do you remember the piggy biscuits that come in a rattan-basket packaging? Zhu Loong Paeng or “piglet biscuits” make their rounds during the Mooncake Festival. These biscuits are shaped like piglets and are placed in colourful oblong, plastic “pig cages”.
While the little ones are gleeful to have these cute snacks, the words pig cage also conjure up an “unsavoury” meaning. It is a reminder how, during the Qing dynasty (1636–1912), adulterers were bound and stuffed into separate pig cages, and drowned.
Today, however, Chinese businessmen associate the image of the pig cage with prosperity. When someone says, “Zu long ru shui (which literally means pig cage enters water)”, they are thinking of big money!
“It’s actually a very auspicious greeting,” says sinologist Dr Lai Kuan Fook, 82. The image refers to a pig cage submerged in water, with water gushing in from all directions.
To the Chinese, sui (Cantonese for water) means money so, if water comes from various sources, this is most auspicious as it connotes a windfall of fortune! “It means profits are coming from everywhere,” says Lai.
The pig, Lai says, is cited in the novel Journey To The West, which is about the legendary pilgrimage of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang who made a trip to Central Asia and India to obtain Buddhist sacred texts (sutras), together with his three disciples: Sun Wukong (Monkey God), Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and Sha Wujing.
The Monkey God is depicted as active, very intelligent and can jump millions of miles while Pigsy is slow and stupid and cannot resist beautiful women. It is Sun Wukong who comes to Pigsy’s rescue from temptresses!
And it would be an insult if somebody is associated with friends in this idiom, zhu peng gou you (pig buddy dog friend). It’s to say that the person has bad and lazy friends who only know how to enjoy and play. They are scoundrels!
An inhumane person, says Lai , is described as zhu gou (pig or dog), which means “he is behaving like a dog or a pig”.
The term ren tou zhu naw (human head, pig’s brain) is an insult which means a person is a moron.
Another demeaning remark is zhu gou pu rou (worse than a dog or a pig), to describe a mean person who does terrible things, so much so that he is worse than a dog or a pig.
Jin zhu bao xi (golden pig sends happiness) is a term associated with joyous occasions.
The golden pig refers to a roast pig, usually presented on happy occasions like Chinese weddings. The groom will offer a roast pig to the bride’s family.
On the ninth day of Chinese New Year, a roast pig is offered to the Jade Emperor as a form of celebration if the person has made a good fortune and wants to show his gratitude.
The roast pig is also offered during deities’ birthdays.
In Chinese culture, Lai says, “The pig is loyal, very friendly, mild- mannered and loyal.”
More Colourful Sayings
Here are other Chinese idioms based on the pig. Feng shui master Jessie Lee says the idiom Sha zhu jiao zi (to kill a pig as a lesson to the children) emphasises the importance of leading by example.
So, parents, be careful what you say. You must teach by example and keep your promises, otherwise others will no longer trust you.
Ban zhu chi lao hu
(Pretending to be a pig to eat the tiger)
Masquerading as a weaker/ harmless animal to devour the stronger/ more vicious animal. Someone who gets closer to the rival or opponent but eventually usurps power to topple him.
Leng shui tang zhu
(Using cold water to scald the pig)
Fruitless effort; unproductive.
Qian dao gong shi ban, huo dao zhu tou lan
(Money arrives, job gets done; fire arrives, pig’s head will rot or burn).
Money is the key to getting things done. It’s essential when doing anything.
Ren pa chu ming, zhu pa fei
(Human is afraid of fame; pig is afraid of fat)
People are afraid that fame will attract trouble, just like fattened pigs that will end up being slaughtered. Briefly, it is about the price of fame.
Yi long, yi zhu
(One dragon, one pig)
Two very different persons – in status, beliefs and mentality.
Zhu ba jie chi ren shen guo
(Zhu Bajie or Pigsy eating ginseng)
It means gorging on food and not knowing how to appreciate it, or being unable to gain anything due to greed.
Zhu yang bian se
(Pig and goat change colour)
It refers to a total change or overturning of a situation.
Zhi zhu ma gou
(Pointing to the pig but scolding the dog)
Pretending to scold one person while actually scolding another person.