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Swine Fever: Celebrating Chinese History’s Most Famous Pigs

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The Year of the Pig is upon us. Ordinarily, calling somebody a pig would be both impolite and speciesist. But there have been many famous pigs in history including OJ Simpson, Tupac Shakur, Hillary Clinton, Amy Winehouse, Julian Assange, the Dalai Lama, Elton John, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Julie Andrews, Mark Wahlberg, Luciano Pavarotti, and Stephen King. Now that’s a guest list to start a party.

Chinese history has no shortage of famous pigs either, including these historical celebrities of swinish birth:

Zhao Kuangyin (aka Song Taizu), Emperor

Birthday: March 21, 927

Zhao Kuangyin was a military official under the later Zhou Dynasty, one of a series of middling successor states which emerged in China following the dissolution of the Tang Empire. According to the story, in 960, Zhao Kuangyin became emperor following a midnight coup by his army against the Zhou emperor. Despite the fact that Zhao Kuangyin may or may not have been in the middle of an alcoholic blackout at the time, he accepted his troops’ support and rallied them against the throne. Claiming the Mandate of Heaven, Zhao Kuangyin unified much of what is today central China under the new Song Dynasty.

Zheng He, Admiral

 

Birthday: 1371

Possibly the most celebrated pig in Chinese history, Zheng He led the famous Ming Treasure Fleets which cruised the Indian Ocean Basin in the 14th century. Born in Yunnan to a Hui Muslim family as Ma He and castrated as a youth, the future admiral became a close confidant and battle companion for the future Yongle Emperor [r. 1402-1424]. Looking for a worthy ambassador to spread his glory and collect tribute, the Yongle Emperor chose the physically imposing (in height and girth anyway) Zheng He to command his fleet.

Qiu Jin, Revolutionary

Birthday: November 8, 1875

Qiu Jin was one of the most famous female figures to emerge in the struggle to overthrow the Qing Empire. Qiu Jin fled an unhappy arranged marriage to become a writer, editor, provocateur, rebel, and all-around badass. Following a stint in Japan, she returned home to become an educator while still editing and writing to promote feminism and republicanism in China. She was arrested and tortured by Qing officials in 1907 and was beheaded in her hometown at age 31.

Chiang Kai-shek, Generalissimo

Birthday: October 31, 1887

Forever known for playing Hillary to Mao’s Trump, Chiang Kai-shek was the most powerful figure in the Kuomintang and the Republic of China from 1927 until his death in 1975. The man US general Joseph Stillwell referred to as “peanut” and “Generalissimo Cash my Check” wasn’t always a great judge of character but did manage to lead China through some of its darkest hours.

Qian Xuesen, Rocket Scientist

Birthday: December 11, 1911

The father of modern rocket science in China got his start as a grad student from Hangzhou studying at MIT before moving on to the California Institute of Technology. While at Cal Tech, Qian and his colleagues made important advances in rocketry and jet propulsion during World War II. A future career as head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was cut short during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Stripped of his security clearance, Qian returned to China where his research helped the newly founded PRC to make giant strides in their missile technology.

Related:

It’s Not Rocket Science, Except When it is: The Strange Case of Qian Xuesen

Chen Guangcheng, Activist

Born: November 12, 1971

Blind from an early age, Chen taught himself law and became well-known for his advocacy work on behalf of women’s rights, land rights, and protecting China’s rural poor, especially in his home province of Shandong. In 2005, he organized a class action lawsuit against the authorities in Linyi County in that province over alleged abuses in the enforcement of State family planning policies. A frequent target of harassment and physical violence by authorities, Chen served four years in prison and then lived under house arrest until 2012 when he escaped and fled to the US Embassy in Beijing. He now lives in exile in the United States.

Wang Hao (II), Table Tennis Champion

Born: December 15, 1983

Liu Xiang, Hurdles Champion

Born July 13, 1983

Lin Dan, Badminton Champion

Born: October 14, 1983

A trio of China’s most famous athletes is Pigs Class of 1983. Former World #1 Table Tennis star Wang Hao II (as opposed to the other table tennis Wang Hao born in 1966) won World Singles honors in Yokohama in 2009, beating former world champ Wang Liqin 4-0. He was ranked #1 in the world by the ITTF for 27 consecutive months between 2007 and 2009 and was also a three-time Olympic silver medalist (2004, 2008, and 2012).

Lin Dan was a two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion in badminton and became the first athlete to win all nine major titles in badminton.

Liu Xiang rocketed to fame after winning gold and matching the world record in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Injuries derailed his Olympic dreams in 2008 and 2012 leading Liu to announce his retirement from racing in 2015.

Jeremiah Jenne
    Jeremiah Jenne is a writer, educator, and historian based in Beijing.

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