Harmony and Good Harvest

Date:2019-02-25      Source:capitalmuseum.org.cn

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Date: January 29 - March 17, 2019 (closed on Mondays)
Venue: Waterscape Courtyard
Theme: Harmony and Good Harvest: Celebrating the Spring Festival in the Year of Pig


The Spring Festival is the most solemn traditional festival in China. Returning home to celebrate the festival with one's family members is a fundamental obligation for all Chinese people. During this time, hundreds of millions of them are traveling the length and breadth of the country on an eagerly-awaited journey home for family reunion, demonstrating the inheritance of traditional family values and the strong cohesion of the nation. Notably, the pig is an indispensable part of the festival, which can be seen from the Chinese character "豕" (pig), which helps form the word "家" (family).This signals that ancient Chinese people had changed their productive and economic formative habits from migration to settlement in the agrarian age. The pig, as one of the twelve animals related to the 12 two-hour periods of each day, and the last of the Twelve Earthly Branches, represents completion of a 12-year cycle and the start of another. This is so similar to the Chinese people, who return home at the turn of the lunar year and leave on a new journey after it.

I. One Life and Growth in Nature

What is family? The Chinese character "家" (family) corresponds to  in Chinese Oracle Bone Inscriptions. As the character pattern shows, it depicts the idea of a pig (豕) inside a house. Together the character represents a stable residence with pigs as an important part of the livestock, meaning that Chinese people no longer engaged in endless migration but had settled down to lead a peaceful and rich life. However, some scholars consider the character"家" as meaning a place to offer sacrifices to the ancestors, basing their arguments on some of the inscriptions of the ruins of Yin, the capital (1350 – 1046 BCE) of the Shang (Yin) Dynasty where archaeologists have found many oracle bones and oracle bone scripts. Others experts have suggested that the character was treated as interchangeable with the character "嘉" in ancient times, the latter character meaning marriage. All in all, it depicts different aspects of people's productive activities and life in an agrarian society. Pigs were of great importance in the development course of agricultural civilization. It was the material basis, a sign of family wealth, a holy sacrifice carrying people's emotion and hope, as well as a symbol for families to strengthen ties and continue long-held values.

II. Favorable Weather and Good Harvest

About ten thousand years ago, humans underwent a transition from a migratory lifestyle to a settled existence. From then on, the focus was on farming activities. The growth of crops depended on natural conditions, such as topography, soil quality, heat, light, and water. Sufficient rainfall was critical to agricultural production. Through observation, ancient people found that certain habits of pigs were closely related to rain. From the biological properties, pigs' sweat glands are underdeveloped, so they often use water or mud to relieve the internal heat during hot weather, especially during the muggy period before the summer rains. Ancient Chinese people called this phenomenon a"swine bath". According to the remarks appended to lines in The Book of Changes, once, a wedding procession encountered swine covered with mud, and then it rained. A line in The Book of Songs says"There are swine, with their legs white, all wading through streams. The moon also is in the Hyades, which will bring greater rain." There was also a documented method of predicting rainfall by observing the shape of dark clouds, which was colloquially called"Black swine crossing a river". As recorded in the Oracle Bone Inscriptions, swine and sheep were used as sacrifices to the clouds. In the ancient rain-praying ceremony, swine were often used as the token to communicate with the gods. Ancient Chinese people, through observing heaven and earth and combining the relevant phenomena with astronomy, horoscopy and divination, endowed swine with specific symbolic meaning - hai (亥,last of the Twelve Earthly Branches), the direction of north, the color of black, the kan position (corresponding to"water") in the Eight Trigrams. From the Jade Pig Loong of the Neolithic Age to the Thunder God portrayed as a figure with a pig's head and a snake's body, and from the incarnation of the River God to the celestial being"Marshal Tianpeng", the image of pig gradually became abstracted and sublimated, endowed with magical power to control rain, and bearing people's aspirations for favorable weather and a good harvest.

III. Time and Life Cycle

At the apex of the sky, the sun and the moon meet twelve times a year, and it takes about 12 years for Jupiter to complete a single orbit of the sun. On the vast land, crops ripen once a year, connoting the rules of nature and phenology and the rhythm of people's productive activities and overall life. To record this cycle, the ancient Chinese people successively adopted the Jupiter cycle, the counter-Jupiter annual system, and finally determined to use the Sexagenary Cycle Calendar. When the twelve animals of the 12 two-hour periods were made corresponding to the Earthly Branches and endowed with the meanings of the year of birth and Zodiac, each year acquired lively representations. Since humans began to settle down, pigs entered their life, and were gradually enshrined. With their plump body and easeful lifestyle, pigs became the symbol of wealth, abundance and good fortune in Chinese folk culture. The Zodiac Pig, as the boundary point of time and life cycle, marks an end, and also a beginning.


Over the past 2,000 years, whenever a new life was born on this land housing an ancient civilization, it would be bestowed with a gift enshrining the time and people's faith – the Zodiac. Specific to traditional Chinese culture, this was a common imagination that carried Chinese people's aspiration and dreams for the unknown life to come. Besides, it witnessed the dialectical thinking of humans when they were striving to communicate with both heaven and earth, and the final pursuit of harmonious coexistence among all creatures. If the pig entering human families marks the end of a primitive civilization, the harmony and well-being of each family emerged from thousands of years of toil, then the harmonious coexistence between humans and nature is the cultural gene of sustainable development! Let us ring out the Year of the Dog and ring in the Year of the Pig, while remembering that time stops for no one and our lost youth will never return!