Vladimir Putin is on a roll. He has been having a fine time poking the US in the eye over the Edward Snowden kerfuffle, but at a news conference he declined to comment: “In any case, I’d rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams but little wool.”
That reminded me that it’s been too long since we talked about pigs. Just because we’re Frog in a Well doesn’t mean that we can only talk about frogs – in fact, pigs are our, well… bread and butter. I will modestly call attention to my piece, “Pigs, Shit, and Chinese History, or, Happy Year of the Pig!” Frog In a Well (January 27 2007). You can find several more by clicking the “Pigs” link on the right hand column of this page.
Putin seems to be using one of the many, many colorful pig sayings. My father, who grew up on a farm, had a bunch of them, mostly unprintable. Wikipedia is good at accumulating this sort of thing. A succession of people edited the article “Lipstick on a Pig,” which gives examples of usage going back decades, but the Wikipedia article “Pig in a Poke” is even better. Many languages have a rough equivalent. It turns out that in Latvia you say “Buy a cat in a sack.” Who knew? Wikipedia “Pigs in Popular Culture” has an extensive section of pig-related idioms.
Right. But what about China?
Wikipedia has many faults. It is a great grab bag, not an encyclopedia. But, as the computer software people like to say, “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” China and pigs is a good example. If you want to have some idiotic fun, go to Wikipedia, any page, and in the upper right hand corner you will find a “Search” box. Enter “~Pigs + China” (without the quotation marks). The tilde (~) means that you don’t want articles with this word in the title, but all Wikipedia pages with the following words in it.
Amazing. I got 7,259 hits. Of course, this includes duplicates, off the wall irrelevances, rock songs, and pig iron, but also a fascinating variety of things you would not have thought to look up: “Coprophagia”, “Dutch Pacification Campaign on Formosa,” as well as straightforward finds such as “Science and technology of the Song Dynasty.“And that’s less than a dozen of the hits, leaving more than 7,000 to go.
This search, random though it may be, is a dramatic way to see the central role that pigs played in Chinese history.