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February 19, 2007

In A Pig's Eye

The New Year has arrived in China. 


And from Shenzhen to Dalian, and all points in-between, the Chinese are taking a couple of weeks off; many journeying by train  and bus to their home towns, pockets filled with Yuan from their construction jobs in Shanghai or Beijing, and their arms, backs and pull carts burdened down with everything from bottles of antibiotics (not available in rural areas) to flat screen TVs and  packages of mooncakes.


This is the year of “The Pig.”


But during these two weeks of New Year celebration, the Big Shots in Beijing have banned  pig photos or illustrations on the national CCT-TV network, newspapers, and displays by Starbucks, McDonalds and Wal-Mart.


Seems the Chinese – rather suddenly – have become politically correct and sensitive to religious diversity.


There are about 20 million Muslim Chinese  – about 3 percent of China’s population.  And – here’s the punch line – Muslims consider pigs unclean.  They're not alone in that religious view; but much more -- shall I use the operative word -- f-a-n-a-t-i-cal -- about it.


They detest pigs. They don’t eat pigs.  The only good pig is no pig.


Of course, don’t tell that to most Chinese.  800 million or so rural Chinese consider pigs part of the family – they live right outside the front door of the family home.  The smell and sounds of pig life are an everpresent and reassuring part of the family dinner menu and atmosphere. China slaughters more than 400 million pigs a year --it's the biggest pork producer in the world. (Pigs represent honesty and virility to most Chinese.  To bear a child in The Year of the Pig is considered good fortune.)


What’s a bit perplexing about all this is that the Beijing bureaucrats right up through the 1990s, persecuted Chinese Muslims – fearing their religious and separatist tendencies.


While living in China for three years, I also heard stories about how Chinese would kill their sick pigs and then stuff them down the water wells of their Muslim Chinese neighbors.  And how Chinese restaurants would be sure to put pork in Muslim Chinese’s food.


All of this, of course, has nothing to do with China’s voracious appetite for another staple – OIL.


Believe that?


In a pig’s eye.