Explainer: Everything You Need to Know About the Year of the Pig

By Yuzhou Hu, February 2, 2019

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The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.

There are many legends as to how the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac came to be chosen. Most go something like this.

The ancient Jade Emperor called a meeting of all the animals to decide who would be honored with the assignment of a zodiac year. He waited on the banks of a river and decided that he would award the years to the animals in the order they managed to make it across.

Some used cunning and trickery to secure passage (like the Rat who hitched a ride aboard the Ox, or the Snake who hid inside the Horses hoof) while others relied on their natural abilities (like the Rabbit who hopped from stone to stone, or the Dragon who simply flew). 

One by one, each animal made its way across and pretty soon 11 spots on the Chinese zodiac had been claimed. But where was the Pig?

The Jade Emperor waited and waited, but no animal was in sight. Just when he was about to call it a day, he was interrupted by a squeal as the Pig made its way across the river. After exiting the water and strolling up the bank, the tardy swine became the final creature of the zodiac cycle.  

According to legend, the Pig was late because it got hungry halfway through the race and took a detour to hunt for some grub. After filling its grumbling belly, the Pig took a nap.

Despite the oinker’s lazy approach to the big race, the stout creature still managed to make it across the finish line and earn a spot on the emperor’s 12-year calendar. (The spot could have belonged to the Cat; however, the Cat was tricked by the Rat and overslept on the day of the race).

Based on this legend, some people began to link the Pig with unflattering character traits like laziness and gluttony. Although, in more recent times, the Pig has gradually become a sign of fortune and affluence.

Pig Birth Years

1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019

What are they like?

Gentle, friendly, just, straightforward, kindhearted, generous, diligent, romantic, impulsive, stubborn, temperamental and gullible

Pigs make excellent...

Teachers, singers, dancers, farmers, actors, veterinarians, tour guides, general managers, doctors, government officials, police officers and children’s cartoon characters (looking at you, Peppa Pig)

Most compatible with...

Rabbits and Goats

Mortal enemies with...


Pig idioms

Due to the Pig’s lazy nature, the number of Chinese idioms featuring the Pig is limited, and most come with negative connotations. You can find some examples here:

猪突豨勇, zhū tū xī yǒng“As courageous as pigs and as brave as boars.” Meaning: Those who are too reckless to think of possible results. 

一龙一猪, yī lóng yī zhū: “One is as successful as the Dragon, and the other is as incompetent as the Pig.” Meaning: The differences between two people are too obvious to be ignored.

牧猪奴戏, mù zhū nú xì: “Things only slaves who raise pigs would do.” Meaning: Gambling.

猪朋狗友, zhū péng gǒu yǒu: “Pigs for friends and dogs for pals.” Meaning: Disreputable companions.

人怕出名猪怕壮, rén pà chū míng zhū pà zhuàng: “Fame begets troubles for people just as fat incurs butchering for pigs.” Meaning: One should sometimes learn to keep a low profile.

Fellow Pigs

Ronald Reagan, Henry Alfred Kissinger, Julie Andrews, Luciano Pavarotti, Alain Delon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hillary Clinton, Earvin Magic Johnson, Patty Jenkins, Emily Blunt, Kate Mara, Pepe and Chris Hemsworth.

Click here for more The Explainer.

With files from Daniel Plafker.

[Cover image via Unsplash]

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