Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Breeding a Better China: Pigs, Practices, and Place in a Chinese County, 1929-1937 *

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Breeding a Better China: Pigs, Practices, and Place in a Chinese County, 1929-1937 *

Article excerpt

It was a warm morning in November, the third day of the 1930 agricultural fair in Dingxian, Hebei Province. (1) Li Luojin made his way from his nearby village to the fairgrounds. The crowd had dwindled to 6,000 from 10,000 on the first day, but the air was still full of excitement. Li had a special reason to be excited. The previous month a representative of the Mass Education Movement (MEM; Zhonghua pingmin jiaoyu cujin hui) had come to the village ringing a bell and beating a drum, inviting all and sundry to enter their best produce in the competitions that were to be held at the fair. Li had been raising a hybrid pig, a cross between a native sow and a Poland China boar (an American breed promoted by MEM). Li's pig was not yet a year old and already weighed more than 266 pounds, at least twice the weight of a full-grown native boar (Gamble 1968, xxii). He had entered the pig in the competition and would soon learn whether it had won a prize.

Li threaded through the throng, past the grain exhibits, and into the sheep and pig section. On his right someone was crying, "Step right up and see this little sheep. The sheep milk is fresh and healthy. Have a try!" On his left another person called, "Step right up and see my old pig. He's hot to breed, and there's no harm in trying his services!" The barkers' calls may have been a tad vulgar, but they were a fitting entry nonetheless to the main attraction: seven pens of pigs--small native pigs, enormous Poland China pigs, and intermediate hybrids. There were piglets, feeder pigs, boars, and sows, and in the fifth pen the famed 572-pound Poland China boar that dwarfed a 106-pound native boar The crowd around this pen was especially thick, and, after poking his head in to see the famous porker, Li moved quickly along to the main stage.

Already that morning, the stage had been the site of one of Dingxian's celebrated theatrical productions. Various members of MEM had given speeches on hygiene, planting fruit trees, and other topics of import, and the crowd had been treated to singing and dancing. It was time for the award ceremony. Representatives of the county government, bearing some of the prizes to be given, joined Yan Yangchu, the leader of MEM and an internationally known literacy promoter, to do the honors. The largest melon and bok choy were displayed and their growers rewarded, the crowd cheering for each prize.

Finally came the announcement for which they had all been waiting. Li Luojin had indeed raised the finest pig and would receive the best prize of all. The prize lay in a small crate, brought up on stage for all to see: a 40-pound male purebred Poland China piglet. What a fortune could be made from such a pig when it grew old enough to be at stud! The audience erupted in a thunder of cheers and laughter. And then, all of a sudden, Li's prize broke free from its crate and ran off--to the delight of the crowd, which quickly began pursuit. Yan Yangchu tried again and again to speak, but he could not be heard over the uproar As Yan later recalled, he was forced to "recognize the stronger attraction across the field, and wait for the return of an audience to finish his speech" (Hayford 1990, 91).

The exotic pig had stolen the show from one of China's most prominent figures. This may come as no surprise to those who have flocked to the prize pig exhibits at agricultural fairs around the world. But the pigs of Dingxian were special even for pigs. They were the center of attention for a wide range of social actors during a time of great transformation, or at least a time in which "transformation" itself was the agenda of the day.

SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND LOCAL CONDITIONS

A case study of agricultural reform can examine the roles of local material conditions and social practices on one hand and supposedly universal principles and methods deriving from Western science on the other. …

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