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From “The Maverick Pig,” included in the collection Pleasure of Thinking, which was published this month by Astra House. Translated from the Chinese.

At the commune, I fed pigs and herded oxen. Had there not been anyone around to manage them, those two animals would have known exactly how to live. They would have wandered around eating and drinking as they pleased, and when spring came they would have looked for a little romance. Of course in such a scenario their standard of living would have been very low; it would have been totally unremarkable. Then, people came along who sought to give their lives a little more purpose: every ox and every pig was given a livelihood. For the majority of them, these livelihoods were quite tragic: the former’s was to work and the latter’s was to grow fatter. Human management has made pigs as miserable as can be. But they still accepted it: pigs are pigs after all.

Managing every aspect of life is something of a specialty among humans. I know that in ancient Greece, in Sparta, they managed themselves into absolute bores. The purpose was to turn the men into intrepid warriors and the women into reproductive machines. The former became fighting cocks and the latter became sows. These are very interesting species indeed, but my impression was that they didn’t much like their lives. But so what if they didn’t? It is very hard to change one’s fate.

The following is the story of a pig who was unlike the rest. When I started feeding it, itwas around four or five years old. Nominally, it was a meat pig. It was long and black and lean, with a pair of bright shining eyes. The fellow was as agile as a mountain goat, easily leaping over the meter-tall fence; it could even jump onto the roof of the barn—it was a bit like a cat in that regard—which was why it was able to roam around all the time and hardly spend any time in the pigsty. All the intellectual youths who fed pigs treated it like a pet.

It was a male, so it should have been castrated. But if you tried, even if you hid the hog knife behind your back, it would have been able to smell it. It would have stared at you with its big eyes and grunted ferociously. I always fed it the rice bran porridge first; only when it had eaten enough did I mix the rest with weeds to feed the other pigs. The other pigs would get jealous and become rowdy. The entire farm wailed and howled but the pig and I didn’t care. When it had filled its belly, it would jump on the roof or try to imitate different sounds. It knew how to make a car noise and a tractor noise, all very convincingly; sometimes when it vanished for days I assumed it had gone to look for sows in the nearby villages. We had sows here too, locked up in the pigsty where excessive farrowing had left their bodies misshapen. They were dirty and smelly. It wasn’t interested in them; the village sows were better-looking. It left behind all sorts of tales, but my time feeding pigs was short so my knowledge of them is limited. In short, all the intellectual youths who fed it loved it. They loved its unapologetic attitude and the way it lived life to the fullest. The country folks weren’t quite as romantic. They said the pig was deviant. The leadership hated it. My feeling for it was beyond love—I respected it, so much so that I ignored the fact that I was more than a dozen years older than it and called it “big brother pig.”

As was mentioned, this brother pig was able to imitate sounds. I assume it had tried to speak like a human but wasn’t able to—had it been successful, we would have poured our hearts out to each other. But it couldn’t be blamed. The vocal ranges of pigs and humans simply differ too much.

At one point, brother pig learned to make a steam whistle sound, which led to some problems. Nearby was a sugar factory that blew its steam whistle once before noon when the workers changed shifts. Every day at ten in the morning the pig would jump on the roof and imitate the steam whistle. When the people in the field heard it, they returned to the factory—this was an hour and a half before their shift was over. To be frank, this wasn’t entirely the pig’s fault; after all, it wasn’t a kettle and the sound it made differed from that of the steam whistle in important ways, but the workers insisted they couldn’t tell the difference. The leadership convened a meeting where they labeled it a counterrevolutionary who was ruining spring planting; they needed to take authoritarian measures. It wasn’t as if the previous leadership hadn’t tried—a hundred men couldn’t catch it. Dogs were no use: brother pig ran like a torpedo, easily knocking a dog back a meter or more. But this time, they upped the ante. The political instructor led roughly twenty men, armed with all sorts of handguns; the deputy instructor led over a dozen men armed with old-fashioned muskets, and they went out in two groups to hunt the pig in the clearing behind the farm. My heart was conflicted: considering the bond we had, I should have charged out with two hog knives and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with it to the end, but I realized that in doing so I would have been upturning tradition—after all, it was only a pig. Also, I didn’t have the courage to rebel against the leadership. I watched from the sidelines. Brother pig’s serenity won my total admiration: it calmly hid between both the handguns’ and the muskets’ lines of fire; no matter how much people yelled and dogs barked, it never left that center line. This way, if the men with handguns fired, they would kill the men with muskets, and vice versa; if both sides fired at the same time, they would have all died. As for the pig, it was small enough that it would probably have been fine. It went around in circles until it found an opening and charged through; it ran with abandon. After that, I only saw it once more among the sugarcane. It had grown tusks. It recognized me, but it didn’t let me get close. Its reticence broke my heart, but I understood its desire to keep a distance from those who had sinister intentions.

I am forty years old now. Other than this pig, I have yet to see anyone with such a total disregard for the life that was set out for them. On the contrary, I have seen many people who try to manage other people’s lives and many people who are fine with letting their lives be managed. For that reason, I continue to think about the pig that went its own way.

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July 2023

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