Today, China’s capital is a city bustling with domesticated life, whatever shape or form it may take.
The “pet craze” in China’s major cities harkens back to the nineties, when pets became more popular among an increasingly affluent Chinese middle class. The once ubiquitous Pekingese dogs on city streets have been replaced by many exotic breeds, and species.
Among these pets on walks is Laifu, a big pot-bellied pig that lives in a high end district of Beijing.
[Li: His given name is “Laifu”, his nickname is “Handsome”, his courtesy name is “Smelly”.]
To his owner, he is a pampered and perfect child, and to him, his owner is his mother. For her child, his mother wants only the best. She hired a couple from Henan who had experience raising pigs to be Laifu’s nannies, who feed him as much as he wants to eat.
[Li: He eats everything! Like a small child, he likes snacks. He has it all. Bananas, apples, cantaloupes, peaches, watermelons, all of that.]
When informed by health experts that her adorable child is overweight, Laifu’s mother decided to put Laifu on a daily diet and exercise schedule.
[Li: Now he eats bran. Right now he is trying to lose weight.]
Every morning and afternoon, he wakes up in his own apartment basement quarters and together they go on a walk. She also arranged a shoemaker to come measure his feet in order to protect his hooves from suffering under the excess weight.
[Li: When I first came, on his forehead there was a faint flower pattern. Later, gradually it became more obvious. I too him outside on a walk, and an old woman came up to me and said, “Oh, this is a Golden Pig! He will let you get rich! Make a fortune! This is a golden pig, with a forehead that looks like ancient money.” When I got home, I told his mother.]
To people in the neighborhood, Laifu is a novelty, and somewhat of a celebrity.
[Li: Very famous. He’s all over the Internet. Cars in the neighborhood, when I’m talking him for a walk, the people on the car will stop at the crossroads and call out, “Laifu!” When we go outside, people will also call, “Laifu!” I don’t know how they recognize him. They all know he is called “Laifu.”]
Like a human, Laifu enjoys music.
[Li: Yes, he loves music. He loves listening to Jay Chou’s “Qing Hua Ci.” If you let him listen to it, he will snort happily. He feels very comfortable.]
Laifu can be happy, and he can be sad. Like a dog, he expresses his joy by wagging his tail.
[Li: When he’s not happy, he produces a low moan to show his unhappiness. When he’s happy, his tail wags to show how happy he is, wagging this way, wagging that way, wagging up and down, wagging in circles. Very happy.]
Nonetheless, the people who take care of Laifu all consider him a child and part of the family.
[Li: Laifu can understand people. When you call him, he answers. Like a child. All day.
Li’s husband: Laifu, I look at him as a child. Actually, he’s just like a child.]
And although owning a big pig in a big city seems like an unusual choice, it is a mutually beneficial relationship that has brought Laifu’s mother great happiness.
[Li: For his mother, after Laifu arrived, her business started doing very well. That’s because pigs are fortune-bearers. Her state of mind also improved. Every day she would keep Laifu company. In her free time, she’d go downstairs to join him, and she’d be very happy.]
With his stomach swinging like a pendulum as if marking the passage of time, the ever-expanding Laifu is perfect example of China’s expanding pet economy, and the solace and companionship a pet may bring its owner in an urban environment. His name means to “Bring Fortune,” and when the first fatty folds appeared on his face his mother took this to be a very auspicious sign of good times to come.
The booming pet industry in China is attributed to many social changes including the everyday stress in an increasingly competitive urban environment, the one-child family planning policy, a growing aging population, and improved living standards.