One of the more controversial festivals that takes place in Taiwan is the Pigs of God festival held by the Tsuhsih Temple in Sanxia, a small town close to Taipei. It takes place on the 6th day of the lunar year, is dedicated to Master Chingshui’s birthday and attracts tens of thousands of spectators. The main feature of the event, and the reason for the controversy, is that it’s essentially a competition to raise the fattest pig. This year, a new record size was set with the heaviest animal weighing in at a staggering 1061 kilograms (2334lbs). Chen Hsien-teh, the owner of the winning pig, fed it with 15kg of oatmeal and rice every morning and night for a period of 22 months.
Of the 126 temples in Taiwan that are dedicated to Master Chingshui, the Tsuhsih temple is the only one still practicing the fat pig contest. Animal rights groups lead the call against the practice, and have long campaigned for it to be ended. According to Chen Yu-min, director of Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) the
pigs have become so fat that their whole bodies are sick and paralyzed, so that they are unable to move at all
Prior to the event, the governmental Council of Agriculture issued a press release urging the use of normal-sized animals in religious ceremonies, and also suggested that rice, noodles or flowers could be formed into the shape of a pig and used in place of an actual animal.
During the day of the festival, a parade is held through the streets of Sanxia that features the pigs, marching bands, Ba Jia Jiang and lion dances. The pigs are eventually displayed in the courtyard of the temple, with the ritually slaughtered meat ultimately being distributed to the pilgrims.
On a personal note I have to say that as a cultural photographer this is quite a fascinating event to document but as a vegetarian of 15 years I hope they end it soon.
The temple management organization has stated that the use of fat pigs will be phased out with 2017 being the last year the competition will be held.