One of the most controversial of Taiwan’s traditional religious practices is the rearing of “God Pigs” (神豬; shénzhū) – unfortunate hogs that are fed to grotesque size, often so large they can no longer walk. The pigs are used as offerings to the gods – it’s a particularly Hakka custom, used mostly at the Yimin Festival when literally hundreds are sacrificed. Pigs are killed the day before, by knife, and the carcass stretched over a metal cage so that it looks disturbingly similar in size to a small bus. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out why animal rights activists get upset about this: cases of force-feeding, alleged ill-treatment and the relatively simplistic method of slaughter have led to increased calls for a ban over the years. Hakka groups say that it’s a traditional part of their culture and that the pigs are well cared for. While it’s true that the tradition of offering pigs goes back to the 1830s, the official “contest” to see who has the biggest and intensive, modern factory methods are relatively new; many pigs are actually bought by Hakka families at the end of the fattening process (which can take two years) when they already sport monstrous proportions.

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