Story Behind the Famous Chinese Phrase: Zengzi Kills the Pig

Closeup of a large pig in a pasture.

The Chinese phrase 'Zengzi kills the pig' comes from a story that teaches children to be honest and trustworthy. (Image: via Pixabay)

Zengzi, a Chinese philosopher and student (scholar) of Confucius, was well known and often quoted in connection with one of the most famous Chinese phrases: Zengzi kills the pig. This is a story about teaching children to be honest and trustworthy.

One day, Zengzi’s wife was about to go shopping when her little son grabbed her clothing and pleaded with tears in his eyes to go with her. After a while, Zengzi’s wife said:

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Statue of Zengzi, famous for the phrase Zengzi kills the pig..
Statue of Zengzi (R) and his mother. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

Zengzi kills the pig

The boy agreed and released her hand, tempted by the memory of the delicious pork dish he’d be eating that night. When she returned, she saw Zengzi with a knife in his hand trying to catch their only pig. She was surprised and tried to stop him. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I’m going to kill the pig,” Zengzi replied. “But why? Today is no special occasion; we should leave it for the spring festival celebrations,” she said.

“Didn’t you make a promise to our son that you would prepare a braised pork dish for him?” asked Zengzi. His wife laughed:

But Zengzi wasn’t laughing. “How can you deceive our son? You know he is very little, and we as parents need to set an example. If you lie to him, you are teaching him to deceive others. Do you think that this is the right way for a mother to teach her son, showing him she can’t be trusted?

With these words, he stabbed his knife into the pig and killed it. This is how the phrase “Zengzi kills the pig” originated.

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