Animals Are Sentient and Intelligent Beings

A Friesian calf in front of a hay bale.

The heartbroken calf wailed and mooed in grief for many days afterward. (Image: Stephen Denness via Dreamstime)

Stories of animals’ interactions with humans have been told since antiquity. For example, Ji Yun, chief editor of Siku Quanshu during the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), recorded many fascinating animal stories in his book Yuewei Cottage Notes. Ji Yun’s stories demonstrate that animals are indeed sentient beings with intelligence and feelings.

A calf seeks retribution after it grows strong

In his book, Ji Yun recalled a story told to him by his nanny when he was 8 years old. The nanny said of a cow that could not plow the land because it was crippled due to an injury. As a result, the owner felt the cow was useless to him and sold it to a butcher in the neighborhood.

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Shortly after, the cow gave birth to a calf at the butcher’s place. No sooner was the calf weaned from its mother than the butcher slaughtered the mother in front of the little calf. The heartbroken calf wailed and mooed in grief for many days afterward.

After this event, every time the calf saw the butcher, it ran away as quickly as possible. If the butcher caught up with the calf, it would lie on the ground and tremble with fear as if begging for its life. Seeing it was scared, the heartless butcher often chased the calf deliberately, just for fun.

As the calf grew older, it became stronger and stronger. But it remained fearful of the butcher, who tormented it without mercy.

Several years passed, and the calf grew into a large, strong bull with large and very sharp horns. Then, one afternoon, the bull saw the butcher napping on his side on a bench. Before he knew what had happened, the bull charged toward the butcher and pierced his heart with its sharp horn. The bull then ran off, escaping from the butcher’s place.

This story shows that animals do have feelings and intelligence. The young calf knew it was small and weak. Therefore, it learned to endure. But it sought retribution when it grew into a solid and robust bull. It did not act recklessly, but it chose the right time to strike at the butcher to avenge its mother’s death. 

A brown bull stands placidly in a green pasture.
Another story tells of an official who had a mighty bull. (Image: APPhotograph via Pixabay)

A loyal bull protects its young owner

Another story tells of an official who had a mighty bull. The official’s young son played with the bull daily and liked to climb on its horns and playfully pull its tail. The two were friendly, and the child was not afraid of the bull when it sniffed or licked him.

When the child grew older, the parents let him herd the bull. The boy and the bull were together all day long and became inseparable.

Their bond continued to grow over several years. Then, one day, the son was out with the bull as usual when a strange thing happened. The bull took off as quickly as possible and ran like crazy back home. It screamed, jumped in front of the door, and slammed it with its horns. The father opened the door and saw the bull covered in blood.

The bull did not step into the house; instead, it ran toward the road it had come from. The father knew something must have happened to his son, so he quickly followed the bull to where it led him.

When they arrived at the location, the father found that an object had crushed his son’s head, and he lay bloody and dead on the ground. A dead man lay beside his son, with his belly and gut cut open, with a bat on the ground nearby. Upon investigation, it turned out that the man was a bandit from Sanguo Village.

The father realized the robber had probably killed his son in an attempt to steal the bull, and the bull tore open his belly with its horns to avenge his young owner. 

The bull, albeit an animal, understood what went on. So not only did the bull seek to protect the son and avenge his death, but it also ran home to notify the father.

A horse searches for its mother

In ancient China, there lived a businessman from the northwest named Li Shengting. When he was in the market for a horse, he was fortunate enough to buy one that had an easy and gentle temperament.

But the businessman soon discovered that the horse had one unusual trait ― whenever it saw a white horse on the road, it would stop in its tracks and stare at the horse. Even if the owner whipped the horse, it still would not move forward. 

Animals are sentient beings.
When the horse saw a white horse from far away, it would speed toward the white horse as quickly as it could. (Image: via Facebook)

When the horse saw a white horse from far away, it would speed toward the white horse as quickly as it could. No matter how hard the owner pulled the reins in to stop the horse, it continued to race ahead until it finally caught up to the white horse.

One day, Li Shengting ran into the horse’s original owner and could not help but ask him about the horse’s strange behavior. He was most surprised to learn that the horse’s mother was a white horse. He thought: “It’s no wonder he is always looking for a white horse!”

It seemed that this good horse was consciously searching for its mother, resulting in its unusual behavior. 

These are just a few of the fantastic stories recorded by Ji Yun. There are many other tales about the loyalty, bravery, intelligence, and memory of animals. Perhaps you have some remarkable stories of your own to tell!

We should never forget that animals are sentient beings to be treated with kindness and compassion, just as we should do with all sentient beings. The world would be a better place for it.

Translated by Elaine

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