Radicals and pigs

We are very lucky to have a wonderful painting by Jane Dwight of two pigs in our sitting room. It may seem a strange subject to have up on the wall but we both loved the painting when we first saw it and bought it without a second thought. I often sit and look at it – there is something powerful in the strokes and the composition that is sublime.

In contrast, I found a painting from 13 years ago which I had forgotten about:

Boar in the snow by Paul Maslowski 2007
Boar in the snow by Paul Maslowski 2007

I have also recently been asked twice about pigs so thought I would put some thoughts down in a blog post to try and answer some of the queries.

I wanted to start by looking at the Calligraphy for Boar. So why is the Calligraphy for Boar on our Zodiac Animals page so different from what Google or other translation engines throw up?

First of all, I think it is worth reminding ourselves that like all languages, Chinese is in the process of evolving. This means that there will always be many ways of writing words and phrases especially when slang terms are involved. However, some of these will become the accepted way of doing things…

The characters in the Zodiac are pretty much set so when looking at the Boar, this is represented by the character shǐ:

Chinese Calligraphy - Hog swine shi3
Chinese Calligraphy – Hog swine shi3

However, if you look up Boar or Pig on Google you will get zhū:

Chinese Calligraphy - Boar Pig Hog zhu1
Chinese Calligraphy – Boar Pig Hog zhu1

What you will notice is the left part of the character which is the radical for four-legged animal, which is a very big part of the Zodiac character…

It is worth noting that if you write either character on your painting it is perfectly acceptable but should you write the former character it links more closely to the Zodiac and provides a better link to Chinese culture.

Having said that, should you wish to write piglet there are many ways of writing this. The most literal would probably be little pig i.e. xiǎo zhū and this would be fine. However, if you wrote the following this would be more what parents may affectionately say to their children in China:

Chinese Calligraphy - Piglet zhu1 zhu1
Chinese Calligraphy – Piglet zhu1 zhu1

Literally pig pig this is piglet (zhū zhū).

Piglets by Claire Seaton 2019

Having said all the above, please don’t assume that the Chinese characters are set throughout the Chinese world. If in doubt, and you are able to ask a Chinese person, ask. What is there to lose?

The best thing to say is that should you not have access to Chinese speakers and writers please write something. It is always best to have a go and Chinese readers will appreciate the effort. Some of the best conversations I have had about paintings have been because my Calligraphy was either completely incorrect or almost there. If it is almost there people want to find out what was meant and are usually happy to offer solutions or say how much they enjoy the contrast…

Here’s hoping this inspires you to take another look at pigs, or other animals in the Chinese Zodiac. If you do have pigs you have painted either previously with us, or because of this post, please get in touch as we would love to see them.

Have fun with your painting and Calligraphy,


2 thoughts on “Radicals and pigs

  • Thank you so much, Paul.

    Your response was very informative and provided exactly the information I was seeking. You can imagine that I shall be practicing the Zhu Zhu Calligraphy until it is good-enough, if not perfect (which, we are taught, is not to be attempted/achieved). Experience teaches that one has to go on until perfection no longer matters and only then can one produce something that is satisfactory! Egoless.

    Your response also encourages me to have another go at pigs, inspired by your inclusions.

    Thank you for the trouble you have taken with your reply which far exceeded my expectations.
    I do hope ‘Lockdown’ has been a time of renewal rather than frustration for you and do hope further workshops will eventually take place at Blakeney. That seems like quite a distant goal at present.
    In gratitude and with best wishes to you and Claire – stay well – Julia

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are most welcome, Julia. This linked to other questions by painters and will hopefully be useful for the next Year of the Boar/Pig.

      One thing to add is that if you are practicing zhu zhu, try to make each character slightly different, there’s nothing CB painters like less than 2 things perfectly the same as it is just not natural. There is always some variation in the natural world…

      Best wishes


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