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The pig, a traditional symbol of fertility and wealth, is popular as a model for piggy banks.

By Kang Gahui and Lee Hana
Photos = National Folk Museum of Korea
Seoul | Dec. 19, 2018

2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig according to the Chinese zodiac.

The 12th and final animal to appear in the zodiac’s 12-year cycle, the pig has long held significance for Korea and its people. It is considered valuable livestock and symbolizes good fortune in many aspects of life.

In ancient Korean mythology, pigs were considered sacred creatures and used as sacrifices to the gods. In the historical record “Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms” (삼국사기), the pig played a key role in moving the seat of the Goguryeo royal court and helped find a queen for the childless king.

In folk tradition, the pig is a symbol of fertility and abundance because of its huge appetite and ability to produce a large litter. In Korean, the Chinese characters for “pig” and “money,” though different in appearance, are both pronounced don. Thanks to this homonym, the animal has become synonymous with wealth in Korea. For example, Koreans buy lottery tickets when they dream about pigs and hold rituals using a pig’s head whose mouth is stuffed with money.

To mark the Year of the Pig, the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul opened an exhibition on Dec. 19 showcasing the “happy pig” in Korean history. Around 70 artworks and artifacts featuring the pig are displayed, from statues of anthropomorphic guardian pigs and pictures of pig gods that help the poor to utensils used for placing the pig’s head in ancestral ceremonies.

Visitors can also see piggy banks, photos of pigs from the 1970s and 80s, and posters for “Okja,” a 2017 Korean-American film about an artificially bred “super pig.”

Exhibit curator Ha Do Gyeom said, “I wish you all a happy New Year filled with prosperity in the Year of the Pig.”

The exhibition runs until March 1 and is free of charge.

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The 12th and final animal to appear in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle, the pig is often depicted as an anthropomorphic guardian in Buddhist paintings.