There is a piece of jewellery that never fails to tickle me. Whenever I pass a goldsmith’s window, especially in Hong Kong, there it sits: a thick gold necklace, from which hangs an enormous pendant in the shape of a rotund sow. It has half a dozen or more piglets dangling at its udders.


Who in their right mind would wear something like that especially, at their wedding?” I always asked myself.


I got my answer a few weeks back, at a friend’s wedding in Guangzhou. The bride was immaculate in a classic French-lace gown, and as she made her grand entrance and floated by us, a glint caught my eye. A sow-and-piglet pendant rested on her proud bosom the centrepiece accessory of her wedding day. The little porkers jiggled with each step she took; I nearly choked on the peanut in my mouth.


Noticing my face, my dinner companion nudged me, “You know that’s the first piece of jewellery a mother-in-law would buy for her newly minted daughter-in-law, right?”


So, there is meaning in this madness.


The sow stands for fertility in traditional Chinese symbolism. In days past, livestock, particularly the pig was a precious asset to families in the countryside. Animals brought extra income and when crops failed, as they often did, the families’ survival depended on them. Little wonder the pic became such a hallowed image to the Chinese.


However, this particular style of jewellery, though old in origin, seems to appeal only to the Cantonese and is thus mostly popular in Hong Kong and the Guangdong region of China.


To be auspicious the suckling piglets must be even in number; but otherwise ‘more the merrier’ seems the rule. Number of piglets allows the future mother-in-law to flaunt her wealth, and piglet-count is also a veiled message to the new daughter-in-law to ‘produce’.


Because conservative traditions still rule in China, and women, however successful in their careers, are still saddled with the obligation to propagate the family line preferably with a male heir.


Until recently, the ‘one child policy’ of China made this urgency even greater. So while on one hand, the young women is embraced into the family fold with 24k gold, she is at the same time under pressure to produce the next generation without delay.


The sow-and-piglet pendant is pregnant with portent. And I promise never to laugh at it again.


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