The Year of the Rooster, On Eating, Injecting, Imbibing & Speaking

This is the third and last essay in China Heritage that marks the Dingyou Year of the Rooster of 2017 丁酉雞年 by focussing on the Rooster/Chicken  . The first two essays, On Reading and On Seeing, considered the subject from the perspectives of classical literature, modern anecdote and through the work of Huang Yongyu. Below we pursue the Rooster from a number of other angles, both over time and in the context of Chinese cuisine, modern history and cultural usage. We also provide three appendices, one on cockfighting and two on the Rooster/Cock/Chicken/Hen in the Chinese language.

These essays are written as New Sinology Jottings 後漢學筆記; they are, in part, inspired by the genre of casual writings and loosely connected scribblings 筆記 in literary Chinese that bring together material on topics of interest to the author, and hopefully to readers.

Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage



I would like to thank Duncan Campbell, Ji Fengyuan, Ryan ManuelChristopher Rea and Sebastian Veg for their comments and suggestions. As always, I am grateful to Lois Conner for the use of her work, and for her account of drinking chicken blood.

As the Lunar New Year approaches, both throughout China, and in much of the Chinese Commonwealth, auspicious images of the rooster/chicken appear in houses, on windows, on the streets, in restaurants and on all surfaces that can accommodate well wishes for peace and prosperity. With the end of the first term of Chairman of Everything Xi Jinping’s rule of the People’s Republic — and his inevitable ‘re-selection’ slated for later in the year — the resistible rise of Donald Trump in the United States and the climacteric facing humanity, the 2017 Dingyou Year of the Rooster needs as many felicitations and as much good luck as traditional practice and modern benediction can offer.
The word ji 雞.
The changing morphology of the word ji 雞.

The Rooster has long been regarded as the harbinger of a new start. Decorative pictures 貼畫雞 and paper-cuts 剪紙 featuring the auspicious morning rooster 天雞 — a creature touched by the firsts rays of the dawn sun — as well as a brood of other roosters and chickens, along with a chattering of chicks are pasted on doors and windows.

The Rooster is also known as ‘A Bird of Five Virtues’ 五德之禽. As the artist Huang Yongyu notes:

A Heavenly Rooster, a Qing-dynsaty filigree enamel wine cup. From the Palace Museum, Taipei.
A Heavenly Rooster, a filigree enamel wine cup dating from the Qianlong era, Qing dynasty. From the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The ancients claimed that the ji 雞 has Five Virtues: with its crown it appears civilised; with the spurs on its feet it is martial; faced with an enemy it courageously attacks; in the presence of food it displays its humanity by clucking for others to join in; while in the early hours it never fails its duty. It’s intriguing that people share the same qualities. 古人說,雞有五個特點:頭戴冠者文也,足搏距者武也,敵在前敢闖者勇也,見食相呼者仁也,守夜不失時信也,我看人若是也有這五番講究,應該是相當有意思的。[See: The Year of the Rooster, On Seeing.]

For all of these reasons, the first day of the lunar new year in China is also known as ‘Rooster Day’ 雞日(the following days are named after the other eleven Zodiac Animals respectively).

Killing and Consuming

The dumpling 餃子, pronounced jiaozi, is one of the main foods enjoyed during New Year celebrations. A homophone with jiaozi 交子 (‘midnight transition’), the dumpling symbolises the new year replacing the old 更歲交子. Dumplings made in the shape of traditional gold ingots 元寶 also offer the promise of future wealth; and, family solidarity is celebrated as relatives and friends usually get together to made masses of dumplings for the meal eaten on New Year’s Eve 年夜飯. Dumplings with egg filling 蛋餃 are also a favourite, moreover, they link this traditional food to the Auspicious Rooster of the first day of the new year.

Dumplings aside, commentators on the groaning bounty of Chinese New Year meals may also refer to more recondite delicacies related to the Twelve Zodiac Animals 十二生肖. Such dishes include squeamish-inducing things like Raw Monkey Brain 生吃猴腦, Multi-course Snake Banquets 全蛇宴, or, just for the gustatory delight of it (since, although fish represents plenty, as in the saying ‘excess every year’ 年年有餘[魚], the prawn is merely tangentially involved with New Year symbolism), the mouth-watering death throws of Drunken Prawns in Shaoxing Wine 紹興醉蝦. Therefore, at the advent of the Year of the Rooster we should not forget the now-rare Dragon Tiger Phoenix Stew 龍虎鳳燴, something reserved for diehard supplicants at the Temple of the Five Viscera 祭五臟殿堂之徒, that is ‘foodies’.

Dragon (snake), Tiger (cat) and Phoenix (chicken/ pheasant) in a Pot.
Dragon (snake), Tiger (civet) and Phoenix (chicken/ pheasant) Stew.

Said to have originated in Liantang Township 蓮塘鎮, Guangdong province, Dragon Tiger Phoenix Stew is traditionally made with snake 野蛇, cat (or civet) 野貓 and free-range chicken or pheasant 野雞/山雞 all caught in the wild. As contemporary commentators remark, however, ‘with the spread of more civilised habits and increased environmental awareness’ the dish in its original form is now little more than a fading memory for true gourmands. (It lost further ground in 2003 when it was suspected that the civet cat may have been one of the origins of the SARS epidemic.)

In popular culture, however, chicken remains a constant. It plays a role in such films as Ang Lee’s celebrated 1994 Eat Drink Man Woman 飲食男女 (see here for two recipes from the 100 dishes in the film that use chicken) and Meng Jinghui’s 孟京輝 2002 Chicken Poets 像雞毛一樣飛 (for a clip from the film, see here) as well as the Taiwan comic exchange or cross-talk, Chicken Feather Party 雞毛撢/雞毛黨) [my thanks to Christopher Rea for these last two references], and in the 2008 play Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skins are No Small Matter 雞毛蒜皮沒小事. Sebastian Veg reminds me of Liu Zhenyun’s 劉震雲 celebrated 1992 novella, A World of Chicken Feathers 一地雞毛 (‘Peaux d’ail et plumes de poulet’ in Veg’s 2006 French translation), a detailed and moving fictional account of life in and the frustrations of a Chinese work unit prior to the 1992 wave of radical economic reform. (A popular TV adaptation was made on the basis of this story and Liu’s ‘Work Unit’ 單位 by Feng Xiaogang 馮小剛 in 1995.) The title of Liu’s novella is also a reference to the expression ‘Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skins’ 雞毛蒜皮, ‘insignificant things’ or ‘the makings of everyday life’.


For better or worse, the humble chicken also played a leading role in the ultimate success of the 1949 Chinese revolution.

In his 1944 speech Serve the People 為人民服務, a eulogy for a Party martyr, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong said:

All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Sima Qian said, ‘Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.’ To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather. 人總是要死的,但死的意義有不同。中國古時候有個文學家叫做司馬遷的說過:人固有一死,或重於泰山,或輕於鴻毛。為人民利益而死,就比泰山還重;替法西斯賣力,替剝削人民和壓迫人民的人去死,就比鴻毛還輕。

According to Chen Yun 陳雲, a Party leader known in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese Communism (in Chinese variously 中共八大元老、中共八老 or 治國八老), the chicken played a far more important role in Mao’s life than the goose feathers 鴻毛 so famously featured in ‘Serve the People’. Chen Yun revealed a previously unknown detail: during the decade that Mao led the Chinese revolution from the wartime guerrilla base at Yan’an in Shaanxi province, his personal cooks followed a directive from the Party’s Central Committee to ensure that he ate chicken every day to help maintain his health (see here).

It is claimed that, after 1949, the chicken was also important as chefs constantly experimented with new dishes to appeal to the Chairman’s palate. At a time of nationwide famine in the early 1960s, their efforts included a range of delectable chicken dishes (such as, 黃油雞卷、軟煎雞排、雞肉餅、雞肉元、雞肉絲、罐燜雞、紅燜雞、蔥頭燜雞、青菜燜雞、紙包雞、雞西敏士、椰子雞、奶油雞). After 1976, and following official revelations about the mass poverty of the Maoist era, much was made of Mao’s abstemious eating habits at the time, although from the list of chicken dishes above, it would seem that the Chairman hardly lacked culinary choice. Among people living outside the privileged Party compounds located on prime real estate in every Chinese city where the denizens enjoyed ‘special provisioning’ 特殊供應  (特供 for short; see More Saliva than Tea 口水多過茶), the ‘Three Years of Natural Disasters’ 三年自然災害 in the early 1960s resulting from Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward policies malnutrition and indeed starvation were widespread. As the writer Sang Ye 桑曄 records in one particular poignant vignette about those years, many families agonised over who got to eat the strictly rationed chicken eggs:

Highest Directive: Prepare for War, Prepare for Famine, for the People. Egg ration coupon, 1970.
Highest Directive: ‘Prepare for War, Prepare for Famine, for the People.’ Egg ration coupon, 1970.

We all had to do our best to protect our father. He worked night shifts at his newspaper and granny made special food for him. Sometimes he had a little meat, or maybe an egg. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine how attractive the thought of an egg was. One time my dad couldn’t bring himself to eat the egg and my brother found it. He didn’t dare eat the whole thing, just pinched a little bit, but granny was furious and really told him off. It was such a serious crime. Our father was our provider and the mainstay of the family, both economically and emotionally. No matter what he had to keep his health up. He had Sundays off and seeing all of us kids looking like bags of bones, and mum and granny sick, he could never bring himself to eat the bit of good food we’d left for him and wanted to share it with us. But how could you divide one egg between eight hungry mouths? [From Sang Ye, 1959 & its Aftermath: New Years Past.]

Fowl Dialectics

My first experience of the majesty of the chicken in Chinese culture was also directly related to Mao. As a twenty-one year-old student at Fudan University in Shanghai in 1975, among classes in literature (the essays of Lu Xun) and theatre (select Revolutionary Operas) we were obliged to study Political Theory, lessons that not surprisingly focussed on the immutable wisdom of Mao Zedong Thought.

At the time much was made of combining book learning in the lecture hall with practical engagement with productive society, known as ‘open door schooling’ 開門辦學 so, when it came to studying Chairman Mao’s 1937 philosophical tract On Contradiction 矛盾論, the political commissar in charge of our instruction organised a class trip to a poultry slaughterhouse 宰雞場 on the outskirts of the city.

Chickens hanging by their secondary contradictions in a modern Chinese poultry slaughterhouse
Chickens hanging by their secondary contradictions in a modern Chinese poultry slaughterhouse.

In the company of all of our teachers and cadre-minders, we set off in a bus to the slaughterhouse where, for an afternoon, we solemnly studied ‘On Contradiction’ with the factory’s Party Secretary and a number of ideologically advanced workers.

After tea and the obligatory statistic-laden introduction to the place, we toured the slaughterhouse floor; needless to say that, as it was hosting foreigners, the factory was an ‘advanced work unit’ 先進單位 that boasted shiny automated machinery and well turned-out workers.

Back in the reception room our discussion, with a blackboard used for the graphic depiction of Mao’s ineffable philosophical interpretation of Hegel and Lenin, concentrated on the ‘dialectical relationship between the principal contradiction and the secondary contradiction’ 主要矛盾和次要矛盾的辨證關係 in the mechanised mass slaughter of chickens. After all, ‘On Contradiction’ contains the deathless statement:

It [materialist dialectics] holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes. In a suitable temperature an egg changes into a chicken, but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken, because each has a different basis.

After the earnest recitation of this and other relevant passages from the Chairman’s philosophical tract and an in-depth discussion and dissection of the motivating ideas of ‘On Contradiction’, all clearly illustrated on the blackboard via a sketch of a chicken carcass, it was collectively determined that the secondary contractions in a chicken were to be found in its feet (by which the bird was to be trussed and hung up) while the main contradiction could be located in its neck. It was this latter contradiction that was targeted for the efficient slaughter of the dangling birds by the use of a rotating blade sheathed in a brace that held the chicken still as it was conveyed on (what we, the foreign students, jokingly referred to as) its long march to meet Marx.

Snowflake Drumsticks 雪花雞腿, a banquet dish made in the late Cultural Revolution and in the first post-Mao years. From Selected Beijing Recipes 北京菜點選編, edited by the International Hotel, 1979.
Snowflake Drumsticks 雪花雞腿, a banquet dish made in the late-Cultural Revolution and in the early post-Mao years. From Selected Beijing Recipes 北京菜點選編, edited by the International Hotel, 1979. Author’s collection.

Celebrating yet another victory for Mao Thought, and daresay relieved that their foreign student charges hadn’t caused any trouble (or been too raucous in their mirth about this bizarre exercise in practical Maoist philosophy), on the way back to the university our teachers discussed with ill-disguised glee the delights of chicken dishes and various foods, many of which they admitted had been unavailable for long years, mostly due to the lack of basic ingredients. It was an object lesson in Maoist politics; the radical disconnect between rhetoric and reality; foreign guest ritual; the politics of Chinese cuisine and sheer, yet impoverished, absurdity. I sometimes wonder whether my penchant for what would eventually become New Sinology had its origins that day at the slaughterhouse.

Recipes for the Masses, Tianjin Science and Technology Publishing House, 1979. One of the first cookbooks published in the People's Republic after 1966. Author's collection.
Recipes for the Masses, Tianjin Science and Technology Publishing House, 1979. Author’s Collection. One of the first cookbooks published in the People’s Republic after 1966 and more plebeian than Selected Beijing Recipes, mentioned above. It contains some twenty-two recipes that use chicken or eggs. See also Sasha Gong 龚小夏 and Scott D. Seligman’s The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, 2011.

Injecting and Imbibing

It was in the early post-Mao years that I first heard about the popular obsession with ‘injecting chicken blood’ 打雞血. Many years later, my long-term collaborator the oral historian Sang Ye wrote about this along with other Chinese medical fads. In his essay Injecting Chicken Blood, the writer and translator Joel Martinsen quotes Sang Ye’s description of the practice:

People carried young roosters to the hospital, where several millilitres of chicken blood would be drawn and then injected into their body. Doing this once a week would make you aggressive, and as powerful as an ox.

Chicken blood injections began gaining popularity in the 1960s, so much so that they were banned by the Ministry of Health as being unhygienic and dangerous. After 1966, the mass dictatorship of the Cultural Revolution era saw a revival of ‘chicken blood therapy’ 雞血療法, along with the denunciation of the Ministry of Health (which was derided by no less an authority than Mao Zedong for being totally out of touch with common people; he said it was little better than a Ministry of Urban Gentlemen’s Health 城市老爺衛生部). Always adroit in following the prevailing political winds, the usually rational Premier Zhou Enlai now took the side of the broad masses and declared: ‘The Central Ministry of Health’s handling of chicken blood therapy is a violation of Mao Zedong Thought!’

As Joel Martinsen writes:

Chicken Blood Therapy, 1967 pamphlet. From Martinsen, Injecting Chicken Blood.
Chicken Blood Therapy, a mimeographed manual reproduced by the Sichuan 18 September Lofty Peak Brigade. Joel Martinsen, private collection.

Throughout the next decade, people lined up outside dispensaries, rooster in hand, to receive injections of chicken blood, but once the Cultural Revolution ended, the practice was abandoned along with so much else from that era. When xiangsheng performers Jiang Kun and Li Wenhua satirized the madness over kombucha and chicken blood in the painfully didactic skit Don’t Be Superstitious 莫迷信, chicken blood therapy was only a memory, and by the time Sang Ye’s article appeared [in 1992], it had been all but forgotten, kept alive only as a colloquial expression meaning jittery or agitated: ‘I’m so excited it’s like I’ve been injected with chicken blood’ 我像打了鸡血一样兴奋. The treatment’s origin had been lost, if it had known at all during its heyday. A popular rumor, which Sang Ye relates in his article, credited chicken blood injections to a Nationalist official who, facing the execution after the revolution, had attempted to trade the secret in exchange for his life. [From Joel Martinsen, Injecting Chicken Blood.]

Yangshuo, Guangxi province, 1991. Photograph by Lois Conner.
Yangshuo, Guangxi province, 1991. Photograph by Lois Conner.

When the photographer Lois Conner, whose work appears on this site, broke her arm in Beijing after having slipped on black ice following her attendance at a performance of the North Korean opera The Flower Girl 賣花姑娘, her friends, a noted husband-wife artist team, insisted on killing a chicken and made her drink a concoction made up of chicken blood and herbs they got from what she calls ‘a local witch doctor’ 庸醫 in the dead of night. Her friends assured her that chicken blood helps bones mend quickly. On reading the draft account of ‘Injecting Chicken Blood’ above, Lois remarked: ‘My arm healed perfectly, so much so, that when I fractured it again a decade later, they couldn’t even find where it had been broken before.’ (In dynastic China, chicken blood also featured in the tortuous practice of foot-binding. Young girls’ feet were tightly bound in long bandages that had been soaked in chicken blood. This supposedly reduced the agony of the child as her feet grew and the bones were crushed into the desired shape of a ‘three-inch lotus’ 三寸金蓮.)

'Free-range Domestic Chickens and Eggs for Sale', Beijing, 2013. Photograph by Lois Conner.
‘Free-range Domestic Chickens and Eggs’; ‘Country Food’, Beijing, 2013. Photograph by Lois Conner.


Now, for some more anodyne facts about the chicken in the Chinese world:

The chicken, and its preparation for slaughter, is such a feature of Chinese life that in 1991 the artist Zhang Peili 張培力 made it the centrepiece of one of his earliest and most famous works of video art, ‘The Correct Procedure for Washing a Chicken’.

Chicken and eggs are an important ingredient in many Chinese recipes. Velveting chicken meat, once a mysterious process for any but aficionados of Chinese cuisine, is now commonly used in international cooking. And the names of many dishes, and how to make them, are now widely know. Among the most common are: Egg Foo-yung 芙蓉雞蛋, Hainan Chicken Rice 海南雞飯, Phoenix Claws 鳳爪 (eaten at Yum-cha, or as a Dim-sum), General Tso’s Chicken 左宗雞, Kung-pao Chicken 宮保雞丁.

Perhaps the simplest recipe is ‘stirred eggs’ (aka ‘fried eggs’) 炒雞蛋 which, my colleague Duncan M. Campbell reminds me, is notably described in extraordinary detail by the great Chinese linguist Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任. As Chao’s wife, Buwei Yang Chao 楊步偉, remarks in her 1945 book How To Cook and Eat in Chinese 中國食譜 (which, among other things, gave the English language the expression ‘stir-fry’): ‘As this is the only dish my husband cooks well, and he says that he either cooks a thing well or not at all, I shall let him tell how it is done.’ The author then offers Chao’s method (one reproduced by various online writers). For our purposes, the most delectable detail from the famed scholar of the Chinese language is the last paragraph of his recipe:

To test whether the cooking has been done properly, observe the person served. If he utters a voiced bilabial nasal consonant with a slow falling intonation, it is good. If he utters the syllable yum in reduplicated form, it is very good. ― Y. R. C.

Although the obsession with Chicken Soup for the Soul 心靈雞湯 would eventually reach China, the Western chicken first landed in the People’s Republic in 1987. Operating under the Chinese name Kendeji 肯德基, the first KFC outlet for deep-fried chicken encased in batter and salty spices opened at Qianmen, just off Tiananmen Square in the centre of the Chinese capital Beijing, in November 1987. In the new millennium it increased its popular appeal by adding local street foods such as crullers 油條 and sesame flat-breads 燒餅 to its menu. In 2015, KFC boasted over 5000 outlets in the People’s Republic. A year earlier, in 2014, a short-lived online Anti-Chicken Soup for the Soul satirical push saw the lampooning of the feel-good nostrums of the twenty-year old American self-help fad.

More traditional, and common, Chinese recipes and foods using chicken and eggs include the following (the names of dishes are, for the most part, linked to the popular culinary site Xinshipu 心食譜):

For more recipes that use various kinds of chicken meat (from hens, chicks to roosters, pheasants and so on), see under Chicken 雞肉 on the Xinshipu site. Numerous sites offer Chinese recipes in English, among others, Fuchsia Dunlop is always a reliable guide.

In North America General Tso’s Chicken, a Taiwanese invention of the 1950s, is so popular (in fact, some claim it is as ‘American as Apple Pie’) that it was used as the theme of The Search for General Tso, a documentary film about Chinese American cuisine that premièred at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014. The film was itself inspired by Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, published in 2008.

Dali, Yunnan province, 2012. Photograph by Lois Conner.


The chicken features in popular Internet lingo as well. In recent years, two of the most common online expressions are muji 母雞, an approximation in Standard Chinese of the Cantonese 唔知, or ng tsi: ‘[I] dunno’. And, laji 辣雞, written as ‘chilli chicken’, a homophone for 垃圾: tosh, garbage or rubbish, a popular expression among people both on- and offline.

Chickens, roosters, chicks and fowl also squawk, flutter and peck their way through numerous real and virtual interactions in Chinese, filling the language with metaphorical terms and expressions. Below we offer a few common sayings and expressions featuring the word ji 雞/鸡 which better reflect, or are used to describe, lived reality (click on the expression for an explanation and an English translation):

Chickens in a yard. Photograph by Lois Conner
Zibo, Shandong province, 2016. Photograph by Lois Conner.

For a more comprehensive list of general chicken/rooster-related terms, refer to Appendix I, and for other chicken-related expressions and set-phrases, see Appendix II.

In an Age of the Cocksure

We began this three-part consideration of The Year of the Rooster with a quotation from the ancient oracle, I Ching: ‘Cock’s crow rises to heaven‘ 翰音登于天, pointing to the folly of unrealistic aspiration. As the twelfth-century thinker Zhu Xi comments:

The cock itself cannot rise to Heaven, but its Aspiration is to do so. The Steadfastness is misplaced; the true situation has not been taken into account. This will lead to Calamity.

As cocksure leaders strut the world stage, we should re-consider the artist Huang Yongyu’s wariness and dislike of cockfighting (see his ‘Boundless Pleasure’ 其樂無窮 in The Year of the Rooster, On Seeing), an ancient Chinese pastime. In Appendix III, we offer an essay by Zhang Dai 張岱 (1597-1689) who nearly lost himself in his passion for cockfighting 鬪雞.

We end these three essays dedicated to The Year of the Rooster, with a chicken being killed to feed a disciple of Confucius, and a parable from the incomparable master Zhuangzi 莊子 (fourth century BCE) on the virtues of being like a wooden cock. These two episodes, drawn from ancient texts, may help those who are searching for ways to deal with modern-day dilemmas.


In one of the most famous passages in The Analects, Zilu, one of the Master’s favourite disciples, encounters a recluse: a man who has given up on the world and its chaotic goings-on. The recluse criticises Zilu for his ignorance: he can do nothing practical and can’t even distinguish the different grains that people eat. The recluse then wonders out loud: What kind of duffer could have trained such a disciple? Nonetheless, he remains civil and entertains the wayward Confucian disciple by killing a chicken for dinner and introducing him to his two sons

For his part, Confucius, the political thinker obsessed with social good and political order, later tells Zilu that such a man has abandoned the world, thereby betraying his duty to contribute to the society, even if he knows that such service may do no good.

To serve society through service at court, even under a bad ruler, or to retreat from a strife-ridden world to pursue self-cultivation in times of disorder has been a recurring theme in Chinese thought, literature and politics through the ages. This ancient dilemma rings as true today, be it in China or elsewhere, as it did in the past.

Zhong Kui and Entourage, by Gong Kai 龔開, a late-Song early Yuan artist. The Tang emperor Taizong was said to have been beset by illness and, during his dreams one night, he saw a fierce figure, Zhong Kui 鍾馗, who dispelled the evil spirits who had beset the emperor. On the morning all trace of affliction had disappeared. Ever since people have put up images of The Devil Dispelling Zhong Kui 鍾馗驅魔 in the days leading up to New Year's Eve to vanquish the malign influences of the past year.
Zhong Kui and Entourage (detail), by Gong Kai 龔開, a late-Song early Yuan artist. The Tang emperor Taizong was said to have been beset by illness. As he slept the emperor dreamed of a fierce figure, Zhong Kui 鍾馗, who scattered the evil spirits bedevilling the ruler. The following morning all trace of the emperor’s affliction had disappeared. Since then, in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, people have put up images of The Devil Dispelling Zhong Kui 鍾馗驅魔 both in- and outside their homes to help vanquish the malign influences of the past year.

Traveling with Confucius, Zilu fell behind. He met an old man who was carrying on his shoulder a basket hanging from his staff. 子路從而後,遇丈人,以杖荷蓧。

Zilu asked him: ‘Sir, have you seen my master?’ The old man said: ‘You do not toil with your four limbs, you cannot even distinguish between the five sorts of grain — who can be your master?’ He planted his staff in the ground and started weeding. 子路問曰:子見夫子乎?丈人曰:四體不勤,五穀不分。孰為夫子?植其杖而芸。

Zilu watched him respectfully. 子路拱而立。

The old man kept him for the night, killed a chicken, cooked some millet, and presented his two sons to him. 止子路宿,殺雞為黍而食之,見其二子焉。

The next day, Zilu resumed his journey and reported to Confucius. 明日,子路行以告。

The Master said: ‘The man you met is a hermit.’ He sent Zilu back to seek for him, but on arriving at his place, Zilu found that the old man was gone. 子曰:隱者也。使子路反見之。至則行矣。

Zilu said: ‘It is not right to withdraw from public life. One cannot ignore the difference between age and youth, and even less the mutual obligations between prince and subject. One cannot discard the most essential human relationships, simply to preserve one’s purity. A gentleman has a moral obligation to serve the state, even if he can force that the Way will not prevail.’ 子路曰:不仕無義。長幼之節,不可廢也;君臣之義,如之何其廢之?欲潔其身,而亂大倫。君子之仕也,行其義也。道之不行,已知之矣。

— 《論語》微子, Simon Leys, trans., The Analects of Confucius,
New York: Norton, 1997, pp.91-92.


Zhuangzi, the great fourth century BCE thinker and story-teller, provides a counterpoint to the Confucian blather of the last 2,300 years. He recounts how Ji Xingzi trained a fighting cock to face down opponents fearlessly. Perhaps this is the best way to prepare for the coming years of conflict:

Ji Xingzi was training gamecocks for the king. After ten days the king asked if they were ready. 紀渻子為王養鬥雞。十日而問:雞已乎。

‘Not yet. They’re too haughty and rely on their nerve.’ 未也,方虛憍而恃氣。

Another ten days and the king asked again. 十日又問。

‘Not yet. They still respond to noises and movements.’ 曰:未也,猶應向景。

Another ten days and the king asked again. 十日又問。

‘Not yet. They still look around fiercely and are full of spirit.’ 曰:未也,猶疾視而盛氣。

Another ten days and the king asked again. 十日又問。

‘They’re close enough. Another cock can crow and they show no sign of change. Look at them from a distance and you’d think they were made of wood. Their virtue is complete. Other cocks won’t dare face them, but will turn and run.’ 曰:幾矣。雞雖有鳴者,已無變矣,望之似木雞矣,其德全矣,異雞無敢應者,反走矣。

       — 《莊子》達生, Burton Watson, trans., Zhuangzi, Mastering Life.

(Today, the expression ‘dumb as a wooden cock’ 呆如木雞 is used to express surprise, stunned silence or just plain stupidity. Sometimes, however, ‘great wisdom seems like folly, great cleverness appears clumsy’ 大智若愚,大巧若拙.)

Zhong Kui and Sister Travelling, by Gong Kai.
Zhong Kui and Sister Travelling in Procession, by Gong Kai.

Appendix I

A list of words, terms and expressions, with links, related to ji 雞/鸡 from the Xinhua Dictionary 新華字典:

撞晕鸡 抓鸡虎 竹鸡草 竹鸡 昼鸡 祝鸡
仔鸡 炙鸡 祝鸡公 子鸡 祝鸡翁 捉鸡
只鸡 枕鸡 真珠鸡 磔鸡 灶鸡 粘鸡
炸子鸡 灶鳖鸡 雉鸡 云鸡 越鸡 玉鸡川
玉鸡 玉鸡苗 油鸡 野鸡 野鸡头 厌家鸡
养鸡乡 性鸡 雪鸡 晓鸡 小鸡胆 小鸡子
阉鸡 羞山鸡 县鸡 夏鸡 线鸡 舞鸡
乌眼鸡 五更鸡 瓮鸡 五时鸡 闻鸡人 五眼鸡
翁鸡 闻鸡 文鸡 闻鸡舞 醯鸡瓮 醯鸡
乌骨鸡 乌鸡 息鸡草 武城鸡 腯鸡 头鸡
田鸡 童子鸡 铁公鸡 驼鸡 啼明鸡 听朝鸡
田鸡炮 吐绶鸡 贴鸡 驼蹄鸡 天鸡壶 谈鸡
天鸡 吐锦鸡 笋鸡 摊鸡子 索斗鸡 童鸡
跳鸡模 酸鸡 瓦鸡 檀鸡 蜀鸡 曙鸡
水鸡 树鸡 绶鸡 松鸡 食火鸡 食鸡肋
埘鸡 石鸡 失晨鸡 失旦鸡 神鸡童 沙鸡
山鸡椒 山鸡 桑鸡 爇鸡 宝鸡 宝鸡市
白鸡 白鸡梦 白鸡年 白斩鸡 棒棒鸡 抱鸡
抱鸡婆 晨鸡 长鸣鸡 博鸡 碧鸡坊 辟鸡
碧鸡 哺鸡 鸧鸡 草鸡 潮鸡 柴鸡
朝鸡 赤鸡 传鸡 雏鸡 村鸡 翠鸡
楮鸡 虫鸡 犨鸡 樗鸡 打野鸡 打鸡窝
丹鸡 驐鸡 蛋鸡 地鸡 雕鸡 斗鸡台
斗鸡眼 斗鸡 斗鸡戏 斗鸡 风鸡 风信鸡
凤鸡 伏鸡 甘鸡 皋鸡 割鸡 官鸡
冠鸡 鹳鸡 画鸡 鸡肥 骇鸡犀 裹鸡
汉鸡 骇鸡 禾鸡 鹖鸡 毼鸡 褐马鸡
鹖鸡冠 槐鸡 鸡窗 鸡碑 鹤鸡 鸡槟
鸡蛋清 鸡场 鸡豆子 鸡蛋青 鸡卜 鸡巴
鸡雏 鸡德 鸡坊 鸡旦 鸡唱 鸡丁
火鸡 鸡刀 黄鸡 慌脚鸡 荒鸡 鸡肋
鸡鹄 鸡菌 鸡瓜 鸡宗 鸡毛店 鸡黄
鸡皮 鸡奸 鸡珠 鸡骇 鸡禍 鸡西市
鸡竿 鸡尖 鸡距 鸡公 鸡毛笔 鸡冠
鸡祸 鸡子 鸡目眼 鸡眚 鸡素 鸡絮
鸡头肉 鸡头 鸡廉 鸡肤 鸡林贾 鸡睨
鸡翘 鸡谈 鸡毛报 鸡笼 鸡毛信 鸡黍约
鸡人 鸡舍 鸡酒 鸡鸣 鸡嗉 鸡黍期
鸡孙 鸡纤 鸡瘟 鸡舌 鸡毛房 鸡鹜
鸡香 鸡栗 鸡塞 鸡叫 鸡化 鸡日
鸡心 鸡师 鸡舌香 鸡爪疯 鸡娘 鸡群
鸡毛官 鸡骨 鸡栖 鸡树 鸡群鹤 鸡占
鸡盲 鸡血酒 鸡眼 鸡公山 鸡蒙 鸡桑
鸡彝 鸡尾酒 鸡夷 鸡招 鸡园 鸡杂
鸡豚 鸡公车 鸡婆 鸡子儿 鸡埘 鸡跖
鸡缸 鸡坛 鸡鞠 鸡台 鸡爪风 鸡口
鸡省 鸡豚社 鸡苏 鸡头米 鸡卵 鸡鹿塞
鸡谷 鸡鸣壶 鸡栖车 鸡梦 鸡林 鸡黍
鸡旗 鸡胸 鸡内金 鸡血石 鸡鹿 鸡毛帚
鸡斯 鸡足山 家鸡 茭鸡 江鸡 椒鸡
叫鸡 金鸡 金鸡障 金鸡柱 金鸡勒 金鸡石
金鸡奖 金鸡竿 锦鸡 荆鸡 灵鸡 昆鸡
鲲鸡 黧鸡 腊鸡头 鹍鸡 腊鸡 老鸡头
狼山鸡 连鸡 鲁鸡 龙鸡 镂鸡子 鸾鸡
卵用鸡 露鸡 落汤鸡 马鸡 毛脚鸡 梅家鸡
木鸡 鸣鸡 牝鸡 箐鸡 气锅鸡 青头鸡
杉鸡 驱鸡 攘鸡 犬鸡 肉用鸡 汝南鸡
莎鸡 脚环鸡 鸡冻

Appendix II

A list of set-expressions (commonly used clichés) from the Xinhua Dictionary:

斗酒只鸡 打鸡骂狗 淮王鸡狗 鸡肠狗肚 鸡飞狗叫
鸡飞狗跳 鸡犬相闻 鸡争鹅斗 嫁鸡逐鸡 宁为鸡口,无为牛后
呆若木鸡 斗鸡走狗 独鹤鸡群 范张鸡黍 缚鸡之力
割鸡焉用牛刀 淮南鸡犬 鹤发鸡皮 鹤立鸡群 鸡飞蛋打
鸡骨支床 鸡犬桑麻 鸡尸牛从 鸡头鱼刺 鸡犬不宁
鸡烂嘴巴硬 鸡飞狗走 鸡鹜相争 鸡犬皆仙 鸡鸣而起
鸡零狗碎 鸡虫得失 鸡蛋里找骨头 鸡犬升天 鸡口牛后
鸡皮鹤发 鸡犬不惊 鸡鸣戒旦 鸡声鹅斗 鸡犬不留
家鸡野鹜 鸡鹜争食 家鸡野雉 鸡鸣狗吠 鸡毛蒜皮
鸡鸣狗盗 鸡犬之声相闻,老死不相往来 鸡胸龟背 金鸡独立 嫁鸡随鸡,嫁狗随狗
金鸡消息 菱角磨作鸡头 牛刀割鸡 牛鼎烹鸡 宁为鸡口,不为牛后
木鸡养到 牝鸡司晨 杀鸡抹脖 杀鸡吓猴 杀鸡取卵
杀鸡儆猴 杀鸡焉用牛刀 山鸡舞镜 陶犬瓦鸡 手无缚鸡之力
鼠腹鸡肠 土鸡瓦犬 偷鸡不着蚀把米 偷狗戏鸡 偷鸡摸狗
味如鸡肋 闻鸡起舞 瓮里醯鸡 雄鸡断尾 小肚鸡肠
一人得道,鸡犬升天 只鸡絮酒 指鸡骂狗 只鸡斗酒 争鸡失羊
卓立鸡群 杀鸡取蛋 戴鸡佩豚 呆如木鸡 呆似木鸡
斗鸡养狗 斗鸡走马 斗鸡走犬 凤毛鸡胆 狗盗鸡鸣
狗盗鸡啼 鹤处鸡群 鹤骨鸡肤 鹤困鸡群 鹤行鸡群
鸡不及凤 鸡虫得丧 鸡肤鹤发 鸡鸣馌耕 鸡鸣候旦
鸡鸣起舞 鸡鸣犬吠 鸡栖凤巢 鸡犬不安 鸡犬不闻
鸡犬无惊 鸡豚之息 井蛙醯鸡 牝鸡晨鸣 牝鸡牡鸣
牝鸡司旦 认鸡作凤 汝南晨鸡 杀鸡哧猴 杀鸡骇猴
杀鸡为黍 鼠肚鸡肠 偷鸡盗狗 土鸡瓦狗 雄鸡夜鸣
鬻鸡为凤 宰鸡教猴 炙鸡渍酒 只鸡樽酒 捉鸡骂狗
抱鸡养竹 见卵求鸡  宁为鸡口,毋为牛后  铁公鸡 鸡肥不下蛋

Appendix III

The Cockfighting Society 鬬雞社

Zhang Dai 張岱

During the Renxu year of the reign of the Tianqi emperor [1622], I became quite addicted to cockfighting, forming a Cockfighting Society at the foot of Dragon Mountain and, in imitation of Wang Bo’s ‘Manifesto For the Encouragement of Cockfighting’, I too circulated a manifesto amongst my fellow cockfighting aficionados. Each day my uncle Zhang Lianfang and Qin Yisheng would come over to gamble with me, always with antiques, calligraphy and paintings, fine brocade, Sichuanese fans and so on in hand; repeatedly, my cock bested their cocks. Infuriated, my uncle equipped his cock with metal spurs and sprinkled mustard powder on its tail,[1] with the aim of lending his cock an aggressive air of absolute invincibility. No stratagem did he leave unused in his pursuit of victory. All to no avail. On one occasion someone told him that a descendant of the Han dynasty general Fan Kuai, the Marquis of Wuyang, then living in Xuzhou owned the empire’s cockfighting champion, with long neck and black beak, such that, standing on the ground, it could peck grain spread upon a high table. Thrilled by the prospect, behind everyone’s back, my uncle immediately dispatched a retainer to pay a visit upon the man in the hope of getting hold of the cock. When this ploy, too, failed, he became even more enraged. One day, as I was browsing through some informal histories, however, I happened to come across a tale about the Tang dynasty Emperor Xuanzong, who, having been born during the You month 酉月 of a You year 酉年, this tenth of the Twelve Earthly Branches being particularly associated with the cock, was addicted to cockfighting, his pastime having served to destroy his kingdom. As I too was born in a You month of a You year, I henceforth desisted from cockfighting.[2]



— 張岱《西湖夢尋》Dream Memories, Book III, Item xiii, trans. Duncan M. Campbell

[1] In the Zuo zhuan 左傳 (Duke Zhao, Twenty-fifth Year 昭公二十五年) we find (in James Legge’s translation; Romanisation altered) the following note: ‘The cocks of Ji [-shi] and the [Head of the] Hou [family] were in the habit of fighting. Jishi sheathed the head of his cock, on which Houshi put metal spurs on his’ 季郈之雞鬬季氏介其雞郈氏為之金距, for which see Legge, Chinese Classics, Vol.V, p.710.

[2] For more on cockfighting in Chinese literature and history, see Robert Joe Cutter, The Brush and Spur: Chinese Culture and the Cockfight, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1989. — Ed.