Wang Zuzhe: “Animals Are Happier Than People”

This is a translation of an existential musing by blogger Wang Zuzhe. Daoist influences on mainstream Chinese culture force a certain acceptance and almost fatalism about death. Traditionally, Confucian tradition proscribed ritualized ways of grieving that could serve as an outlet for feelings after the death of a loved one. It’s rare, though, to see a frank discussion of the nuts and bolts of dying in China, and this is probably one reason why hospice and palliative care in China is still in its beginning stages. Wang’s article is interesting if for no other reason than that it gives a frank perspective about death and dying from a Chinese viewpoint.

Translation

Just take pigs for example. Pigs are much happier than people. You might say, oh, pigs are going to be killed in the end, and people (in general) won’t end that way. So in that way, people are still happier. This argument really doesn’t make much sense though. The reason you might think this way is because you know in advance that pigs will be killed, but pigs themselves don’t understand this at all. In this way, a pig is different than a criminal that has been sentenced to death. A criminal knows that he’s going to be killed, and therefore leads a tortuous existence from the time he learns of the verdict to the time a bullet shatters his skull. Pigs, though, are ignorant of their fate and are happy as long as they can eat their fill.

When people are young, they do not realize that life carries with it an unavoidable death sentence. Yet, when old age comes, people begin to frequently come face-to-face with this fact. First one’s own parents pass away, one after the other. Then come people your own age, shuffling off the stage of life like actors that are finished with their lines. This is a hint of things to come: the next one to go will be you. And then one day, when you receive the results of a health check-up, it comes: cancer. Now you feel just like a pig, and actually, your family will probably treat you like one too. They won’t tell you what’s going on and instead keep you locked away and ignorant: only this way can you avoid dying of pure fright.

In daily life, everyone is afraid to talk about death, and this is actually somewhat laughable. In this one area of life, people must purposefully suppress that which is so boasted of in other situations: the ability to know. People are all too eager to be ignorant regarding death. We especially hope that a child will be ignorant of death, lest this knowledge pollute his or her outlook on life.

On one point, humans and pigs are exactly the same: they will both die eventually. I don’t know whether it’s worse to linger in pain and suffering for years or to just get it over with now, but I do know that some people really can’t handle this kind of despair, and so seek their own demise. On this topic I have some experience: a neck problem once left me in excruciating pain for a month. Every day all day, I could only sleep in the gaps between the pain, and even then I’d often be awakened by it. In my conscious experience, the only thing I could feel was the pain. At the time, I thought dying would be a much better option: the only reason I managed to keep living until today was that I knew that I might not have to live like that forever.

Some animals can bring comfort to mankind, unhappy as it is. Those are the animals used by man for some purpose: cows, donkeys, horses and more. These animals plow the fields, pull carts, work millstones: none of these activities count as happy ones, but they are things that they must do. And some of the activities of human beings, too, are things that they must do.

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0 thoughts on “Wang Zuzhe: “Animals Are Happier Than People””

  1. Hmm… I think the author specifically avoided generalizing the Chinese attitude by not saying one word about China.

    If you read enough Chinese essays you’d know how rare it is for a Chinese writer talking about anything philosophical not to mention China or the Chinese culture.

    And based on my own reading, I don’t think it’s specifically about how Chinese view death at all. Many things he describes can be applied to people in any culture.

    Just because the author is Chinese doesn’t mean he was writing from a Chinese perspective. The default view that Chinese articles have to be culturally Chinese in essence is misleading.

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  2. And imperialistic (in its academic sense) because the dimensions this article explores are pretty universal and shouldn’t be confined just within the “Chinese” cultural boundaries.

    Notez que I’m analyzing this purely from an academic POV. If you feel offended I have nothing else to say.

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  3. “When people are young, they do not realize that life carries with it an unavoidable death sentence”

    So.. ignorance/unconsciousness is bliss? I think he’s pushing for the legalization of Opium on this one. Sweet! 😀

    But seriously, this is very interesting. When a cat is purring, curled up on your lap, it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s unhappy, and animals definitely have relationships (alliances, sexual relationships etc).

    I even think animals have the ability to plan, and to project into the future. When our black cat, Spike, caught a mouse and left it bleeding and quivering on the patio, we were all baffled. When the bird swooped down to get it, and Spike jumped out of the bushes, we were amazed.

    I just read this book called ‘The Power of Now’ where Eckhart Tolle argues we suffer (a spin on Buddhism) because our concept of time creates pain. He blames our manufactured idea of clock-time for our suffering. That clock time, Im almost positive animals don’t have. They know when the sun goes down, it gets cold and dark, but they don’t have schedules.

    They don’t live in multiple dimensions of time, yet we do, hence are fractured in the present moment. Imagine a puma or a bear living in fractured states in the wild. They would die. They’d be at a disadvatage to the more agile animals. As such, evolunarily speaking, animals might tend towards ‘in the moment/power of now’ thinking.

    Interesting stuff, either way.

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  4. @Michael: Hey I didn’t think about it in that way. If you think Eckhart Tolle’s idea is interesting, you should read Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” which at one point goes into the difference in how humans and animals deal with time and how that affects happiness (i.e., animals live a temporally circular existence but people live in a straight line; as a result we have to keep looking for new things whereas animals can continue to enjoy things in cycles). It’s a small part of a book packed with ideas but well worth the read.

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  5. If you guys have watched those PETA videos about how farm animals are raised, I don’t think you will agree that animals are happier than people. Second, this is not a ‘Chinese viewpoint,’ it is someone’s opinion writing a paper.

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  6. @ Andy: I’ve added a link to the original at the top. Thanks for reminding me.

    @pug_ster: If the author is Chinese, it’s a Chinese viewpoint (one POV out of 1.3 billion, no doubt). That is a pretty standard way of speaking in English and in no way implies that he represents anyone other than himself.

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  7. An atheist’s musings? What makes me sad is that there are so many psychopaths in this world who abuse animal, as well as humans.

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  8. @Chris Hearne,

    @pug_ster: If the author is Chinese, it’s a Chinese viewpoint (one POV out of 1.3 billion, no doubt). That is a pretty standard way of speaking in English and in no way implies that he represents anyone other than himself.

    That’s one of the stupidest comment I ever heard. In your faulty logic of yours, I can assume that Glen Beck’s attitude represent all the Americans because he happens to be white.

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  9. Hi pug_ster,

    I specifically said that it is one Chinese view out of 1.3 billion. I’m not sure if you have a problem with English or if you are purposefully not reading what I write, but that means that each Chinese person has their own POV and doesn’t represent the rest of the country. And yeah, Glen Beck does offer an American perspective: one of out of many millions.

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  10. @C Custer,

    Daoist beliefs about fatalism and dying usually pertains about humans, not animals. I don’t know how does this guy get animals into the picture, especially farm animals.

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  11. first Glen beck does not have an american point of view he has his own POV paid for by murdock. To suggest anything else is horrific.

    second the view that those who live in the here and now have a happier life is a common theme found in many belief systems.

    The real question is how do you take the modern “eating bitterness” POV and blend it with the traditional one of focusing on now for happiness.

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  12. To say that Glenn Beck has an American viewpoint doesn’t mean that he necessarily represents anyone else, it just means he comes from an American context and is American (though I do think he represents a sizable portion of people, sadly).

    I didn’t really think about the contrast between eating bitterness and living in the here and now. These seem like opposite ideas, not sure they could ever been blended, though they could exist side-by-side.

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  13. @ Keisaat: I’d say it is a Chinese POV by virtue of the fact that it is written by a Chinese person. That doesn’t make it the only Chinese POV, of course.


    You misread my point. I wasn’t saying his was the only Chinese POV. I was saying his POV was not just Chinese; it’s universal.

    World class literary masters are great because their works, even though portraying their own countrymen, transcend their nationalities and tap into the universal values people everywhere share.

    I’m not saying this author is a literary master, but this article, based on its content, is not just a Chinese perspective.

    That’s why a vast majority of world famous literary masters are from the West, while many third-world writers suffer from the default view in the West that their works only represent their own culture. Another version of this is the phenomenon of kids around the world playing violin and piano, yet citar, gu zheng, etc. have never been accepted as mainstream in the West – they’re “exotic” is all.

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  14. “Glenn Beck has an American viewpoint”

    This sentence, standing alone, will offend so many Americans, including @veronica who said “To suggest anything else is horrific.”

    I understand why you think it’s correct, though. But different people read different things in the same sentence.

    Read that sentence again. “Glenn Beck has an American viewpoint.”

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  15. Good lord. How on earth did THIS turn into a flamewar, and why is anyone talking about Glen Beck? The comments here are getting out-of-hand stupid. FYI of all commenters, I am considering removing comments entirely, at least for the time being.

    That said, if you’re going to comment, please READ the article first. It’s very clear in the introduction that Chris is saying this is the unique perspective of one Chinese person, not that it represents all Chinese people.

    Also, @pug_ster: What? The whole effin’ point of Daoism is that humans, animals, and eveything else are on the same level, there is no big separation between humans and animals. Animals are mentioned ALL THE TIME in Daoist stories, including those about death. See: Zhuangzi dreams he’s a butterfly, Master Lai wonders on his death bed whether he’ll become a rat’s liver or a fly’s leg, etc. etc. etc. The point is that humans, like animals, trees, and even rocks, eventually break down and return to from whence they came, i.e. the Dao.

    At least, that’s how it all started. I don’t hold to any post-Qin dynasty Daoism, because it got all crazy and stupid. But there’s nothing “un-Daoist” about comparing humans to animals; in fact, I’d argue that’s a very Daoist comparison to make.

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  16. @ keisaat: When you put it like that, I do agree with you. That sort of orientalism is alive and well. On the other hand I don’t think there is anything contradictory about saying that a perspective is both Chinese and universal though. For example, you might think that MLK’s perspective is universal and can apply anywhere, but it is also an American one, and also an African American one, and also a Protestant one, etc. etc.

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  17. C Custer,

    I am not looking for a ‘flame war.’ The problem is that you misrepresented the whole idea of Daoism in the first place. If you have any proof of what you said, please show it.

    Meanwhile, here’s a link on Daoism and it is not about fatalism and death, rather getting the qi from the animal (IE eating monkey brains makes you smarter.)

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/daoism/

    A part of the disciplines of Daoism included imitation of the animals of nature, because they were thought to act without the intention and willfulness that characterized humans. Physical exercises included animal dances (wu qin xi) and movements designed to enable the unrestricted flow of the cosmic life force from which all things are made (qi). Other movements designed to channel the flow of qi are called tai qi or qi gong. Daoists practiced breathing exercises, used herbal remedies, and they employed an instruction booklet for sexual positions and intercourse, all designed to enhance the flow of qi energy.

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  18. pugs,

    First, I didn’t say Daoism is “about” fatalism and death; go back and read again. Also, I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, much less Daoism. All I know is that many people interpret Daoism to be fatalistic. If you want to argue otherwise, I’m open to learning, but quote from your link doesn’t say anything one way or the other on that subject. Also, don’t you think it’s a little strange that you are chastising me for misunderstanding Daoism while at the same time claiming that Daoism is about “getting the qi from the animal”?

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  19. Interesting stuff. In the second paragraph the text is translated as “Now you feel just like a pig, and actually, your family will probably treat you like one too.” However I think the text should be translated to “Now you feel (you are) EVEN WORSE than a pig”, though it makes only a slight difference in meaning.

    Onto the content of the article, I read somewhere that pigs are actually pretty smart, smarter than dogs in fact. Maybe they actually understand the concept of death and does not like it a bit but who knows.

    Also, the author mentions that people do not like to talk about death and would like to keep this topic away from children. This is an interesting point because with Christianity (and many other religions) the point is to start talking about death as early as possible (watch Jesus Camp) because a child’s mind is a lot easier to be indoctrinated.

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  20. “FYI of all commenters, I am considering removing comments entirely, at least for the time being.”

    NOOOOOOOOOOOoooo. Reading the comments are the best part of exploring interwebs.

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  21. I don’t normally post here, but I read this blog regularly, and the comments have thrown up some interesting things in the past. It may have taken a downward turn over the past few articles, but do not loose hope C. Custer!

    A temporary ban on comments might not be a bad idea if it stops the habitual posting from people who sometimes have good things to say, but feel obliged to pitch in even when they don’t.

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  22. @pug_ster, please stop.

    C. Custer did just give you proof about animals and humans being put on the same level. Its been a long time since I’ve read any taoism, but from what I remember of the Tao Te Ching, animals and humans are all lumped together into the “myriad creatures”, and even with non-living things in general. In any case taoist scriptures were written by dozens of philosophers over centuries, and I’m sure there are many internal contradictions, so supporting quotes could be found for either position.

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  23. ^ What he said. Read the 道德经 and the 庄子, the two most important and foundational text of Daoism. I have read these both dozens of times, and I cited in my original comment several specific stories from the Zhuangzi that support what I was saying as well.

    Anyway, this discussion is pointless.

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  24. you would have to be blind to not notice the treatment of animals in China. In fact a Chinese artist (Pian Shan)has just started a 2year art project touring around China drawing attention to the terrible treatment of animals and apologising for the bad treatment meted out by humans.(BTW I get the point that this is piece is running a philosophical argument)

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  25. Nice article, it’s good to see that Chinese, too, think about stuff like cruelty of intensive farming practice, and debate death with dignity, such as merit of Liverpool Pathway Care.

    [@Tassiekaz, IMHO our industrialized animal cruelty surpasses anything the Chinese does, both in scale and severity.]

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