“life and death are wearing me out”


In the summer of 1976, as Chairman Mao lay on his deathbed in Beijing, the pigs at the Ximen Village Production Brigade Apricot Garden Pig Farm in Gaomi County, Shandong Province, also began to die. The first batch of five were found with “their skin dotted with purple splotches the size of bronze coins, their eyes open, as if they’d died with unresolved grievances.” The commune vet declared they had succumbed to “what we call the Red Death” and ordered them to be cremated and buried immediately. But it had been raining for weeks and the ground was too waterlogged. Dousing the carcasses with kerosene and trying to set them alight simply filled the farm with vile-smelling smoke. Soon 800 more pigs were infected. A fresh team of vets arrived by motorboat with more sophisticated medicines, but their ministrations were of little help. Dead pigs were piled up throughout the farm, their bloated forms expanding and exploding in the heat.

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