Dogs & Pigs – Cultural Sensitivities

Chinese New Year in the past two years has been controversial as the Chinese usher in the year of the dog and followed by the year of the pig, which is this year. Controversial in Malaysia as the majority of the population are Muslims. Dogs and pigs are considered as religiously impure.

But at the same time, with a significant number of Chinese in Malaysia, Chinese cultures are celebrated widely in the nation. Contrary to Muslims, dogs and pigs are part of the Chinese community with many keeping dogs as pets and pork is one of the main foods in Chinese cuisine. As said, even the dog and pig are part of the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle.

Of course, as much as we want to practice our culture as Chinese, we never intend to disrespect or offend any other community.

Unfortunately, irresponsible politics in Malaysia has caused racial and religious sensitivities to build up. Certain politicians try to use identity politics, which is by gaining support from his own community of the same race or religion. Strategically, irresponsible politicians use identity politics to strengthen themselves; as it is easier to build influence through racial or religious identity.

Unfortunately, this ‘identity politics’ strategy can divert energy and attention from more fundamental and important issues such as economy, environment, education and many more. In fact, if we look at it, many of those issues have been influenced by racial or religious elements.

I believe this ‘identity politics’ has caused the Malaysian community with a long history of removing dogs and pics from the public sphere.

In 2014, activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi was forced to seek public protection after receiving death threats for organizing an “I want to touch a dog” event to give Malay-Muslims an opportunity to connect with dog owners and pet canines.

In 2016, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) refused to give its much sought-after halal certification to the Auntie Anne’s franchise over the use of the word “dog” on its menu. The company was instructed to rename its “Pretzel Dog” as “Pretzel Sausage”.

2016 Hong Kong blockbuster film “The Monkey King 2” had its “Zhu Ba Jie” character removed from promotional material.

More recently, national carrier Malaysia Airlines’ in-flight magazine Going Places had to issue a public clarification after it was accused of publishing a photograph of a pork dish. Although the dish was actually Wagyu steak, the carrier apologised for any offence caused.

Even most of the shopping malls and companies are avoiding any pig elements during this Chinese New Year to avoid any controversial issues.

Come to think of it, things like “Pretzel Dog” are not even literally dogs. What is the meaning of the story if Zhu Ba Jie isn’t in the show? A company has to apologise because some people misunderstood that the picture of a beef is pork? Shouldn’t the Hindu be more sensitive to that instead?

As much as I agree that we need mutual respect in our community, I think some extreme Malaysians are too worried over religious sensitivities.

Mutual respect is not about stopping others from practicing their culture or religion; but accepting what they practice as long as they are not extremism or hurting any others.

We, as Chinese, must preserve the Chinese culture and at the same time educate our non-Chinese friends about our culture and of course not to over-do to disrespect anyone.

With the Islamophobia that is happening in the recent decades, I think we as non-Muslims who have been living with Muslims for decades should always spread awareness regarding the misunderstanding towards Muslims of the world.

There might be extremist Muslims that might have deviated from the teachings; but us knowing how they really are, must tell the Western world about true Muslims.

Similarly, as much as we want other religions to understand Chinese culture, we want the Western world to understand what it is like to live with true Muslims.

Being a Malaysian, I am extremely proud that we are one of the non-Muslims that understands Muslims. Of course, we hope other communities understand our culture as well. 

Before I end my thoughts, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year.