There are many genres of Chinese folklore, including cautionary tales that are based on folkloric customs and traditions.
The fable of “the fat pig always gets slaughtered first” is one of these tales of caution that has been used to warn against greed as well as military advice dating back to the Shang dynasty (1600 B.C.) up to the the Period of the Northern and Southern dynasties (581 A.D.)
In Chinese folkloric customs and traditions, the farm families raise pigs for food and for methane that is piped into the kitchen for cooking. A pig is raised to a certain weight before it is sold at market. Of course, the fatter the pig the more it can be sold for. Throughout Chinese history, there have always been horse thieves and pig thieves. The fattest pig is always the target of the thieves since it can be sold for quite a large sum of money on the market. Usually pigs are not tagged while alive. Meat inspection stamps, small quarter-sized blue colored stamp marks, are stamped after slaughter behind the ear of the pig’s head which has been cleaned and de-haired.
In Cantonese restaurants even today, there is a famous banquet “dish” of “roast suckling pig”. At the banquet, the roast suckling pig is displayed before it is served. Even though these are piglets, they are not that skinny. They are “little fat suckling pigs”. So the fable also applies to banquets.
The cautionary moral of the fable is against greed. A lavish display of one’s wealth and greed will create envy and jealousy and attract thieves and robbers and political enemies.
The cautionary moral for ancient kings during the time of Confucius and the Period of Spring and Autumn (722 – 481 B.C.) and the Period of the Warring States (403 – 221 B.C.) was that a kingdom should not display its wealth for this will attract the envy of neighboring kingdoms and will invite invasion.
Lao Tzu, Chapter 76, says:
“Therefore, when an army is headstrong, it will lose in battle.
“When a tree is grown strong, it will be cut down.”
[Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching, translated by Y. T. Hsiung]