Meet the ‘People’s Pig of the Northeast.’ It Might Get Buried Alive.

A worker checking on the “People’s Pigs” Little Black, Little White, Little Gray and Old White at Green Cow Farm outside Beijing this m...

A worker checking on the “People’s Pigs” Little Black, Little White, Little Gray and Old White at Green Cow Farm outside Beijing this month. The environmentalist Abby Rockefeller wants to bring them to the United States after local officials threatened to kill them.CreditCreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

By Sui-Lee Wee, The New York Times

BEIJING — Abby Rockefeller wants to bring the People’s Pig of the Northeast back to the people. First, she has to bring it to upstate New York.

Ms. Rockefeller, the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller Sr., paid $1,400 this month to buy four of the People’s Pigs — Little Black, Little White, Little Gray and Old White — from a farm in suburban Beijing. She hopes to use them as breeding stock to restore a variety of swine once known in China for its virility, fatty meat and ability to endure cold. Today, by one estimate, there are only 2,000 left.

“I would very much like to get these remarkable, unusual pigs that are now rare,” Ms. Rockefeller said in a telephone interview from Cambridge, Mass. “These pigs matter to me and they would be a symbol if I can get them to the United States.”

If she succeeds, it would be a happy ending for four animals caught up in the peculiarities of modern China. Chinese efforts to spur urbanization and modernize farming may deprive them of their current home. Health restrictions mean they can’t be moved. Chinese conservation experts want to save them. Local officials have threatened to bury them alive.

It is hard to overstate the ubiquity of pork in China, the world’s largest pig breeder and pork consumer. From the north to the south, the meat is served in everything from dumplings to soup. Every part of the pig is eaten, including the head, feet, heart, tongue, stomach and kidneys.

But the bulk of it comes from Western pigs. These breeds came to China as a way to meet the explosion in demand from a richer population that wanted more meat. The government gave subsidies to pig farmers starting in the 1980s to cultivate breeds from the United States and Denmark with names like Duroc and Landrace.

Local breeds have faded. Of about 72 local pig breeds in China, at least 31 could become extinct, according to a 2013 report by Oriental Weekly, a newsmagazine affiliated with China’s official news agency, Xinhua.

The People’s Pig of the Northeast is a variety of swine once known in China for its virility, fatty meat and ability to endure cold. Today, by one estimate, there are only about 2,000 left.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

The People’s Pig of the Northeast, or “dongbei minzhu” in Chinese, originated from Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China. The origin of the name is unclear. In English, some of their fans call the pigs by the literal translation of their name, while others call them Min pigs. Local connoisseurs say their meat is tastier than foreign pork. China’s Ministry of Agriculture lists the breed on what it calls its “national team” — animals of excellent pedigree whose genes should be protected.

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