“牲”: Animals versus Livestock

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An old photo of the “Great Prayer” (大拜拜) celebrations in Taipei’s Da-an district, where various “Sheng” are sacrificed to the gods. (Credit: 張憲文)

I previously translated  牲 (sheng) is simply “animal”. But upon revisiting this, I see that this character actually conveys concepts much more specific then English words such as “animal” or “creature” allow.

Sheng is used to describe domesticated animals used for sacrifices to deities or ancestors.  In Ancient China, domesticated livestock were consider more desirable and valuable than wild game and more suitable as items for sacrifice, which makes sense in many ways since livestock tends to be more tender, meaty, and less “gamey” that hunted wild animals. Thus the better translation for sheng would be “livestock suitable for sacrifice”, or simply “livestock”.

As such, the names of the previous sections will be changed from “Assorted Animals” to “Assorted Livestock”. A small tweak, but still important.

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