Cats in Chinese Literature

Cats aren’t often mentioned in traditional Chinese literature. That’s why you rarely see them on Chinese teaware, except for this cat gaiwan cup (image above).

Yet, they definitely have their following, especially in the Song dynasty. Back then, it was in fact quite popular to keep kitten.

In this article, we’ll take a look at cats in Chinese literature. If you’re also interested in cat idioms, then you may read this publication: Chinese Cat Idioms.

Song poet Lu You was a famous cat lover. He started with the idea that kittens could help deal with the mice that chewed on books. He wrote the following poem at that time about cats:

“Bringing salt to meet the small kitty, who will protect the house of ten thousand books.”

This requires some explanation. At that time, the Song people regarded welcoming a kitten home as a very important matter. They gifted salt to the family who provided the new born kittens. Why salt? Because it was rare and considered a luxury product back then.

cats in chinese culture poems poets

If they buy the kittens from a vendor, or take them from stray cats, they would prepare strings of dried fish for the mother cat. Litterateur Huang Ting Jian also mentioned this custom in his poem:

“in Autumn, there are too many mice running around in my house, knocking things over and making it difficult to sleep. I’ve heard that a mother cat is going to give birth. I will get some dried fish and ask a kitten to come home with me.”

The innocent and cuddly image of cats makes them easy to love and forgive. When Lu You was no longer a novice cat owner, he wrote another poem:

“the cats only think about how eating fish all day, and don’t care about the mice running around.” 

From the above statement, we can derive that he was trying to blame the cat, but couldn’t help loving them and feeding them fish. In his later years he wrote:

“think not of solitude, for there is a cat with me along the way.”

Writer Zhang Shunmin showed his affection for his cat in a poem too:

“Jiaojun gave me a golden pheasant, beautiful and gentle. But my cat makes trouble for it every day. Nothing I can do, the golden pheasant has to be returned.”

Zhang Zhidong, Minister of Military of Qing dynasty, was another famous cat lover. He had dozens of cats in his house, and they roamed freely in his bedroom and study. He fed everyone of them himself. Sometimes the cat just took a dump in the house and he picked it up and didn’t care:

“A cat cannot be blamed for its ignorance. If a person was in the cat’s position, he cannot be forgiven.”

We hope you find these kitten quotes from Chinese literature enjoyable!

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