A pig who became an unlikely national icon in China after surviving 36 days under rubble in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake in 2008 died at the age of 14 on Wednesday, sparking an outpouring of emotion.

Zhu Jianqiang, or "Strong Pig", shot to fame after being discovered alive following the 7.9-magnitude earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province on May 12, 2008.

The earthquake left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing and the pig’s miraculous story, subsisting on a bag of charcoal and rainwater, was hailed as an inspiring symbol of the will to survive.

Witnesses said the young Zhu Jianqiang had lost so much weight by the time it was pulled from the rubble that it looked more like a goat.

A local museum near the city of Chengdu purchased the pig for 3,008 yuan ($450) and kept it as a tourist attraction while it lived out its days.

It succumbed to "old age and exhaustion" on Wednesday night, the museum said on social media platform Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

In human terms, it was 100 years old, The Global Times said, citing its breeder.

The celebrity pig was named China’s animal of the year in 2008 because it "vividly illustrated the spirit of never giving up".

The Weibo hashtag "Strong Pig died" drew nearly 300 million views by midday Thursday and was rising fast.

Weibo users hailed it as "the most famous pig in history".

"It is indeed a strong animal, not just for surviving the earthquake, but also for the 13 years of life afterwards," said one popular Weibo post.