21 July 2018
A shopper takes a selfie in front of sheep sculptures at a shopping mall in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
A shopper takes a selfie in front of sheep sculptures at a shopping mall in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Which year is it anyway?

Happy Lunar New Year! Happy Year of the …  Is it sheep or goat?

Up to now the debate is raging over which zodiac creature should represent the lunar new year which starts on Feb. 19. 

As Chinese communities all over the world prepare for the festival, both goats and sheep are represented in decorations, buntings, paper cuts and paintings to celebrate the occasion.

So which is the correct one? Chinese astrologers say it’s not important which animal is used because the zodiac sign was chosen for the Chinese character’s auspicious connotation rather than the specific animal, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Chinese astrology, each lunar year is represented by a zodiac creature in a cycle of 12 years.

The symbol for the coming new year is the “yang”, which can refer to any member of the Caprinae subfamily — or even outside of it — depending on what additional Chinese character is paired with it, the news agency reported.

A goat is a “mountain yang”, a sheep is a “soft yang” while a Mongolian gazelle is a “yellow yang”, experts explain.

“This ‘yang’ is fictional. It does not refer to any specific kind [of sheep or goat],” Zhao Shu, a researcher with the Beijing Research Institute of Culture and History, told AFP.

“Yang” is a component of the written Chinese character “xiang”, which means auspiciousness, and the two are interchangeable.

It is also a part of the character “shan”, which counts kindness and benevolence as among its meanings.

“Therefore ‘yang’ is a symbol of … blessing and fortune and represents good things,” Yin Hubin, an ethnology researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying.

“It is connected to the original implication of the Chinese character as an ideogram and reflects the world view of the Chinese people in primitive times,” he said.

For some, the sheep is not a good sign because of the Chinese superstition that nine out of 10 sheep will lead an unhappy life.

This is the reason why some expectant mothers schedule Caesarean sections to give birth before the current year of the horse ends.

But the animal actually plays a positive role in Chinese folklore.

According to an old fable, five goats carried crops in their mouth to save people suffering from a prolonged drought in Guangzhou. Since then, the southern town has enjoyed good weather and abundant harvests.

Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, is also known as the City of Goats.

Says Zhao: “Sheep, goat, Mongolian gazelle — whatever is fine. This is the fun of Chinese characters.” 

Indeed, if a zodiac creature is chosen for its auspicious trait, then it can only bring positive energy and good luck.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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The goat motif dominates decorations of shopping malls and other commercial outlets to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Photo: AFP

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