And Finally

Got their goat

Debates over “yang” rumble on in Western media

A woman gestures at a stall selling decorations ahead of the upcoming Spring Festival in Wuhan

Lunar New Year begins this week

In last week’s issue we pointed out the ambiguity surrounding whether this is now the Year of the Goat or the Year of the Sheep (or possibly the Ram). Well, the subject has gone viral among China’s netizens thanks to a popular blog on Sina Weibo.

‘Here in UK’ is written by a Chinese national residing in Britain. It has around 2.9 million followers and normally focuses on quirky tales from Blighty. But on this occasion the anonymous blogger posted an extended piece entitled: “Chinese Year of the Goat has driven English media crazy; which kind of yang are you talking about.”

The blog post, which People’s Daily retweeted (as did more than 130,000 others), went on: “It is normal for China to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but the foreigners also want to play a part. But these foreigners discovered a really confusing puzzle. You Chinese talk about yang, but which kind of yang?”

As we described in last week’s issue, the word yang in Chinese can denote a goat or a sheep (or a ram). Yang is a single character – using additional characters the naming becomes more precise. Thus a goat is a ‘shan-yang’ (i.e. mountain yang), and a sheep is ‘mian-yang’ (i.e. ‘cotton yang). However, in terms of this year’s zodiac sign, only the single yang character 羊 is specified, leading to all the confusion.

Thus the blogger pointed out that a clearly confused Birmingham Mail and Manchester Evening News both wrote articles headlined: “Is it the Year of the Goat, Sheep or Ram?”

But the British media was not alone; CNN also asked the very same question. Some US newspapers took definitive views. The Wall Street Journal said it was the Year of the Goat, while USA Today preferred to go with the Sheep.

The blogger said some media actually asked Chinese experts but got no definitive answers (a problem we faced too, see WiC270). This led the New York Times to describe it wittily as the “Year of the Ruminant Horned Animal”.

‘Here in UK’ asked its Chinese readers to make their preference known. Among the 65,000 who responded, the clear winner was Goat with 34%, though Sheep got 18% and some 12% voted for the popular Chinese cartoon character known as Pleasant Goat. Only 3% voted for the ram and the remainder admitted they hadn’t the foggiest.

Luckily one erudite WiC reader responded to last week’s zodiac ‘controversy’ with his own considered opinion that goat is correct. “Our lunar calandar was conceived in central China around the middle area of the Yellow River. In ancient times there were only goats in that area. Sheep were only in the area north of the Yan Kingdom, which was not yet a part of China. Secondly, the Chinese character yang even looks like a goat.” He also thinks the goat the far more likely because ancestral Chinese used this animal for sacrificial ceremonies.


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