So, is it the Year of the Ram, Sheep or Goat?

( Xinhua ) Updated: 2015-02-13 03:55:45

So, is it the Year of the Ram, Sheep or Goat?

A tourist prepares for Chinese Lunar New Year in Sichuan province. [Photo by ZOUHONG/ CHINA DAILY]

Poll: Year of the Sheep, Lamb, Goat or Ram?

Debate over animal ambiguity has been triggered in the West over the forthcoming Chinese Lunar New Year.

The zodiac animal for the next 12 months is causing great confusion in the English-language world, as its translation results in at least two candidates — sheep or goat.

The Year of the Ram is also in widespread use.

Chinese folklorists say the animal symbol can be either a sheep or goat but is more likely to be a goat, given the latter's popularity as a farm animal among Han Chinese.

The Chinese lunar calendar assigns an animal symbol to each year in every 12-year cycle. But the Chinese character for the eighth zodiac animal is yang, which can refer to either a sheep or goat when used without attributes.

There is no such confusion when Chinese is used, as the word yang forms part of the name of sheep, goat and ram.

Huang Yang, who researches the role of sheep and goats in Chinese culture, said tracing the origin of the zodiacal yang could be difficult.

This is because the Chinese zodiac first appeared after the Shang Dynasty (around 1600-1046 BC), when Chinese did not differentiate between sheep and goats in language or in sacrificial offerings.

Both species have a long history of domestication in China and have appeared on oracle bone scripts and other artifacts since prehistoric times, Huang said.

"But if we judge from the fact that the Chinese zodiac is a Han tradition, yang are more likely goats, which are more common livestock for the Han Chinese," Huang said.

Bearded goats often appear as images on China's zodiac stamps and paper cuttings.

Fang Binggui, a folklorist in Fuzhou, Fujian province, said the image of yang is open to regional interpretation. "People depict the zodiac animal based on the yang most common in their region. So it's often sheep in the north and goats in the south."

China Daily is inviting readers to take part in an online survey to help us determine the best English-language translation for the zodiac animal in the forthcoming Lunar New Year.

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