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Big Yang Theory: Chinese year of the sheep or the goat?

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The southern boom town, today the capital of Guangdong province and dubbed the City of Goats, has enjoyed timely wind and rain ever since, according to the story/FILE

The southern boom town, today the capital of Guangdong province and dubbed the City of Goats, has enjoyed timely wind and rain ever since, according to the story/FILE

BEIJING, China, Feb 16 – China’s coming lunar new year has stirred a debate over which zodiac creature is the correct one – but Chinese folklorists dismiss the fixation on animals as missing the point.

Traditional astrology in China attaches different animal signs to each lunar year in a cycle of 12 years.

The symbol for the new year starting on February 19 is the “yang”, which can refer to any member of the caprinae subfamily – or even beyond – depending on what additional Chinese character it is paired up with.

For example, a goat is a “mountain yang”, a sheep is a “soft yang” and a Mongolian gazelle is a “yellow yang”.

Both goats and sheep appear in Chinese new year paintings, paper-cuts and other festival decorations.

Folklorists say it does not matter which one is used since the zodiac sign was chosen for the Chinese character’s auspicious connotation rather than the specific animal – at least in the beginning.

“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.

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