Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Year of the Goat: Fun Facts and Thoughts

What's in the Names ?
While there's only one Chinese word or character for the animal zodiac of this year, Yang/Yáng (羊), there can be many possible English translations for it.

The Chinese character Sheep in the Chinese New year decoration, Paragon, Singapore
The word "Yang" decorated at Paragon's escalator, Orchard Road

Japanese stamp showing Kanji character of Yang (Sheep) for the 1982, the Chinese Year of the Sheep
Japanese stamp showing Kanji character of Yang for 1982, the Chinese Year of the Sheep / Goat
the Chinese Year of the Sheep / Goat Seasons greetings
Various Japanese stamps showing different fonts of Chinese / Kanji characters of Yang 
Chinese character Yang in ideogram form.
Chinese New Year Season greeting on
The Metropolis

In UK, for example, this year is called the Chinese Year of the Sheep. I find the word "sheep" has negative associations like sheepish, or a herd of sheep (as in following the crowd blindly).

Greek god Pan
Photo: wikimedia
In Singapore, this year is referred to the Year of the Goat. The word "goat" also doesn't have the best associations either as seen in the use of the expression "you old goat". The English word "goat" is also translated into Chinese as "sè guǐ" (色鬼), meaning "horny devil" or "sex maniac" in English. This meaning originates from the Greek deity Pan.

If there's unspoken connection of sexual potency with this animal zodiac, then Chinese (or any other) culture wouldn't necessarily view it as negative. Indeed, spiritedness implies sexual potency.

There seems to be no consensus as to if Yang refers to a mountain goat or a woolly sheep. I've seen both been displayed in different shopping malls in Singapore. This just confounds the confusion.

Both mountain goat (or shan yang 山羊) and a woolly sheep (mian yang 绵羊) is a type of Yang (羊). Hence the confusion.

Decoration of the Year of the Goat outside a Shopping Mall, Singapore
Yang as represented by a mountain goat

Decoration of the Year of the Goat, Star Vista Shopping Mall, Singapore
Yang as represented by a woolly sheep

While Singaporean shopping malls showing 2 different types of Yang, but the mountain goat dominates most of the displays of this zodiac animal. More importantly, the official CNY display in Chinatown are mountain goats, not woolly sheep. This is because Chinese like the idea of a spirited goat rather than a tame sheep to represent the year. The woolly sheep is designed with cuteness in mind, but spirit trumps cuteness in terms of tradition.

Chinese New Year Display in Chinatown 2015, Singapore
the 3 spirited goats stand atop a mountain in unison leaping postures
as part of the Chinatown CNY Light-Up of 2015

Chinese New Year Display in 2015, River Hongbao, The Float @ Marina Bay, Singapore
Another official triple goats could be found at the River Hongbao.
One of the 12 zodiac lanterns displayed at The Float @ Marina Bay

Chinese New Year Display in 2015, ION Orchard, Orchard Road, Singapore
A goat display outside ION Orchard shopping mall during CNY season

Golden Goat Bullion
Golden Goat bullion figure for the Wooden Goat

It seems that the white woolly sheep in The Star Vista shopping mall is just about the only black sheep among CNY displays in Singapore shopping malls.

In Australia, I've seen the Year of the Ram being used. Unfortunately, this term was dropped because isn't commonly used (compare to "Sheep" or "Goat"). Hang on! There's the Ram or Aries sign under the western horoscope. Perhaps, this is the reason why the term "Ram" isn't being used to avoid confusion. Or is it? Capricorn is actually a Goat. So both the Ram and Goat are signs taken by the Western horoscope. For techie, they might confuse the term "RAM" with Random-Access-Memory. However, I do like the sound of "The Year of Random Access Memory".

Anyway, if you go with ram, why not ewe, or lamb or kid? You're kidding, right?

Decoration of the Year of the Goat, Star Vista Shopping Mall, Singapore
Row of Sheep in StarVista Shopping Mall

Buns in the shapes of sheep's faces, Singapore
Faces of goats, sold in BreadTalk store

These rows and columns of decorations seems to reflect the Year of the Sheep better than other zodiac signs.

What's in the Numbers ?
There's a dozen of zodiac signs in the Western horoscope, each represents a month of the year. So it's logically followed that there're 12 zodiac signs.

Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
As for the Chinese horoscope, there're no reason at all for having a dozen of animal zodiacs. It could have been lucky number like 7 (not for Chinese though), or 13 (which is lucky number for Chinese), or the mystical numbers of 3, 6 or 9 (according to one of the greatest scientific genius Nikola Tesla, these are very important numbers).
“If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.”        Nikola Tesla
It's talk like this (not to mention his belief in eugenics and Martians) that put this genius, who was a league above Thomas Edison, into obscurity among the scientific community. That, and the fact that he made 2 powerful enemies: Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan.

To the ancient Chinese, these triplets of 3,6 and 9 are also numbers with mystical properties. They're often used in or linked to Taoist divination. Even if you don't know anything about I Ching, every Chinese - especially Cantonese - would consider these 3 numbers as auspicious.

San Yang Kai Tai (开泰)
means "Three Yangs opens the year", implying auspicious begining

Instead of any of the mystical triplet, number 12 is being used. There's something quite universal and interesting about the number 12. Many cultures use 12 in many different areas. For examples, 12 inches in a 1 foot, or eggs being counted in dozens, etc.

12 is also a multiple of 3 and 6. Notice the 3 goats in the Chinatown photo above.

In Chinese zodiac, each cycle of 12 years is also linked to one of 5 universal elements of Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth (According to ancient Greeks, there're 4 universal elements that make up the world: Earth, Water, Air and Fire (We won't count Love as the 5th Element. That's Luc Besson's invention. Don't you love it?)).

To be precise, this year is the Year of the Wooden Goat. This zodiac specifies both the Element and the zodiac sign.

If you combine these 5 elements with the 12 Chinese zodiacs signs, you'll get a 5 x 12 = 60 years cycles. And 60 is another important numerological numbers. So strictly speaking, there're 60 Chinese zodiac signs when the 5 elements are taken into consideration. If you're born this year, you're Wooden sheep, but if you were born 12 years ago (after CNY), you would be a Golden Sheep. According to Chinese zodiac interpretations, these 2 sheep have different fates.They might as well be born under a different zodiac sign.

In Western horoscope, the 4 Elements are also associated with each zodiac sign. For example, Aries, Leo and Sagittarius are belonged to the Fire signs. But these relationships between the 4 Elements and the zodiac are fixed. That is, regardless which year you're born, if you're a Leo, the Fire sign always links to you.

See how much things East and West share in common? Zodiac, numerology, Elements, commercialisations of festivals, and heavenly spokesmen. Of course, we must expect some superficial differences. They exist in different regions within one culture.

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