Lunar New Year of “any ruminant horned animal”? – Celebrating the Year of “Yang”

By Ruiqi Xie

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

February 19th was China’s Lunar New Year’s Eve. In New York City, all of midtown by the Hudson River was lit up by beautiful fireworks put on by the Chinese Embassy. According to the zodiac, this lunar year of 2015 is the year of “Yang.” It is not uncommon for “Yang” to be interpreted as ram, sheep or goat both in China as well as in western media.

Chinese character "Yang"

Chinese character “Yang”

In China, the character pronounced as “Yang” has a general meaning of all Ovis (sheep, goat, ram and other goat-like horned animals). As seen in the Chinese ancient Bronze character to the left, “Yang” looks exactly like the head of a ram. The right image is the modern Chinese character of “Yang,” which appears less like a ram or a goat, but still can be interpreted as an animal with horns.

This Lunar New Year people are questioning, is 2015 the year of the sheep, goat, or ram? Geographically speaking, sheep are more common in Northern China, and goats are more common in the South. Having this in mind, it is likely that the people of northern China believe this new year to be the year of the sheep, but for people in southern China this new year might represent the year of the goat.

Generally, people believe that goats and sheep are animals with submissive, mild, and considerate characteristics. However, since sheep have a more furry, fluffy and chubby appearance, many people in China are in favor of the sheep simply because they believe them to be cuter animals. More specifically, many of the young females in China prefer the sheep when talking about their “Yang” zodiac as they are generally the more favored animal.

This year might be interpreted as the year of the sheep, goat, or ram, but one thing that does not change is the once-a-year family dinner. In Chinese culture, Lunar New Year’s Eve is the most important day of the year, in which the whole family will get together to celebrate and have the most scrumptious family dinner of the year.

In the past when China was not as economically developed as it is now, for many poor families, the New Year’s Eve family dinner was the only meal in which everybody could satiate their appetites. Every family would save their best food for New Year’s Eve, and the ideal best food was meat, since it was rare to be able to afford it any other day of the year. Suffering from the tragic experience of the nationwide famine from 1959 to 1961, many families are eating large amounts of meat in response to prior years of scarcity. Pork and chicken are the most popular meat on the dining table; beef and lamb also appear in most of the family dinners.

On this day, the demand for meat is so high, therefore China’s slaughterhouse workers are extremely busy. For example, workers in the pork industry sometimes have to work nonstop for over 24 hours to ensure that they slaughter a sufficient number of pigs to then send the meat to the market for purchasing.

However, with the growing Buddhist community in China and the introducing of the healthy vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, a growing number of people are starting to try a vegetarian diet, including their traditional New Year’s Eve dinner. For those people who cannot go back to China and have New Year’s Eve dinner with their family like me, we have our own ways of celebrating the Chinese New Year. A friend of mine had a vegan New Year’s Eve dinner with her Buddhist community, and I made vegan dumplings at my apartment.

It is not too late to say Happy Lunar New Year, in celebration of the year of “Yang”!

Photo courtesy of Suyun Wu

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