SHEEP – better known for following than leading – are going to rule in the world’s most populous nation for the next year.
When the 1.3 billion Chinese are preparing to celebrate their traditional Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, on Feb 1, they will also greet the arrival of the Year of Sheep, which is believed by many to be very auspicious.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have named each year after an animal in a 12-year cycle.
The sheep ranks eighth in the cycle, after the mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake and horse, but before the monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
This year will also be known as the Year of the Goat as the Chinese use the same word for goat and sheep, while the character also means “auspicious,” and people regard sheep and goats as symbols of good luck.
Celebrations for the Year of Sheep are already in full swing in major cities.
In Beijing, a statue of “three sheep ushering in a happy spring” was erected. In Shanghai, 16 China-bred cloned goats met the public for the first time in a local safari park.
In Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, which has the nickname “the city of sheep”, the China National Philatelic Corporation started issuing of a commemorative stamp featuring a ceramic sheep.
The sheep was one of the first animals domesticated by the Chinese in ancient days.
The Chinese have used it for meat, milk and also for manufacturing brush pens and shoes, while their hides have even been used for making inflated rafts.
Many Chinese vocabularies are derived from the character “sheep” and most of them refer to good things or feelings.
For example, the Chinese word mei (beautiful or good) is actually a combination of “sheep” and “big”, while the word xian (delicious or fresh) combines “sheep” with “fish”.
Today, since the character for “sheep” is also a homophone for characters like “sunshine”, “happiness”, “oxygen” and “foreign”, people deliberately use them as puns in new year greetings to friends and family.
Businesses are also cashing in on the holiday mood. A mobile phone company offered a “happiness” package to buyers of its products, while a company making oxygen-generating air-conditioners entices people to “take oxygen to your home in the Year of Sheep” in its promotions.
The China Gold Coin Incorporation last month started to sell gold bars carrying a detailed sheep logo. At the Caishikou Department Store in Beijing, people queued up to purchase the bars.
A customer who gave his surname as Zhou said he had bought three gold bars as Spring Festival presents.
The sheep has also dominated gift stores. A sheep turning its head and looking back was named “In the Lead”, while a gilded sheep was called “Great Happiness”.
In Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province, a shop assistant in a department store said: “According to folklore, those born in the Year of the Sheep could encounter something bad when a new 12-year cycle in their lives begins. I think everyone wants to take precautions and these days red sweaters are selling really well.”
And what are people’s New Year expectations? Yan Li, a stock investor in Shenyang, said: “Hopefully the stock market will rebound this year, for it is an auspicious year.” Yang Liu, a Beijing primary school student, wants to get a Harry Potter computer game. –People’s Daily
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