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It’s not a Goat/Sheep or a Ram…it’s a Wei 未

The Lunar Chinese New Year always brings out the silly season when it comes to news publications. And unfortunately, Feng Shui experts seem to like to go along with the flow.

Yesterday, I was reading the article below on global economic forecasts and what amazed me is that the article contained zero explanation of how the experts arrived at their conclusions – not even a five element explanation. Perhaps it goes back to the old view that inauspicious things shouldn’t be said during Chinese New Year. Of course, the annoying thing is that then someone will ask ME about this article they read because they didn’t understand how these experts derived their answers either. At least the CLSA Feng Shui index doesn’t take itself seriously, and even then, it’s at least based on some attempt at historical data.

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However, the height of Chinese Astrological silly season for me was an article by international wire services which ran in a number of Malaysian publications entitled “Which Animal? Confusion Over ‘Sheep, Goat or Ram’ Clarified”. (variations can be seen via Google Search here) This for me takes the cake as possibly the stupidest article I have ever read on Lunar Calendaring, Astrology and Earthly Branches.

Yes, I know – this stuff is mostly for entertainment or light reading. But really, must we tolerate stupid ignorant articles just because it’s not supposed to be taken seriously?

A majority of the articles fail to appreciate an important point: that although the Animals referenced in the Earthly Branches are familiar mostly Chinese farmyard animals (excepting the Dragon, which is the one anomaly since that mythological, and the Tiger, which obviously is NOT a domestic animal), the characters used to reference the animals are SPECIAL and not the conventional dictionary terms.

The original article seems to have been this one by AFP: Big Yang Theory: Chinese Year of the Sheep or Goat?. Within the article were a number of very laughable conclusions (to the knowledgeable Chinese astrologer), including a lengthy discussion on the etymology of the word ‘Yang’. As invariably happens, one wire news article leads to a raft of other articles, each feeding off the original article (and people wonder how international journalistic myths get perpetuated) whilst trying to add some local flavour to the discussion (the Huriyet article is a good example). The International Business Times writes in its article:

“The word used in Chinese for ‘Sheep’ is ‘Yang’ but there is contention that the very same word can often be used to describe other horned animals such as a goat or a ram. This could perhaps be the reason some scholars have chosen the expression ‘The Year of the Horned Animal’ while describing the upcoming year.”

CNN quotes an expert in Chinese mythology, Isaac Yue as saying:

“I’d be more inclined to translate it as goat for the simple reason if you look at the way the character yang is written, even in its ancient form, you can see that there is a pair of horns so it more closely resembles a goat than a sheep,” says Yue. Both sheep and goats are raised in China, but the former are only found in the grasslands on the country’s northern fringes. Goats are more commonplace. The ram — a male sheep — is a third candidate, preferred by some who don’t like the meek, docile characteristics associated with the sheep.

Everyone it basing their argument on what is the exact and precise translation for Yang 羊.  Little do the scribes coughing out these articles (on a rudimentary perspective, mostly gwai lohs – and almost all of them obviously copying from the same few sources of information or pursuing the same lead) know that in Chinese Astrology, the word for the Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep (whatever!) is Wei 未.

Specifically, 2015 is the year of 乙未 Yi Wei if we must be precise.

So folks, a Sheep/Ram/Goat by any other name, is not a Yang 羊 but a Wei 未.  Just like a Mouse/Rat/Rodent by any other name is not a 大鼠 but 子.

(moral of the fable: no read Chinese? Can still learn Chinese Astrology!).