The Chinese word 羊 means sheep (綿羊) or goats (山羊).
Sheep and goats are both small livestock animals raised for their wool as well as milk and meat. Because of non-aggressive and docile nature, sheep and goats were the first animals that humans domesticated.
Sheep are best known for their strong flocking and following instinct. They will run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for protection. This is the only protection they have from predators. There is safety in numbers. It is harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays. Goats are more independent, intelligent and tolerant of interaction in general.
An adult female sheep is referred to as a ewe, a male as a ram, and a younger sheep as a lamb.
Differences between sheep and goats
Sheep and goats are closely related. Visual differences between sheep and goats include the beard of goats and divided upper lip of sheep. Sheep tails also hang down, even when short or docked, while the short tails of goats are held upwards. While a goat has hair, a sheep has fleece.
Most goats are naturally horned. Many breeds of sheep are naturally hornless (polled). Some sheep have horns and tend to curl their horns in loops on the sides of their heads.
A goat is a typical browser, feeding on leaves, shrubs, twigs and vines. A sheep on the other hand loves to graze on grass and clover.
Sheep and goats have been used for sacrifice in religious ceremonies throughout the ages.
Chinese Zodiac – Sheep / Goat
(Recent years of the Sheep/Goat in the Chinese Lunar Calendar are 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015.)
Characteristics of people born in the year of Sheep/Goat are usually kind, gentle and sociable. They have a special fondness for quiet living. They are wise, compassionate, sentimental and are filial throughout their life and take care of their children very well.
Artists and photographers have captured images of baby lamb kneeling down respectfully when they are feeding (羔羊跪乳).
Sheep and goats have the spirit of sacrificing themselves for benevolence.
Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, laid down his precious life for us so that we can have everlasting life if we believe in Him and follow Him.
The images of goats, horns and the word 羊 in ancient artefacts
In some ancient bronze wares dated from around 1600 BCE to 200 BCE, there were inscriptions of the pictures of goats and horns.
The pictographic images of sheep and the two words Jí Yang (吉羊) were commonly found in wǎdàng (瓦當), the tile ends in Han Dynasty around 200 BCE to 200 CE.
Xǔshèn (許慎) (c 58 CE to c 147 CE), a great scholar of Chinese words wrote an important dictionary called shuō wén jiě zì (說文解字). In this dictionary, he said the word Yang (羊) meant sheep or goat. It evolved to the term xiáng yě (祥也), meaning auspicious, propitious, lucky, serene, untroubled, peaceful, or tranquil.
The two words, jí xiáng (吉祥), are commonly used for decorations for Chinese New Year.
I wish to thank Professor P Lam most sincerely for his continued support and guidance.
I also wish to thank Dr R Wu for permitting me to quote a text from his recent lecture.
(1) Chinese oracle and bronze writings give us rich clues to ancient social values, encoded in just a limited number of scripts. Goats indeed occupy a central position in ancient Chinese society right from the start. The word Beauty is also of ‘big goat’ 美, more in reference to the palate rather than vision. Good casserole or soup 羹 also pertains to cooking goat. Indeed, cooking utensils and ceremonial bronze ware used by the nobles were mostly designed to cook 羹 (a quote from Dr Richard Wu, a practising psychiatrist, artist and historian in Sydney.)
(2) 在造字時代，羊常用於于祭祀，因而“羊”具有“祥”的含義。美，甲骨文由（羊 / 祥）及（大 / 人）字組成，表示人的神情安祥。造字本義 : 古代修養深厚的高人所表現的安祥、和平。在造字時代的古人眼裏，安祥、寧静的人最“美”。