The sheep, the zo­diac an­i­mal of 2015, may be eas­ily led astray, lit­er­ally or fig­u­ra­tively. But in Chi­nese folk­lore, it in­spires by its spirit of self-sac­ri­fice and its as­so­ci­a­tion with fend­ing off hunger.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

When I first or­dered mut­ton formy daugh­ters at a restau­rant, I feared it might be a trau­ma­tiz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for them. They have been fed a steady diet of the car­toon se­ries mis­tak­enly ti­tled Pleas­ant Goat and Big BigWolf. What would they feel if they found out they were chow­ing down on their fa­vorite char­ac­ter?

Not bad, as it turned out. They just shrugged and kept gob­bling it up.

Ar­guably China’s most popular tele­vi­sion car­toon, which has spawned a wide ar­ray of mer­chan­dise, Pleas­ant Goat and Big BigWolf fea­tures a lov­able cadre of sheep, hu­mor­ously named af­ter Chi­nese homonyms. In Chi­nese, the sound yang can re­fer to one of dozens of dif­fer­ent words, each with its own mean­ing and form­ing even more vari­a­tions when cou­pled with other words. Thus, the male lead is called Xiyangyang, mean­ing happy or cheer­ful, with noth­ing to do with the ovine an­i­mal if not spelt out, and the fe­male lead Meiyangyang be­ing the equiv­a­lent ofMin­nie to Xiyangyang’sMickey.

There doesn’t seem to be a goat in the se­ries, to the pos­si­ble con­fu­sion of English speak­ers. TheMan­darin word for goat is shanyang, lit­er­ally moun­tain sheep. Inmy home­town on eastern China’s plains with their web of canals and lakes, the de­fault breed is huyang, or lake sheep. And we call lamb xiaoyang, small sheep. Unimag­i­na­tive, isn’t it, com­pared with spe­cial­ized words like ram or wether (a cas­trated sheep).

There is a re­spected Chi­nese com­pany with a long his­tory of ad­ver­tis­ing its wool prod­ucts by say­ing yang three times, in a child’s voice. It’s a cute way of re­mind­ing cus­tomers of the ori­gin and qual­ity of their wool. In 2008, it launched an­other cam­paign in which the other 11 zo­diac an­i­mals were pro­nounced in the same way. The re­sult was dis­as­trous. While the public loved “sheep sheep sheep”, they hated “pig pig pig” or “cow cow cow”. It sim­ply did not work as child­ish pat­ter.

Chi­nese share with other cul­tures one ma­jor sym­bolic mean­ing of sheep, which is the char­ac­ter­is­tic of timid­ity or docil­ity. While pigs, hardly adorable in the Chi­nese eye, put up a fight when slaugh­tered, sheep hardly ut­ter a sound when shep­herded to their fate. But the Chris­tian con­no­ta­tion of sheep and lamb has not spilled over into the main­stream. The herd men­tal­ity


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.