Those born between 1st February 2003 and 21st January 2004 were the last to have been born under the goat animal sign.
Yáng, the character for which is 羊, is often used synonymously for goat or sheep. Indeed this can cause some confusion for those learning Chinese who might believe they have ordered a dish made with lamb, whilst in fact the meal contains goat meat.
Of course some restaurants will likely make a differentiation by using prefixes. Miányáng (绵羊) is sheep whilst shānyáng (山羊) is goat. However at a ròu chuàn (肉串) stall, a popular street food where pieces of meat are barbecued and sold on skewers, such a differentiation may not be made.
As for the character of the animal sign, the goat is considered soft and gentle. People under the sign of the goat or sheep are said to be tender, polite, clever, and kind-hearted.
They may have a special sensitivity to art and beauty, faith in a certain religion and a special fondness for quiet living. They also are considered wise, gentle and compassionate. In daily life, goats try to be economical.
On the less positive side, goats are often worriers who are shy, pessimistic, moody, indecisive, over-sensitive and weak-willed. They may be deeply religious and have interests in strange theories.
There are several well known people born under the sign of the goat. Amongst them are the actors Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, and Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), famous for her role in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙, Wò Hǔ Cáng Lóng) and House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏, Shí Miàn Mái Fú). China’s last female Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) was also born under the sign of the goat.
Reflecting the general character of the sheep or goat is the idiom yáng zhì hǔ pí (羊质虎皮, lit. sheep nature tiger skin) which describes someone who might appear to be strong but is actually timid.
Seemingly to do with the subject of eating is the phrase guà yáng tóu, mài gǒu ròu ( 挂羊头, 卖狗肉) which literally translates as “hanging goat head, but selling dog meat”.
This is used to describe misadvertising, shabby or bad-quality commodities. It could perhaps be likened to the English phrase “mutton dressed as lamb” however this is usually used to describe an ageing woman who is dressed or made up in an attempt to appear much younger. There is no direct Chinese equivalent for this idiom however.
A scapegoat does exist in both languages. In Chinese it is tì zuì yáng (替罪羊) which could literally be translated as “replace blame goat”. In both English and Chinese it means the same, that of an individual, group, or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame.
Another idiom similar to one in common usage in the English language is wáng yáng bǔ láo (亡羊补牢). Literally translating as “lose sheep, repair the pen” it is the Chinese equivalent to “lock the stable door after the horse has bolted.” Again the inferred meaning is the same in both languages; to try to prevent something that has already happened.
And on that note we must gallop away ourselves. Next time we shall explore the monkey...