Friday, February 20, 2015

What to Do About China's New Year Yang?

Confusion surrounds the identity of this year's Chinese zodiac symbol. Chris Buckley succinctly explained why:
The reason is that the word for the eighth animal in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle of creatures, yang in Mandarin, does not make the distinction found in English between goats and sheep and other members of the caprinae subfamily. Without further qualifiers, yang might mean any such hoofed animal that eats grass and bleats. And so Chinese news media outlets have butted heads for days on what to call this year in English, recruiting experts to pass judgment.
Some claim the answer can be found in which animal was bred or eaten first in China. I am not clear what that logic says about other Zodiac creatures such as the monkey or dragon.

Others believe the answer depends on region:
Fang Binggui, a folklorist based in southeast China's Fuzhou City, says the image of the zodiac Yang is open to regional interpretation. "People depict the zodiac animal based on the most common Yang in their region. So it's often sheep in the north while goats in the south."
Fang's explanation matches up with another north-south regional difference: the Japanese zodiac specifies the animal to be a sheep while the Vietnamese zodiac specifies the animal to be a goat.

Based on what I have seen during the past month, though, it doesn't appear there is universal agreement on what to use even within individual cities in southern China. While not necessarily representative, photos I took in four Chinese cities — Chongqing in the southwest and Macau, Zhuhai, and Zhongshan in the southeast — at least provide a taste of the variety which can be found there. The photos include Lunar New Year displays, signs, or artwork I happened to notice, most often in shopping areas, public squares, or parks. After the photos, I will share brief thoughts on how I will be handling the zodiacal challenge.

Sometimes the choice of animal is expressed in English. Some of the animals are easy to identify. Other are more challenging. One has wings.

A bit of the new year spirit in Chongqing:

Alongside the Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street

A pedestrian bridge in Yangjiaping

Inside the SML Central Square shopping center

Outside the Sunshine Mall

Above the Guanyinqiao Pedestrian Street

Door at Shenghui Plaza

At Haitang Yanyu Park

Also at Haitang Yanyu Park

Across the street from the Chongqing Zoo

Inside the SM City shopping mall

Inside the Starlight 68 Plaza shopping mall


In Taipa Village

Also in Taipa Village

Inside the Shoppes at Venetian

At Largo do Senado (Senate Square)

At the Portas do Cerco (border crossing point with Zhuhai)

A lobby inside the Galaxy Macau resort

In Coloane Village

Also in Coloane Village


In front of Gongbei Port (border crossing point with Macau)

At the New Yuan Ming Palace

Also at the New Yuan Ming Palace

At the underground Port Plaza shopping center

Inside the Vanguard supermarket in Gongbei

In Zhongshan:

Outside Yu Yip Plaza

Outside of the Central Power Plaza shopping mall

My take? If people are using all these different animals in China, and they all count as yangs, why not just go along with it? The trick then is what to say in English. Perhaps it is time, as the earlier sentence suggests, for another loanword in English — "yang". Yes, there is already "yin and yang", but English is comfortable with homonyms, and it would help address English's "trade imbalance" with loanwords.

But if I have to choose an animal more specific than all yangs, although I am tempted by the Tibetan antelope, I have decided to go with the goat if for no other reason than I have seen several live goats recently.

Goat near a familiar-looking statue at Foreigner's Street in Chongqing

Goats at the New Yuan Ming Palace in Zhuhai

Now I just need to figure out which type of goat.

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