Happy (Chinese) New Year of the Goat

2015 Year of the Goat by Lady Aquanine on DeviantArt
2015 Year of the Goat by Lady Aquanine on DeviantArt

In case you haven’t heard, 2015 (or year 4713 on the Chinese lunar calendar) is the year of the Goat and officially begins February 19th. I enjoy the fact that each Chinese New Year is represented by one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Inspired by this, I thought I would see if there are any Chinese fairy tales or folklore involving goats or sheep.

2015 Year of the Goat from http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/goat.asp
2015 Year of the Goat from http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/goat.asp

The closest I could find was a Tibetan taleEat Me When I’m Fatterin which a wolf intercepts a sheep and her lamb on their way to the good grazing grass of the great plateau, and desires to eat them. The sheep convinces the wolf to wait until she and her lamb return in autumn, when they will have had a full summer of eating and will be much fatter by that time. The wolf agrees, and the sheep and her lamb are happy grazing and gaining weight until autumn arrives, when the sheep remembers the bargain she struck with the wolf. 

Goat picture by Chraecker on Pixabay.com
Goat picture by Chraecker on Pixabay.com

As she makes her way back, she becomes more and more sorrowful the closer she gets to the appointed place. However, when she is almost there, she encounters a rabbit who asks why she is so sad; the sheep bursts into tears as she tells him the tale. But the hare thinks up a plan—he dresses in his finest attire, puts a saddle on the sheep, and pulls out a pen and paper. Together, they proceed down the path to find the wolf waiting at the appointed place. The rabbit asks the wolf who he is and why he is there. The wolf tells the hare that he has come to eat the sheep and her lamb, and in turn, asks the rabbit who he is. The hare tells the wolf that he has been sent on a special mission by the Emperor of China to bring ten wolf skins to the King of India as a present and adds “What a fortunate thing it is that I should have met you here! Your skin will do for one, anyway.” Then, the hare pulls out the paper and pen and very largely writes down the number one on it. At this, the wolf turns and runs away, very frightened, so that the sheep and her lamb are able to thank the rabbit for his great kindness and return safely home.

Goat by Nemo on Pixabay.com
Goat by Nemo on Pixabay.com

A nice fairy tale, to be sure, but still not directly related to Chinese Astrology. So of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the legendary origin of the Chinese Zodiac itself, although the goat doesn’t play a large role in this folk legend. According to http://www.paralumun.com/chastro.htm, it was the Jade Emperor that invited all the animals in creation to run a race, but only twelve came—you guessed it, the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac—the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The order they placed in the race corresponds to the number of the year each represents; the rat was first, followed by the ox, then the tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and finally the pig came in last.

And why are the cat and the rat enemies? One Chinese myth says that before the race, they were good friends. During the race, they convinced the ox to let them ride on his back in order to cross the river (neither the cat nor the rat being good swimmers). But along the way, the rat pushed the cat off the ox’s back. The rat continued to ride on the ox’s head until they had almost reached the finish line, at which time, he jumped across the finish line first. The cat never finished, and the cat and rat have been enemies ever since.

Or, according to another version of the tale, the rat promises to wake the cat up on the day of the race, but then does not because of his own desire to win. When the cat finally wakes up, the race is over, so the cat swears revenge upon the rat.

http://www.paralumun.com/chastro.htm goes on to point out that the legend of the Zodiac Race is not really very credible as far as origins of the Chinese Zodiac go, but I personally think this legend of the origin of Chinese Astrology is by far the most interesting. And the most fairy tale-like!

Whatever mythos you choose, have a most Happy Chinese New Year of the Goat!


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