A Sheepish Year

A Sheepish Year

Good or baaa-d? Fortune tellers are divided over the outcome of 2015, Year of the Sheep — anyway, the good news first…

By (Agencies)

Published: Fri 20 Feb 2015, 12:16 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:47 PM

Asia rang in the Year of the Sheep with fireworks and festivities. In China, fireworks illuminated the skies as millions kicked off celebrations with an annual televised gala.

It seems as if 2015 has been much awaited. The previous year, the Year of the Horse — generally considered an auspicious time — brought catastrophic international air accidents, brutal terror attacks, global political upheaval, a resurgent Ebola virus and war — and, in Hong Kong, large-scale civil unrest. But fortune tellers in the southern Chinese city are heralding a more docile Year of the Sheep — though volatility is still in the air, with warnings of more woes for the global property markets, and an “explosion of bacteria” leading to new and resurgent diseases.

Are You a Ba-Ba Baby?

People born in the yang year — including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Zhang Ziyi — traditionally are believed to be filial, kind-hearted and artistic, while also timid, obstinate and consummate worriers.

The Chinese character “yang” is present in other characters with positive meanings, such as “beautiful,” “auspicious” and “goodness.” Still, some superstitious Chinese find the year inauspicious and believe that sheep babies will be unhappy and more likely followers than leaders. Some parents say they’ll avoid having a child this year.

Dr. Meika Chin, a midwife at Shanghai United Family Hospital, estimated births in the coming year would be 20 per cent below the average, with many couples saying “they’re going to skip the Year of Sheep and have the baby the year after.”

One woman attending a prenatal class, and due in late February, said she doesn’t pay much attention to the zodiac. “Lots of people think sheep babies’ lives will be very tiring and they have to work hard, so lots of people try to avoid having sheep babies,” said the mother-to-be, who would only give her surname, Li.

“But that means my baby won’t have as much competition, which is great.”

The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, and through Chinese folklore ascribes 12 animals — one for each year in the rotating cycle. The sheep, in the eighth position, is “comparatively tame, meaning that if there is any challenge everyone can come together to solve it”, Hong Kong based feng shui expert Cheng Chi-tai said.

“But because of the animal’s character, it is not strong enough to suppress the instability from last year,” Cheng said, adding that there is actually no difference between the sheep and the goat in the Chinese translation.

Chinese fortune-telling, including feng shui, is based on ancient philosophy and the belief that events are dictated by balancing the five elements that make up the universe: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Feng shui — literally meaning “wind-water” — is influential in many parts of Asia, where people adjust their lives, homes and offices based on its rules to maximise their luck and wealth.

“This year will definitely be calmer in terms of disasters or accidents,” feng shui expert Thierry Chow said. The 27-year-old is a second generation master who studied the practice under her father, renowned expert Chow Hon-ming.

“The reason last year was so explosive was because the fire element was quite dominant,” Chow said.

In its annual tongue-in-cheek “feng shui index”, CLSA, one of Asia’s leading brokerages, predicted there would be a slight improvement in the economy due to the sheep’s docile nature. “Prayers and invocations to wealth, engagements and transactions, openings and agreements are smiled upon by the gentle sheep,” it said.

But Chow also warned the animal was strongly connected to the earth element, which can represent sickness, meaning that this year could see a resurgence of existing diseases and the genesis of new ones.

And the meh...

The previous Year of the Sheep — 2003 — saw the SARS epidemic that infected 8,096 worldwide and killed 744 people. “Depending on what other elements are partnering with earth, it usually sparks an outbreak,” Chow said, adding that the combination of wood and earth elements were a particularly potent mix. “There is going to be a big explosion of bacteria,” Chow added.

Property markets around the world could also see a tough year ahead with a possibility of a downturn, both Chow and Cheng predicted. The sector is represented by the earth element but the impact of the wood element may cause problems.

Many astrologists said this year would bring a volatile economy, more transport accidents and windy natural disasters such as tornadoes in the United States and typhoons to Southeast Asia.

CLSA’s annual feng shui report also warned that people will be easily annoyed and difficult to deal with, so it’s “a good year to be on guard and not get fleeced.” Very nice.

This problem with this animal sign — which comes once every dozen years — is that can be said to have an identity crisis. Known variably as the Year of the Goat, Sheep or Ram, the sign’s confusion stems from its Chinese character, “yang,” which broadly describes any of the ruminating mammals, with or without horns.

Many Chinese prefer to translate it as the “Year of the Sheep” because sheep are more cute and cuddly. The goat, however, is more likely to be the original meaning because it was a popular farm animal among the Han Chinese who started the zodiac tradition.

Still, Xinhua — the Chinese news agency — is going with “Year of the Sheep” in its English-language reports rather than “Year of the Goat.” Many Chinese tuned into the annual New Year’s Eve TV gala this week, and the mascot managed to achieve the problem-solving feat of not being clearly a sheep… or a goat.


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