Sheep in Chinese Culture

In Chinese culture, the symbol of the sheep is a very lucky one and the docile animal plays a role in many myths and tales through history.

The written character for “sheep” was often used for “luck”, and the animal has been considered lucky ever since. Sheep were a common wedding gift, adding to their social status as a revered animal. Carved jade pendants of sheep are popular good luck charms. And speaking of jade, rare white jade is often referred to as “sheep suet jade” due to the high value that a sheep holds in Chinese culture.

Chinese also see the sheep as a symbol of gratitude towards one’s parents, because of the way a young lamb will kneel down to nurse. This kneeling or bowing is considered a very respectful gesture, even for animals.

In Chinese Mythology

In ancient China, a sheep symbolized the concept of justice. Xiezhi was a mystical sheep that sought out people who had committed crimes and would gore them with its horns for punishment. Some tales said that the sheep would eat criminals instead. Some old parts of China still use the sign of a sheep as a mark of office for judges.

A story about the city of Guangzhou further shows the beneficial nature of the sheep in Chinese culture. During the Zhou dynasty, there was a drought in Guangzhou and the people were starving. Five rainbow-colored sheep came to the city with gifts of new rice plants for the fields. Once they arrived, the rains returned and the crops thrived. The sheep decided to continue protecting the city, turning to stone. Even today, the city is nick-named “The city of the 5 sheep” and there is a statue and temple dedicated to the 5 sheep who saved the city.

The Sheep Sign of the Zodiac

In the Chinese zodiac, the eighth symbol is a sheep (though it’s sometimes symbolized with a goat or a ram). 2015 is a sheep year, and so was 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955 and 1943. So anyone born in these years is considered a Sheep when it comes to the zodiac. Sheep are very sensitive people given to flights of fancy and deep creativity. They love things of beauty, and will surround themselves with luxurious items whenever possible. That includes clothes, and you can count on a Sheep to know the latest fashions.

Ironically, though the sheep itself is considered lucky, many parents aren’t always happy to have children during a sheep year. Their sensitive personalities are sometimes seen as needy or weak in Chinese culture.


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