In traditional Chinese culture, the sheep holds an awkward place in the 12-animal zodiac — people love it for its obedience, but at the same time hate it as those born in the Year of the Sheep are said to suffer bad luck.
The old saying, “nine of 10 sheep are incomplete,” means that sheep people will most likely lead a hard life, such as failure in marriage or career.
According to a recent online survey conducted by people.cn, 52 percent of the 1,000 participants said they had people around them who tried to avoid having a “sheep baby.”
The coming lunar year, the Year of the Sheep, upsets many young couples, who must make a vital decision whether to have a baby. Some who are pregnant now are even considering getting a C-section to make sure it’s a baby born in the current Year of the Horse.
According to CCTV’s official microblog, people rushing to have babies have caused a sharp rise in the birth rate this year. Hospitals in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, have suspended issuing birth certificate because there are too many newborns.
Liaoning Daily reported that the number of newborns in People’s Hospital of Liaoning Province in 2014 is up 30 percent over last year. And Weihai Evening said that so far in 2014 there have been over 240 childbirths per month in Rongcheng People’s Hospital, twice the average of last year.
Sophy Nie, who’s six months pregnant, is due to give birth on February 19, the Chinese New Year’s Day.
“That means my child is most likely a sheep baby,” says the 30-year-old marketing specialist. “Although I really don’t care about the saying, which I think is just superstitious, my mother-in-law is so fussy and keeps trying to persuade me to take a C-section to guarantee a horse baby. Isn’t it ridiculous?
“I’ve decided to go my way. Nothing else matters as long as my child is healthy,” the Shanghai native says.
However, not all young couples are so bold about challenging the Chinese tradition.
Mathew Zhao, 27, is very unhappy these days because his mother doesn’t “allow” him and his wife to have a child for the time being. “At least we have to skip the sheep year,” he sighs.
Zhao got married to a Thai woman several months ago and wanted to have a baby. “But it seems we have to hold it until the Year of the Monkey,” he says. “Fortunately, we are still young.”
His wife, Nacha, 25, is very puzzled. “I really don’t understand what’s going on and what’s wrong with a sheep baby,” she says. “But I respect his parents — and the culture.”
“Most women are choosing to give birth in the Year of the Monkey or Horse, which will induce social problems,” says Gu Jun, a professor of sociology at Shanghai University. “For one thing, it will cause medical resources to be scarce; for another, it may increase children’s pressure of education and employment in the future.
“The animal sign is only a way to indicate the birth time in Chinese culture and it has nothing to do with our fates,” he adds. “We should control our fate by ourselves rather than depending on animal signs.”
Ancient Chinese people used animal signs to calculate years without giving any particular meaning to them, according to Liu Kuili, an expert on Chinese folk culture and chairman of the China Folklore Society.
In history, the sheep was considered a symbol of peace, wealth and beauty. The bad luck sentiment didn’t show up until the reign of Emperor Xianfeng late in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
At that time, common people went against the rule of Empress Dowager Cixi, so they declared that her zodiac sheep would ruin the country. What’s more, many corrupt officials and royal members also were born in the Year of the Sheep, which magnified the resentment to sheep people.
Of course, there’s no scientific evidence to prove that the year people are born in affects their fate. Animal signs mostly are no more than cultural amusement, with some psychological need thrown in.
“When people are frustrated by life, they tend to find an excuse to comfort themselves,” says Gao Zhuancheng, director of the Sociology Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences in Shanxi Province.
In China, upsurges in births have occurred several times in recent years. Two of the most recent were “golden pig babies” in 2007 and “Olympic babies” in 2008.
Many people spared no effort to assure their children fit the year. This caused a chaotic situation, as the baby surge created high pressure for hospitals and the overly rapid development of the nursery market.
When an abnormal number of babies are born within such a short period, experts project numerous challenges for them. They face more competition and thus need to work harder to get into a good school and obtain a good job. They have to struggle under generally more competitive circumstances for everything, since social resources are limited.
“It is the children’s endeavor and good parenting that really matter to success,” says Chang Bao, associate professor at the Institute of Sociology and Folklore of Inner Mongolia Normal University. “Parents should set up the correct concept of procreation. Otherwise, it will affect children’s future.”
Celebrities born in the Year of the Sheep
• Li Keqiang (1955-), China’s current prime minister
• Microsoft founder Bill Gates (1955-)
• Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (1979-)
• Yang Shangkun (1907-98), president of China from 1988 to 1993
• Chinese ink-wash painting and calligraphy master Xu Beihong(1895-1953)
• Inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
• Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908)
• Qing Dynasty Prime Minister Li Hongzhang (1823-1901)
• French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
• Russian author Alexander Pushkin (1799-1836), who is considered the founder of modern Russian literature
• Nurhaci (1559-1626), who reorganized and united various Jurchen tribes (the later “Manchu”).
• Explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), who in 1492 discovered the “New World”
• Li Shimin (AD 599-649), Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty