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The Cultural Significance of The Sheep in China

Globally sheep are generally a symbol of obedience, loyalty, justice and devotion. In this post, we’ll look into the cultural significance of sheep in China.

Rock Paintings in Ancient Times

Throughout China, nearly 1000 ancient rock paintings have been found. What’s remarkable is that sheeps and goats are the draw animals. This already clearly shows the signficant relation between man and sheep during ancient times.

Ancient sheep rock painting


What makes makes sheep particularly important in Chinese culture is the fact that it’s the 8th of the 12 zodiacs in China. In China, your zodiac sign is determined by your birth year. You’re a sheep/goat, if you’re born in: 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, or 2015. The next sheep year will be in 2027 (due to cycles of 12 years).

chinese tea

People born in the year of the Sheep are believe to be shy, gentle, amicable and kindhearted. A sheep is also known to stand for justice. At least, sheep love to be in a group, though they don’t want to be the centre of attention.

When entering a Chinese New Year, you always see red paper cuttings in China. Below one that represents the Year of the Sheep.

Red Paper Cutting Art: Sheep

Chinese Sheep Proverbs

Chinese proverbs can reveal a lot about how Chinese see sheeps. Here is list of the most used ones. We’ve added the Chinese characters and there phonetics for those who study Mandarin Chinese.

To mend the sheepfold after losing sheep

亡羊补牢 (wáng yáng bǔ láo)

This saying is often used to describe a situation in which a mistake has been made, but encourages one that it’s never too late to correct those mistakes.

The sheep have fallen into the tiger’s mouth

羊入虎口 (yáng rù hǔ kǒu)

A metaphor for falling into a dangerous situation with little hope of survival.

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Paths shaped like sheep’s intestines

羊肠小道 (yáng cháng xiǎo dào)

It describes a narrow, winding and treacherous mountain path.

Take the sheep away in passing

顺手牵羊 (shùn shǒu qiān yáng)

A metaphor for taking the opportunity to take someone else’s things.

The sheep were lost because there were too many forks in the road to follow

多歧亡羊 (duō qí wáng yáng)

It describes how things are complicated and changeable, and without the right direction one can go in the wrong way.

Chinese Lamb Dishes

Food is one of the most important things in life for the Chinese, and lamb meals are definitely part of it! Some famous dishes include:


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Active traveller with a love for Asian food and Japanese anime.