Chinese zodiac / Year of the Ram

year of the rat

Wei(未), Year of the Ram

The ram, one of the six domestic animals in China, has a long history of domestication early in the Age of Matriarchal Clan Society. Originally primitive people had lived in grasslands of northern China, then they moved to Riverside and lakeside places to raise sheep flocks and hunt for food. From then on, rams have been playing a major part in people’s daily life as well as production activities. Later, ram is listed among the twelve Chinese zodiac signs and called Wei Ram.

The Chinese culture has developed along with the culture of ram: ram is no way an ordinary animal. Carrying various symbolic connotations, ram exists in every field of Chinese culture.

For instance, ram equals beauty historically. Ancient Chinese were so inspired by the appearance of ram that they created the Chinese character Mei (beauty in Chinese), with the two Chinese characters “羊” (Yang, ram in Chinese) and “美” (Mei) sharing a similar structure as well as the same word origin. Xu Shen wrote in his Origins and Explanations of Chinese Characters that “for ram, the big is beautiful”, referring to both the beauty of ram’s size and the beauty of mutton’s taste. Traditional Chinese literature works have entitled ram with all kinds of good merits. Due to its sheer-while skin and gentle character, rams symbolizes life in prosperity and contentment.

There are many Chinese idioms about ram from which people know the changes in the ram’s image as Chinese folk culture has been progressing. For example, mutton was expensive because it was not common, and some businessmen would cheat the customers by selling dog-meat yet in the name of mutton for illegal profits, which is called Hanging up a Ram Head to Sell Dog-meat. There is another Chinese idiom Ram-bowel Path. This idiom adopts the features of ram bowel, which is narrow and winding, to describe a narrow and winding road or a dangerous environment.

There have been more and more ethnical customs related to ram over the long time period.

In Hebei Province, there was once a custom called Ram Gift: every year during the sixth and the seventh lunar month, every child would receive a gift from his or her uncle, originally a live ram, later cooked ram-shaped wheaten food. This gift stems from a traditional saying that lambs have to kneel down when being milked. This habitual nature of ram has inspired people, which is why ram was believed as the best model of filial consideration and gratefulness to one’s parents.

The Xibo people have added a section of ram bone snatching in their wedding custom: a ram bone is placed in the bridal chamber for all relatives to snatch. If one from the bridegroom family gets the bone, the bridegroom will win all guests’ confidence in his ability to bring happiness to his family; while if the bride’s relative gets the bone, the bride is then considered as a diligent and industrious hostess who will bring prosperity to her family.

Some other ethnic minority groups such as Kazak people, Mongolia people and Tajik people play a game named Hold the Ram: during festival holidays, horsemen of those minority groups are divided into several teams, competing with each other to get a ram placed a few hundred meters away. When one horseman rushed out of the crowd with the ram in his hand, others will chase him, some trying to grab the ram away from him while his teammates protecting him from being robbed. The team arriving at the finish with the ram wins the game, and then the winning team will cook the ram and shared with everybody.

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