This is Natasha and this is a special story to celebrate 2015. As you may know, there are 12 animal signs in the Chinese calendar, and every year is named after one of those animals. We are just saying goodbye to the year of the horse, and on February the 4th we will start the year of the goat. In some parts of Asia this year is also known as the year of the sheep or ram. Bertie, who knows all sorts of things, tells me that it comes from the Chinese word “yang” which pretty much covers all the animals who have horns and like to munch grass.
People who are born in the year of the goat are peace-loving, artistic, and nurturing. For instance, the Chinese city of Guangzhou used to be called “Yangcheng” – City of Goats.
The story goes that thousands of years ago, there was a famine and people were going hungry. Five gods rode into Guangzhou on the backs of 5 rams. Each of the rams was carrying rice in its mouth, as a sign that the famine would soon end. A stone statue of the 5 rams commemorates this story.
And goats were the characters in one of China’s most popular television programmes, a cartoon animation called – The Pleasant Goat and the Big Bad Wolf. It was all about a clever goat who saved his brothers and sisters from the clutches of a dim-witted wolf. The series was hugely popular until the authorities in China decided it was too violent. The Gray Wolf’s wife was in the habit of hitting him over the head with a frying pan, and sometimes he ended up in a cauldron of boiling water.
Anyway, to celebrate the year of the goat, Bertie has asked me to read you a story from Tibet which is a beautiful part of China, high up in the Himalayan Mountains on the border of Pakistan. It also tells the story of how a goat goes against a wolf, but don’t worry, it’s not as violent as the Pleasant Goat and the Big Bad Wolf cartoon.
Long ago, a goat lived in a valley with her kid. Every summer she liked to move up to the mountain pastures where the grass was green and lush. One year, when the weather grew warm she began her annual journey, stepping slowly and steadily along the way, while her little kid skipped along beside her.
But as she came to the end of the valley, she found a big bad wolf step out from behind a tree.
“Good day, my dear goat, where are you off too?” asked the wolf.
The sheep replied as bravely as she could:
“We are moving up to the high pastures for the summer, continuing our blameless lives, munching on the grass, minding our own business and bothering nobody.”
“Your aim is very noble,” said the wolf, “but we can’t all be blameless in this world. Not of all of us can live off grass. I was born to eat animals like you, and as I am feeling rather hungry, that is what I intend to do.”
But the goat thought more quickly than she walked. She replied to the wolf:
“As you know, my dear wolf, I am a selfless creature and cannot help thinking of others before myself. It would be a shameful waste to eat us now. The winter has just finished, and we are all skin and bone. My advice to you is to wait until we return in autumn. And then we will be nice and fat and will make a fine meal for a growing wolf like yourself.”
The wolf, who was not as clever as he was strong, thought about this proposition and replied:
“Thank you dear goat for your kind advice. I will do as you suggest. But you must promise to meet me here on your return, for if you are as good as you say, you will not break your word.”
And the good goat promised faithfully that she would meet the wolf on this spot in the autumn.
The goat and her kid carried on their way, and spent the summer months happily leading their blameless lives, munching on the grass, minding their own business, and bothering nobody. The goat soon forgot all about her bargain with the Big Bad Wolf, but when the days began to grow shorter, and the first snowflakes fell on the mountain, she remembered her fateful promise.
A hare came bounding along, and saw that the kind goat was shedding a tear.
“Tell me good goat, why are you looking so sad?” he asked.
“Oh dear hare, I am in a bad way, and cannot help but feel sad. You see on the way here, we ran into a Big Bad Wolf, and in order to save us from being eaten on the spot, I promised that if he would allow us to continue up the mountain pastures, we would meet him on our return, when we were good and fat.”
“That is indeed a tragic tale,” admitted the hare. “But cheer up, because I have a plan to save you.”
The hare dressed himself a new robe, with an earring in his left ear, and a fine hat on his head. He took a large sheet of paper in his hand, and, with a pen behind his ear, he mounted upon the back of the goat.
In short, he looked like a travelling official in the service of the Chinese Emperor.
As soon as they came in sight of the wolf, the hare put on a pompous voice and called out: “Who are you and what is your business?”
“I am the Big Bad Wolf,” he replied, ”and I am here to eat this good goat and her kid. We made a bargain fair and square. And who may you be, I pray?”
“I am the hare,” the animal replied, “and I am travelling to India on a special mission under the orders of the the Emperor of China. As it happens, I have a commission to bring ten wolf skins as a present to the King of India. What a fortunate thing it is that I should have met you here! Your skin will do for one nicely.”
So saying, the hare produced his sheet of paper, and, taking his pen in his hand, he wrote down the figure “1” to show that he had found the first wolf skin.
The poor wolf was so scared that he turned and fled. The good goat and her kid laughed heartily and continued on their quiet and blameless way back to the valley.
And that was our special story for the Chinese Year of the Goat. If you would like to hear stories about the other Chinese years, do drop by soon at Storynory.com.