The Chinese character for sheep or goat is a frontal view of the animal, with horns as the dominant feature. On ancient oracle bones that date back over three thousand years, the word appears like this:
On bronze vessels of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BCE), the character takes the following form:
The character was later standardized to be like this:
羊 may refer to both sheep and goat. The Chinese differentiate between these two kinds of livestock by placing a descriptive word before 羊. There are therefore 绵羊, "wooly sheep". Goats are called 山羊, "mountain sheep."
The Chinese had a long history of keeping domesticated sheep. In the Chinese language, the set phrase 亡羊补牢 (wáng yáng bǔ láo) means "repairing the stable after some sheep have gone missing." The expression came from the Warring States Era (475-221 BCE). A king ignored a wise minister's and as result he suffered a major defeat. The king went back to the minister and regretted his decision. The minister replied: "It is not too late to repair your stable after you have lost some sheep."
The Chinese city Guangzhou (Canton) has the nickname 羊城 ("Goats City"). According to an ancient legend, five immortal beings descended from heaven onto the land where Guangzhou would be built, arriving on flying goats and carrying in their hands ears of five grains. Having blessed the soil there, the immortals departed, leaving behind the grains and the goats. Today, five goats are often used as an emblem for the city.
The Chinese also call that tuft of beard that some men keep on their chin "goatee" - 山羊胡子 (shān yáng hú zi).