This year is the year of ji according to the Chinese zodiac that features 12 animals. Chinese words are made up of characters which function like root words in English. A single character is usually ambiguous in meaning. In the Year of the Ox, for instance, we were debating whether it should be the year of the bull, the cow, the heifer, or the steer. The choice has a lot to do with age, gender, as well as surgical procedures involving testicles. The word ji creates similar difficulties, although perhaps not the Year of the Cock, for obvious reasons, but how about chicken, hen, or rooster?
My first choice would be rooster. These zodiac signs are all about symbolism if you ask me, though there are people who believe that, because you are born in a monkey year, you monkey around doing monkey business. I don’t believe it. Just as I don’t believe that dog-year people bite, bark or pee near a fire hydrant. Roosters fare better on my symbolism scale. In Chinese, “rising to the crow of the rooster” is a sign of a “gritty”, hard-working person. According to recent psychological findings, such people are the salt of the earth. For this reason alone, I had hoped I could raise a rooster in my backyard, but homeowner association bylaws and city ordinances do not encourage it. I will download a cock-a-doodle-doo ringtone instead.
Calling 2017 the Year of the Chicken would also work. Chicken commonly refers to someone lacking courage in English, but I have found the image of chickens is being rehabilitated, and it can even mean courage to pursue a good life, as shown in the movie Chicken Run. As a translator, when asked what the novels I have translated have in common, I say most of them have a character who tries to raise chickens. Raising chickens brings us back to a simpler time when people grow their own food instead of depending on food whose price includes transportation and marketing costs along with executives’ salaries.
In rural China, when a guest comes, the hosts will kill a rooster or hen to serve as a main dish. Farmers raise a limited number of roosters or hens, and chicken eggs are an important source of nutrition for the family; one should not take such hospitality for granted. When I first came to America as a poor graduate student, I found chicken to be a very cheap grocery buy. I often cooked a whole bunch of chicken wings or legs at one time which would last me several days. If we are what we eat, I should have grown feathers by now. When I went back home, my mom again had a hen killed for me. I told her I have had a lot of chicken already. My mom said: “But it is homegrown!” She was right. She always is. Chicken is the food for the ordinary men and women, whether they are the farmers in China who let their chickens roam wild, or an office worker who watches the Cowboys play the Packers on the TV, while nibbling salt and vinegar chicken wings.
I would also call 2017 the Year of the Hen for the same reason. In addition to hens that become food, think of all the eggs we eat, boiled, poached or scrambled, in cakes, burritos, casseroles, egg drop soups, or even pasta with buttered egg sauce. We should show proper respect for all these hens and eggs. Their lives matter. If this article makes you so guilty that you want to convert to a vegan lifestyle, do it. It is honorable if you do, and may help to resuscitate your New Year resolution to become a better person with the coming of the Lunar New Year. However, for the rest of us who still relish some fried chicken, do these feathered friends a favor by not wasting any of your food－and, of course, eat less chicken. The environment will thank you, the chickens will too. Happy Year of the Rooster, Chicken, Hen, however you want to call it.