Year 2015 is “The Year of the Blue Goat”, which is also the 32nd year of the sexagenary (60 year) cycle. The “goat” symbolizes gentleness, kind, understanding, honesty and integrity while “blue” stands for progressive, positive and active spirit.
There is a special reason for assigning different animals to each year. Korea uses the Stems-and-Branches system to record days or years, known as the sexagenary cycle of sixty terms. Each term in the sexagenary cycle has two Chinese characters, the first representing a term from a cycle of ten known as the Heavenly Stems “Cheon-gan”, and the second from a cycle of twelve known as the Earthly Branches “Ji-ji.” The first term combines the first heavenly stem with the first earthly branch. The second combines the second stem with the second branch. This continues, generating a total of 60 different terms, after which the cycle repeats itself.
The Earthly Branches consist of twelve Chinese characters which represent the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig, consecutively. In this particular way, 2015 is the combination of eul (乙) and mi (未) called Eul mi (乙未), and represents the goat since mi (未), which is the eighth among the twelve Earthly Branches, is represented by the goat. The cycle is repeated every 12 years.
Historically, in the year of Eul mi, Korea had many natural disasters and wars. Meanwhile, the event that most Koreans know and have a strong feeling about is the ‘Eulmi Incident and Assasination’—the Assasination of Empress Myeongseong framed by Japanese soldiers.
In 1895, An Empress of Korea was brutally assassinated by assassins hired by the Japanese government. At that period of time, Japan wanted to reinforce its influence on the Korean peninsula. For this purpose, Japanese Consul Miura Goro masterminded the murder of the queen and they called this secret plan “Operation Fox Hunt.” Japan considered Empress Myeongseong to be the biggest obstacle to its annexation of Korea. Hence, they eliminated the obstacle by killing the Empress.
The Empress had tried to inform the world about Japan’s plan to incorporate Korea and wanted to protect it by appealing to the international community. She used all her international connections and showed her effort not just for diplomacy but also in raising global awareness of the situation in Korea. Lillias Horton Underwood, who was the wife of Missionary Horace G. Underwood, was one of the foreign officials who watched and assessed the empress to ensure that she was well informed about international politics and was a competent diplomat. Underwood was also exceptional in proving the weaknesses of the opposition. Mrs. Underwood once stated, “The queen disapproved of Japan, and patriotically and devotedly served her country. She was not like other queens in Asia.”
It is interesting to see how the years are connected with specific animals. They had important roles, because the lives of our ancestors from prehistoric times were connected and dependent upon animals. They were the source of food to the people, but feared as well. Thus, the relationship between humans and animals became inseparable. Along with rock carvings and mural paintings, animals also appear in the clay dolls and earthenware found around the Korean peninsula. The various kinds of animals became symbols of life expressing living culture, ideas, and even religion.