People across Asia have celebrated Chinese New Year, but with fortune-tellers predicting accidents and an unstable economy and some parents-to-be fretting over the year's reputation for docile children, not everyone is overjoyed about it.

This year has a bit of an identity crisis. Known variably as the Year of the Goat, Sheep or Ram, the sign's confusion stems from its Chinese character, "yang," which broadly describes any of the ruminating mammals, with or without horns.

Many Chinese prefer to translate it as the "Year of the Sheep" because sheep are cute and cuddly, and large sheep figures have appeared around the capital's shopping areas in recent weeks. The goat, however, is more likely to be the original meaning because it was a popular farm animal among Han Chinese who started the zodiac tradition.

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A woman takes a selfie in front of a Lunar New Year display featuring sheep at a shopping mall in Hong KongBobby Yip/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A child poses with a toy goat at the Temple of Earth park in BeijingLintao Zhang/Getty Images

Hong Kong leader CY Leung, nicknamed the "wolf" by critics, said residents of the Chinese-controlled city should be more like sheep after a year "rife with differences", including months of sometimes violent pro-democracy street protests.

"Last year was no easy ride for Hong Kong. Our society was rife with differences and conflicts," he said. "In the coming year, I hope that all people in Hong Kong will take inspiration from the sheep's character and pull together in an accommodating manner to work for Hong Kong's future."

Chambers dictionary describes a sheep as "a creature that follows meekly, is at the mercy of the wolf or the shearer and displays tameness of spirit".

Chinese new year of the goat
People walk under a lantern display during a Chinese New Year celebration in Manila, the PhilippinesRomeo Ranoco/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A woman poses under paper lanterns at Ditan Park, also known as the Temple of Earth, in BeijingKim Kyung Hoon/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
Visitors look at lanterns at Petak Sembilan temple on Chinese Lunar New Year in Jakarta, IndonesiaDarren Whiteside/Reuters
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A woman looks at Chinese New Year lanterns at the Thean Hou temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A worker changes light bulbs ahead of Chinese New Year celebrations at the Thean Hou temple in Kuala LumpurOlivia Harris/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A Buddhist monk walks under decorations at a temple in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of BangkokChaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

Setting off fireworks to celebrate Chinese New Year may be a centuries-old tradition, but the country's authorities are urging people to light fewer of them this week as cities fight a losing battle against relentless, toxic air pollution.

Dozens of cites in China have banned lighting fireworks on Wednesday and Thursday (18 and 19 February), while others have reduced the number of fireworks vendors.

Chinese new year of the goat
A Chinese man reacts as firecrackers he lit explode during celebrations of the Lunar New Year in BeijingKevin Frayer/Getty Images
Chinese new year of the goat
A boy runs with sparklers during celebrations of the Lunar New Year in BeijingKevin Frayer/Getty Images
Chinese new year of the goat
A man runs after lighting firecrackers to celebrate the start of the Chinese New Year in BeijingKim Kyung Hoon/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A man sets off fireworks on a street in ShanghaiJohannes Eisele/AFP

Astrologists interviewed said this year would bring a volatile economy, more transport accidents and windy natural disasters such as tornadoes in the United States and typhoons to Southeast Asia.

The previous year, the Year of the Horse, is generally considered to be an auspicious time – never mind that Asian airlines had a string of high-profile disasters.

Chinese new year of the goat
People rush to plant the first joss stick of the Lunar New Year at the stroke of midnight at the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple in SingaporeEdgar Su/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A woman burns incense at the Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing on the first day of the Lunar New YearGreg Baker/AFP
Chinese new year of the goat
A young boy grimaces as he burns incense at the Yonghegong Lama Temple in BeijingGreg Baker/AFP
Chinese new year of the goat
Cai Sen Ye (the God of Fortune) gives gifts to devotees during Chinese New Year celebrations at Hong San Ko Tee temple in Surabaya, IndonesiaRobertus Pudyanto/Getty Images
Chinese new year of the goat
Worshippers wait to offer incense at Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong KongAnthony Kwan/Getty Images

The Chinese character "yang" has some positive meanings, such as "beautiful", ''auspicious" and "goodness" but some superstitious Chinese find the year inauspicious and believe that sheep babies will be unhappy and more likely followers than leaders. Some parents say they'll avoid having a child this year.

Dr Meika Chin, a midwife at Shanghai United Family Hospital, estimated births in the coming year would be 20% below the average, with many couples saying "they're going to skip the Year of Sheep and have the baby the year after." It was possible to induce births early to avoid the sheep year, Chin said.

"We always say it's the end of the horse year, rush hour, you know, they want to get in."

Chinese new year of the goat
Prince Charles and Camilla are greeted by two Chinese lions as they visit Chinatown in London at the start of the Chinese new year celebrationsPeter Nicholls/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
Dancers perform to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year at the Happy Valley amusement park in BeijingKim Kyung Hoon/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
Dancers perform a fire dragon dance at the Happy Valley amusement park in BeijingKim Kyung Hoon/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A man burns incense as he prays for good fortune on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year at Jade Temple in ShanghaiCarlos Barria/Reuters
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An art installation called the 'Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors' is pictured in front of the Sydney Opera HouseDavid Gray/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
Members of a lion dance troupe take part in celebrations to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year in Calcutta, IndiaRupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A lion dance performer waits for Ang Pao, or a gift of money, at Manila's ChinatownErik de Castro/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
A reveller breathes fire to celebrate Lunar New Year at Manila's ChinatownErik de Castro/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
North Korean children dance around a Maypole to celebrate New Year in PyongyangKCNA/Reuters
Chinese new year of the goat
North Korean women celebrate Lunar New Year in PyongyangKCNA/Reuters