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Thanks to @xiaohuozi's wonderful suggestion. This is my question for the friendly contest.

How should one answer this question

今年是什么年? (jin nian shi shen me nian) - which/what year is this?

It is in the context of

春节快乐! (chun jie kuai le, Happy Chinese New Year!) 今年是什么年?

Should it be answered with the year e.g. 2012年 or with the zodiac animal e.g. 龙年 or something else?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Just as you said

春节快乐!(chun jie kuai le, Happy Chinese New Year!) 今年是什么年?

you could answer 龙年.That's OK!

But 龙年 is not often used in Chinese culture nowadays.Even if in the ancient time,we use 壬辰年 to indicate the year,because there are 5个龙年 in every 60 years.However,there are also 1个壬辰年 every 60 years.So we use the 年号(emperor's symbol)to indicate the year,for example,乾隆50年(乾隆is the 年号 of one emperor of Qing dynasty)is 1785年,乙巳年 and 蛇年。 So it's safe to answer your question like this:

someone: 春节快乐!(chun jie kuai le, Happy Chinese New Year!) 今年是什么年?

you:2012年,the doom year!

someone:haha,I know it's 2012 now, I want to know the lunar year!

you:Oh,sorry,it's 龙年!

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LOL the example is very funny! – Laguna Jan 17 '12 at 13:41
When I studied English at school,I was taught a lot of conversations.A few years later,I suddenly know a fact that Americans don't communicate with each other like that.I read the Chinese textbooks which help the foreigners to study Chinese,I find that those examples in the textbooks are nearly useless.The example I gave above showed the ultimate Chinese wisdom---the golden mean of the Confucian school(中庸)。 – coqer Jan 18 '12 at 0:50

The zodiac animal should be the answer.

As you know, the Gregorian calendar is widely used in China, it is hard to image one not knowing the year. So when this is asked, the answer would be the zodiac animal.

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