I've always translated 羊肉 as mutton.

Mutton is not really a protein eaten in the west. Lamb is eaten a lot but that is 小羊.

Goat is said to be the most widely consumed protein in the world.

How often is 羊肉 goat in Chinese and not mutton?

3 Answers 3


In English, 'lamb' is meat from young sheep and 'mutton' is meat from adult sheep.

  • Young goat meat in Chinese is '小羊肉' (a goat under a year old).
  • Adult goat meat in Chinese is '山羊肉' or simply '羊肉'.

Goat meat is commonly consumed by Chinese, but far less than pork and beef.

How often is 羊肉 goat in Chinese and not mutton?

The term '羊肉' always refers to 'goat meat' in China. 'Mutton' is translated as 绵羊肉 and 'lamb' is translated as 羔羊肉. Almost no one eats them in China.

Since most of China has no sheep, the terms 'lamb' and 'mutton' in China are adopted to describe 'young goat meat' and 'goat meat' respectively.

Simply put, 'lamb' and 'mutton' in Chinese should be 羔羊肉 and 绵羊肉, but most Chinese think 'lamb' and 'mutton' mean '小羊肉(young goat meat)' and '山羊肉(goat meat)'.


History of the_domestic sheep https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_domestic_sheep

Sheep are not an important part of China's agricultural economy, since the majority of China does not have the large open pastures required for sheep-rearing.[20] Sheep farming is more common in the northwestern provinces of the country, where such tracts of land exist.[21] China does have a native sheep breed, the zhan. The population of the breed has been in decline since 1985, despite government promotion of the breed.[22]

Since China is quite hilly, sheep farming mostly confined to the minorities tribes in northern edge of the country. A typical Han Chinese might not had seen a sheep in his entire life.

China’s Goat Industry: http://www.ccagr.com/content/view/115/179/

China is home to more than 100 million meat goats. Farmers produce a total output of more than 1.5 million tons annually. Most of the meat produced is consumed by the nation while little is exported on the world market.

Considering the huge number of goats in China, we can safely presume almost everyone in China who say he had eaten 羊肉 before, meant he had eaten 'goat meat' (not sheep meat).

  • I believe sheep meat = mutton, no? but wikipedia does say "The term mutton is almost always used to refer to goat meat in the Indian subcontinent."
    – Mou某
    Jun 7, 2017 at 9:07
  • Sorry, I confused goat meat for mutton
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 7, 2017 at 9:29
  • You might want to bold-en: The term '羊肉' is always refers to 'goat meat' in China.
    – Mou某
    Jun 8, 2017 at 16:19
  • See my edition.
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 16, 2017 at 19:11
  • Almost no one eats them in China. I find that very hard to believe, seeing how much of it I've seen...
    – dda
    Dec 22, 2017 at 16:01

This is a surprisingly complex question to answer. Here are some facts:

  • 羊 means both sheep and goat in Chinese; the word doesn't differentiate.
    • This extends to official record-keeping - sheep meat and goat meat statistics are not differentiated.
  • "Lamb" and "mutton" refer to young and adult sheep meat. Some locales actually refer to goat meat as mutton as well, but let's ignore that for now.
  • China produces and consumes large amounts of both sheep and goat meat
  • China has very big regional differences in food production and consumption, especially the North-South divide

Given that 羊 is both sheep and goat, and China's regionality (Southerners are more likely to encounter goat, Northerners - particularly in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang - likewise with sheep), most Chinese would be unaware that there is a difference, or that they have been eating exclusively either sheep or goat.

So does "羊肉" mean lamb/mutton or goat meat? Depending on context and who is speaking, it could be either, or both.


As others have said - 羊肉 refers to lamb. Lamb is eaten very prevalently throughout China, especially in places like XinJiang, Beijing, and the northeast. Goat is not that widespread. Interestingly enough, there is a market for 'donkey meat' and there are niche restaurants that only serve donkey-based dishes.

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