A consumer selects mascots on sale for the Year of the Ox in a supermaket in Beijing in January 2021 (XIA YUANYUAN)
China's Spring Festival falls this month, and if you have any doubt about what animal represents the Chinese zodiac in 2021, just take a look around any market or mall. Paper-cuts, soft toys and jewelry are just some of the plethora of clues.
The ox symbolizes diligence and honesty in Chinese culture. If you happen to be born in any of the following ox years: 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 and 2021, then the Year of the Ox in the Chinese lunar calendar, which lasts from February 12, 2021, to January 31, 2022, is auspicious for you as each sign is only celebrated in its own year every 12 years. So for those born in ox years, the year of the ox is called their ben ming nian, meaning a milestone in people's life.
Personality of people born in ox years
The ox ranks second in the Chinese zodiac. In Chinese mythology, when the Jade Emperor, a Chinese godlike figure, asked all animals to pay him a visit on New Year's Day. He promised that the first dozen arrivals would be given the title "kings of the animal world." The order of the first 12 who came in are the ones in the shuxiang, animal signs associated with the years of a 12-year cycle: 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.
There is an interesting explanation for the ox's failure to come in first, which he was assured of because of his swimming prowess and the fact that there was a wide river to cross to reach the emperor. The kind ox agreed to the cunning rat's request to carry it on his back across the water. Just before they reached the finish line, the rat jumped off his snout and landed on the bank first. Having been so comprehensively duped, the ox had to settle for the second place in the zodiac lineup.
Like the Western horoscope, the shuxiang system indicates that people born in the years of the same animal sign tend to share similar personality traits. Those born under the sign of the ox are therefore said to be diligent, dependable, strong, determined, honest, patriotic and ambitious, with strong ties to their family and traditional values. Much like their beefy counterpart, they are no stranger to hard work, making them well-suited for career-oriented life.
People born in the year of ox are suitable for jobs requiring specific expertise or knowledge. They would dedicate themselves to this kind of jobs once they got admired by others for their working attitudes and abilities. Their strong sense of responsibility decides that they could do many kinds of jobs that are demanding and complicated. They win social recognition and self-realization through consistent hard work. Lawyer, doctor, teacher, author, social worker, writer, editor, government officer, policeman, technician and politician are all suitable roles for them.
While they excel at physical tasks, ox people generally struggle in social situations, as they are seen to be poor communicators and can be very set in their ways, meaning they tend to be markedly introverted and prefer solitude to engaging in group activities.
When it comes to romantic relationships, the ox personality is similarly dedicated and tends toward long-term relationships, as frequent break-ups or new relationships make them feel deeply uncomfortable. They may not be particularly passionate or enthusiastic partners, but they more than make up for it by being especially honest and reliable.
Niu, literally meaning ox or cow in Chinese, also has extended meanings apart from referring to an animal.
In colloquial Chinese, the word can express a compliment between friends, which can mean awesome, amazing or really cool. So if someone does something really well, or someone or something is highly appreciated, Chinese will say, "You are so niu!"
In the process of serving humankind, oxen have shown perseverance. Compared with horses, they have more prominent characteristics. For example, horses only drink clean water, while oxen can drink from muddy pools. When pulling a cart, if the road is slippery the horse will retreat, while the ox will never give up and keep moving forward. In addition, when two oxen compete, a winner must be determined. This is probably the reason why niu is also used to describe people's temper in Chinese. "Bull temper" means "hot tempered" or "extremely stubborn."
The cow eats straw but produces milk, and the ox tills the land but also provides beef for human beings. Meanwhile, the oxen never bully the weak and fear the strong, and they are also easily led by the nose by farmers while working, which is the sacrificing spirit of the ox. Therefore, in Chinese, people also use "spirit of willing ox" as a metaphor for those who are eager to help others and dedicate themselves selflessly.
This is reflected in a couplet from a poem by Lu Xun, a famous Chinese writer and poet, "Fierce-browed, I coolly defy a thousand pointing fingers; head bowed, like a willing ox I serve the children," which fully expresses the ox characteristic of absolute loyalty to others.
The ox and art
Oxen have often appeared in ancient Chinese paintings. One of the most famous of these is Five Oxen by Han Huang, a prime minister in the Tang Dynasty (618–907).
Most artists prefer to draw horses as horses symbolize speed, agility and elegance. Han preferred drawing oxen instead as they are symbols of diligence, perseverance and endurance. Oxen are not easily affected by their surroundings and stick to their habits and natural abilities.
In the painting, Han lined up the five oxen horizontally without any background. The five animals are vividly rendered in different postures. The first ox on the right is grazing, the second ox is looking upward, the third ox faces the viewer, the fourth ox is looking back and the fifth ox is looking forward.
Drawing the five oxen in different postures and temperament shows the high skills of the painter. Han used the traditional Chinese ink line drawing technique to portray the powerful skeletal structure and muscles of the oxen in an accurate anatomical perspective. The lines are firm, smooth and bold to show the heavy weight of the oxen. Above all, the eyes of the oxen are so meticulously painted that they bring the animals to life. The colors applied in the painting are light and elegant, with beautiful shades.
(Print Edition Title: The Year of the Ox)
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