Explainer: Everything You Need to Know About the Year of the Ox

By That's, February 3, 2021

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The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.

There are many legends as to how the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac came to be chosen. Most go something like this.

The ancient Jade Emperor called a meeting of all the animals to decide who would be honored with the assignment of a zodiac year. He waited on the banks of a river and decided that he would award the years to the animals in the order they managed to make it across. 

Jade_Emperor._Ming_Dynasty.jpg
Jade Emperor

Some animals used their natural abilities such as the tiger who swam, the rabbit who hopped from stone to stone and the dragon who flew.

Legend has it that the pig was the last animal to arrive because he stopped to eat during the journey. This explains why the pig is the last animal in the Chinese zodiac. 

As for the ox, he would have won the race and become the first animal of the zodiac. 

However, the rat used trickery and deceit. Along with the cat, the rat rode on top of the ox across the river. As the rat jumped forward suddenly, the cat flew off into the river and never made it to the other side. This is supposedly why cats hate water and chase rats. 

As the ox made it to the other side, the rat suddenly jumped forward and became the first animal to reach the other side. This explains why the rat is the first animal of the zodiac and the ox the second.  

Birth Years

1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021.

What are they like?

Hardworking, dependable, simple, honest, dedicated to their work, enduring, intelligent, disciplined, outspoken, merciful, strong-minded and patient. 

Ox make excellent…

Lawyers, doctors, teachers, authors, social workers, police officers, politicians and consultants.

Most compatible with…

Rat, rooster and snake.

Mortal enemies with…

Dog, horse and sheep.

Ox idioms

Some idioms about oxen refer to the animal’s strength. Many others, however, convey the opposite meaning of being ineffective.

九牛二虎之力, jiu niu erhu zhili‘The strength of nine oxen and two tigers.’ Meaning: Tremendous strength. 

对牛弹琴, dui niu tan qin: ‘Playing the lute to an ox.’ Meaning: to doing something pointless.

钻牛角尖, zuan niu jiao jian: ‘To tunnel into an ox’s horn.’ Meaning: To focus upon unnecessarily fine details. 

当牛作马, dang niu zuo ma: ‘To work like a horse and toil like an ox.’ Meaning: to slave for somebody. 

老牛破车, lao niu po che: ‘An old ox pulling a shabby cart.’ Meaning: to work inefficiently. 

九牛一毛, jiu niu yi mao: ‘One hair from nine oxen.’ Meaning: an insignificant amount of something. 

Fellow oxen

Barack Obama, Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, Ada Choi and Song Dandan.

This is an updated article published on January 22, 2020.


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[Cover image via Pixabay] 

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