Ox in Chinese culture

For the Chinese, an ox (niu, also a cow) is, above all, the animal that pulls a plow in the field or otherwise acts as a draught animal. The ox is thus a close ally of the Chinese peasant. Traditionally, the ox or water buffalo (shui niu) was worshiped in southern China. The ox symbolizes e.g. spring. Nationwide, the spring season began with a ceremonial plowing by the imperial capital. Lower officials carried out the same ceremony at the beginning of spring (li chun) in the provinces. There were also ox temples for “yellow oxs” (Huang niu; Bovina Communis) in southern China.

Traditionally, before the spring, a spring ox (Chun niu; in the Han period as tu niu, “earth ox” or “clay ox”) was carved from clay. By whipping the clay ox, spring was believed to rush its arrival. A companion was also carved from clay for the ox, a cowherd named Niu Mang with a whip in his hand. Ox sculptures made of clay have been found in tombs from Han Dynasty. The sculptures were believed to bring good luck to the deceased.

The ox and water are often linked in Chinese culture. After all, a water buffalo was a common sight in the water-filled rice fields. From the early times, ox sculptures made of stone or bronze have been thrown into the river to appease the river spirit and prevent floods. Many ox-related stories emphasize the strength and power of the ox. Ox was also believed to protect people against evil spirits.

The ox theme plays an important role also in the melancholy folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”, where lovers as victims of the whims of the gods meet on the Milky Way only once a year. For the rest of the year, they are forced to live as stars in different parts of the sky.

The ox is often used in Chinese art, as it is a symbol of spring and agriculture. In paintings, little boys riding water buffaloes are often used to symbolize a carefree childhood. Laozi, the semi-legendary founder of the Taoist philosophy, is portrayed riding an ox towards the west, away from the wars and power struggles of the time, into hermit life. In Chan Buddhist (Japanese Zen) art, there is the famous ten-picture series “Ten Ox Herding Pictures,” which describes the stages of a practitioner’s progress towards enlightenment.

Ox as a horoscope sign

People born in the Year of the Ox are patient, do not talk much and are trusted by other people. They are however somewhat peculiar and fanatic and get angry easily. As ox type people like to be alone, they usually do not enjoy other people’s company too much. Nevertheless, they are dependent on other people, logical and stubborn. They are hot-tempered and although they only talk a little, they are very eloquent in what they say. Ox type people are both physically and spiritually vivid and alert. It is easy to get along with them. Still, they are rather opinionated and hate failing and facing opposition. They are particularly compatible with people of the Snake, Rooster and Rat type.

The Year of the Ox

In China, as well as in other East Asian countries, the Year of the Ox is associated with responsibility and stability. Success cannot be achieved without diligence. In the Year of the Ox, it is good to focus on things at your fingertips, such as yourself and people close to you. 

In the conservative Year of the Ox, people like to stick to routines and habits. For all sorts of trendiness, they smile amused: “Not now, in the Year of the Ox!” The motto of the year could be: “No money without hard work”. Laziness is not allowed, independent grinding as well as certain kind of discipline and patience are highly valued.