The Chinese Zodiac (生肖 - shēngxiào) consists of twelve animal signs, each representing a year according to the lunar calendar. The twelve animal signs, along with their Chinese characters and Pinyin pronunciation, are:
- Rat - 鼠 - shǔ
- Ox - 牛 - niú
- Tiger - 虎 - hǔ
- Rabbit - 兔 - tù
- Dragon - 龍 - lóng
- Snake - 蛇 - shé
- Horse - 馬 / 马 - mǎ
- Ram - 羊 - yáng
- Monkey - 猴 - hóu
- Chicken - 雞 / 鸡 - jī
- Dog - 狗 - gǒu
- Pig - 豬 / 猪 - zhū
Each of these signs begin on the first day of the Lunar New Year, which usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. As there are twelve animal signs, they occur in 12-year cycles, always in the same order. The Year Of The Ox, 牛年 (niú nián) in Mandarin Chinese, occurs in 1997, 2009, 2021, and 2033.
Because the Lunar New Year varies according to the position of the moon, the actual dates of the Year Of The Ox are as follows:
- February 7, 1997 – January 27, 1998
- January 26, 2009 – February 13, 2010
- February 12, 2021 – January 31, 2022
- January 31, 2033 – February 18, 2034
The order of the animals is often explained with a folk-tale about how the animals were summoned to heaven by the Jade Emperor (玉皇 - Yù Huáng). The journey involved crossing a swift river, and both Cat and Rat decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hitch a ride on the back of Ox. Ox agreed to carry them both across, but when they reached the middle of the river, Rat pushed Cat into the water. As Ox approached the far bank of the river, Rat jumped ahead and ran to the meeting place, earning first place in the zodiac. Ox arrived shortly afterwards, bearing no ill will towards the rat.
In Chinese culture, people born in the Year of the Ox are thought to be very hard working (勤勞 / 勤劳 - qín láo) with a tendency to be stubborn (頑固 / 顽固 - wán gù). Those born in the Year Of The Ox are dependable and determined. They are scrupulous and believe that success comes through perseverance and reliability.
Some of the positive characteristics of Ox people are:
- dependable - 把穩 / 把稳 - bǎwěn
- ambitious - 有雄心 - yǒu xióng xīn
- calm - 冷靜 / 冷静 - lěngjìng
- methodical - 有條有理 / 有条有理 - yǒu tiáo yǒu lǐ
- patient - 耐心 - nàixīn
- tenacious - 頑強 / 顽强 - wánqiáng
On the negative side, Ox people can be:
- stubborn - 固執 / 固执 - gùzhí
- demanding - 需要 - xūyào
- narrow-minded - 狹 / 狭 - xiá
- rigid - 板板六十四 - bǎnbǎn liù shí sì
The five Chinese elements (五行 - wǔ xíng) vary the qualities of the Zodiac signs. The five elements are Metal (金 - jīn), Water (水 - shuǐ), Wood (木 - mù), Fire (火 - huǒ) and Earth (土 - tǔ), and each are combined with each of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac to create a 60-year zodiac cycle.
The elements are cyclical in the order mentioned above. The Metal Ox, for example, falls in the years 1961 and 2021, while the Water Ox appears in the years 1973 and 2033.
Here are the Ox years with their associated elements:
- Metal Ox - (金牛 - jīn 牛) - 1961 and 2021
- Water Ox - (水牛 - shuǐ 牛) - 1973 and 2033
- Wood Ox - (木牛 - mù 牛) - 1925 and 1985
- Fire Ox - (火牛 - huǒ 牛) - 1937 and 1997
- Earth Ox - (土牛 - tǔ 牛) - 1949 and 2009
Each of these various ox years are tempered by their associated element. Metal, for example, is strong and hard-working, and these characteristics are found in Metal Ox people. Metal oxen are trustworthy and dependable.
Water, in comparison, is a flexible element, so it helps the oxen to empathize with others. Water Oxen are sincere and patient, and make good companions.
Wood Oxen are sociable and work well in a team, but because of their work ethic, function best as the team leader.
Fire Oxen often hold positions of leadership. They can be impulsive and do not always take other people's opinions into account.
Finally, Earth Oxen are diligent workers, and that diligence usually leads to success. They are modest and sincere, qualities which draw others into their sphere.