Lunar New Year is widely celebrated by people all around the globe, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia. In many cultures, it is the most important festival that denotes the beginning of a new calendar year. 2021 is the Year of the Ox, the second of the 12-year periodic sequence of animals. While welcoming the new year, why not learn some interesting stories not only about oxen, but also bulls, cows, and more?
In the Chinese mythological race of the twelve animals, the Ox was described as both powerful and kind. The Ox was favoured to win the race for being large and powerful, but the good-natured Ox agreed to let the Rat ride on its back. At the last minute, the ungrateful Rat jumped off and crossed the finish line before the Ox. That’s why the Ox is the second year of the 12-year sequence, while the Rat is the first.
In Norse myth, Ymir, the ancestor of all giants, was raised by a cow. In Hinduism, cows and oxen are deemed holy; they accompany Gods such as Shiva and Krishna in Hindu legends. Other myths associate oxen with power and cruelty. In Greek mythology, Zeus transformed into a bull and seduced Europa. In addition, the fabulous monster of Crete Minotaur had the body of a man and the head of a bull.
In Christianity, the pagan worship of cows was deemed too great that it became a threat to God. According to the Old Testament, the Israelites adored a cult image of a golden calf. When the prophet Moses found out about the idol, he considered this a great sin against God. Moses then ordered the destruction of the golden calf.
Why do so many myths mention oxen and other bovines? Well, the domestication of oxen had a crucial role in agriculture since 6000BC, thus it is present in virtually every major mythology. Depending on different age, sex and breed, oxen usually weigh more than 600 kilograms and have a length of 2 meters. Those powerful animals help our ancestors and contemporaries seeding and harvesting every year. They help raise generations of humans.
As a food, beef may be very common today, but did you know that eating beef was a privilege in the past? In ancient China, the three animals, cattle, sheep, and pigs, were collectively referred to as Tailao, which was the highest standard of ritualistic food and could only be enjoyed by the Emperor. There were special officials in the Zhou Dynasty, called Niuren, who were responsible for raising cattle. The Tang Dynasty, Song Dynasty, Ming Dynasty, and Qing Dynasty all banned civilians from slaughtering and eating beef. The ban on beef also traces back to its important role in agriculture. Eating beef means losing a crucial productive force, as shown in a Taiwan proverb: “If you eat beef, you get busy for a year.”
Because of the association between oxen and physical strength, many sports clubs use the animal as their team name or mascot. One of the most famous examples is probably the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association. Other commercial companies also use cattle in their logos, such as the energy drink company Red Bull and the sports car manufacturer Lamborghini.
The oxen also represent different countries. India, Iceland, Andorra, and other states all have oxen printed on their national emblems. Finally, the cow is also the object of art. The earliest mural painting in the world, the Chauvet Cave, has paintings of buffalo from 36,000 years ago. The earliest Chinese paper engraving, a painting from the Tang Dynasty, depicts five cattle with different looks.
After reading this article, do you find ox, this common animal, more interesting than you thought?
As the Year of the Ox approaches, Green Steps wishes you a Happy lunar new year!
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