In East Asia and Southeast Asia, there are 12 zodiac animals in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit (Cat in Vietnam), Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. February 12th, 2021 marks the return of Ox. 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox, meaning people born on Ox years are in for good luck. Ox years include 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, and 2009.
1. Why Ox became the second zodiac animal in Chinese culture?
The Chinese Zodiac Story began with the decision of the Jade Emperor, who wanted to create a way of measuring time, on his birthday, he told the animals that there was to be a swimming race. The first twelve animals across the fast owing river would be the winners and they would each have a year of the zodiac named after them. All the animals lined up along the river bank. The rat and the cat, who were good friends, were worried because they were poor swimmers. Being clever they asked the strong ox if he would carry them across the river. ‘Of course’ said the kind ox. ‘Just climb on my back and I will take you across. The rat and the cat jumped up and were very excited when the ox took the lead. They had almost reached the other bank when the rat pushed the cat into the water leaving him to struggle. Just as the ox was about to win the race, the rat leapt on his head and on to the bank to finish first.
‘Well done,’ said the Jade Emperor to the proud rat. ‘The first year of the zodiac will be named after you.’ The poor ox had been tricked into second place and the second year of the zodiac was named after him.
Shortly after the exhausted tiger clawed his way to the river bank to claim third place. Swimming across the river had been an enormous struggle for him against the strong currents. The Emperor was so delighted with his efforts that he named the third year after him.
Next to arrive was the rabbit, who hadn’t swum across at all. He had hopped across on some stepping stones and then found a floating log which carried him to the shore.
‘I shall be very happy to call the fourth year after you,’ the surprised Jade Emperor explained.
Just then a kind dragon swooped down to take fifth place. The Jade Emperor asked, ‘Why didn’t you win the race, when you can fly?’
‘I needed to make some rain, because some people and animals needed water to drink,’ the dragon explained. ‘Then I saw a little rabbit on a log in the water and I blew a pu of wind so that the log would oat to the river bank.’
‘Well that was very kind of you. You will have the fifth year of the zodiac named after you.’
The next thing the Jade Emperor heard was the sound of the horse’s hooves. Just as he was thinking the horse would be the next animal to arrive, a sneaky snake wriggled out from around one of the horse’s hooves. The horse was so surprised that he jumped backwards giving the snake a chance to take the sixth place in the race. The poor horse had to be satisfied with seventh place.
Not long afterwards a raft arrived carrying the goat, the monkey and the rooster. They explained to the Emperor how they had shared the raft that the rooster had found. The goat and monkey had cleared weeds and pushed the raft to the shore.
The Emperor was very pleased that the animals had worked together. He said the goat would be the eighth zodiac animal, the monkey the ninth and the rooster the tenth.
The next animal to nish was the dog.
‘Why are you so late when you are one of the best swimmers?’ asked the Jade Emperor.
‘The water in the river was so clean that I had to have a bath on the way,’ explained the dog.
His reward was to have the eleventh year named after him.
There was one place left in the zodiac and the Emperor wondered when the last winner would come. Finally he heard a grunt from the boar.
‘You took a long time to cross the river,’ said the Emperor to the boar.
‘I was hungry and stopped to eat,’ explained the boar. ‘After the meal I felt so tired that I fell asleep.’
‘You have still done well,’ said the Jade Emperor. ‘The last year of the zodiac will be named after you.
As for the cat who had been pushed into the water by the rat, he finally crawled out of the water but was too late to have a year named after him. He felt very cross with the rat and since then cats have never been friends with rats.
From that day to this the Chinese Zodiac has followed this cycle of years named after these twelve animals.
2. The tale of Heavenly oxen came to Earth
I n ancient times, the ox was a servant of the Jade Emperor and it often traveled between the heaven and the earth. One day, the farmer asked the ox to take a message to the Jade Emperor: ”the earth is barren and it is too ugly; could you grant some seeds to the mortal world and make it beautiful?” The Jade Emperor thought it was reasonable, so he asked the Gods if there was someone who wanted to go to the mortal world to sow grass seeds.
”Your majesty, I will.” The ox volunteered.
”You are careless, can you finish it?” The Jade Emperor didn’t trust the ox.
”Don’t worry. I’ll kiss the rod if I can’t finish it!” The ox was determined.
The Jade Emperor agreed and urged the ox to sow one handful of grass seeds every three steps.
The ox took the seeds and went out the Heavenly Palace. While crossing the Heavenly Southern Gate, it accidentally fell down and felt dizzy; it mistook the Jade Emperor’s will as sowing three handfuls of seeds every step. Therefore, a large amount of seeds were sowed on the earth.
In the next year, the weeds overgrew and the farmers couldn’t grow crops.
They asked the Kitchen God to tell the information to the Jade Emperor. After learning the news, the Jade Emperor asked the ox about the situation and knew that it sowed three handfuls of seeds every step and screwed it up.
“You careless ox, you made the world full of weeds! How did you promise to me? From now on, you and offspring are only allowed to eat grass to weed out for the farmers. Also, you have to work for the farmers!” The Jade Emperor was so angry that he kicked the ox off the heaven. The ox fell down to the earth with the mouth down and had its upper teeth swigged off. Since then, the ox worked for the famer for a whole life and never stopped eating grass. Its upper teeth never grew out again even to this day.
But the ox was a good animal corrected its mistake quickly. It bore the burden of hard works willingly and it was diligent and honest; it never slackened and did a lot of work for the farmer, winning the praise of people.
Year of Ox has come, wishing you wealth and prosperity! May all your wishes come true! Happy New Year!