The Ox (牛) is the second of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Ox is associated with the Earthly Branch (地支) symbol Chǒu (丑). The first day, the Lunar New Year Day, of Year Xīn Chǒu (辛丑年) falls on Friday 12 February 2021.


天干 (Ten Heavenly Stems) :


地支 (Twelve Earthly Branches) :


十二生肖 (12-year cycle in the Chinese zodiac):


rat ox tiger rabbit dragon snake horse goat monkey rooster dog pig


Recent years of the Ox are: 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021.

Chinese Zodiac years are based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Interested people born in January or February can check the date of the Chinese New Year to confirm their birth sign, for example at the following site:


Characters of the Oxen

Oxen are capable farming animals in an agricultural society. They are symbols of diligence, perseverance and endurance.

Some people believe that people born in the Year of the Ox are strong, reliable, fair and conscientious. They are also calm and patient. They put their entire heart into everything they do. They feel great responsibility towards their family as well.

This is just a folklore with no scientific evidence. Please do not take this seriously. I have taught in high schools for many years. Students in the same class are of similar age and many students are likely to fall under the same Chinese zodiac.  However, their characters can be very different.


Art works related to the oxen

Paintings of Oxen

Han Huang (韓滉) (723 –787) Five Oxen (五牛圖), handscroll, ink and colours on paper, 20.8 x 139.8 cm, The Palace Museum, Beijing

In the painting, Han lined up the five oxen horizontally without any background. The five animals are vividly rendered in different postures.  The first ox on the right is grazing, the second ox is looking upwards, the third ox one is in full frontal facing the audience, the fourth ox is looking back and the fifth ox is looking forward.

Drawing the five oxen with different postures and temperament shows the high skills of the painter. Han used the traditional Chinese ink line drawing technique to portray the powerful skeletal structure and muscles of the oxen in an accurate anatomical perspective. The lines are firm, smooth and bold to show the heavy weight of the oxen. Above all, the eyes of the oxen are so meticulously painted that they bring the animals to life.

The colours applied in the painting are light and elegant, with beautiful shades.

The first ox slanted its body and lowered its head. It extends its neck to eat the grass while rubbing against the shrub.


The second ox has brown and white furs. It raised its head, looking upwards and it swayed its tail. It wore a carefree and leisurely expression.


The third ox is the fulcrum of the painting. It is standing facing the audience. The eyebrows and the lips are white in colour. It also has a humpback. This ox looks quite elderly and wise.


The fourth ox turned its head and stuck out its red tongue. It is walking forward slowly, as if it heard the call of the farmer. This ox bore a cute and graceful posture.


The fifth ox had a red bridle (collar) tied to its head. Its eyes show its stubborn character and faithfulness to the farmer. Some artists feel that this ox shows a bit of anger in its eyes. It seemed reluctant to move forward.

For more information on this long scroll painting, please visit the following webpage:



Dai Song (戴嵩) Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) Bullfighting (鬥牛圖), ink on silk, 31.2 x 48.7 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei


Li Di (李迪) (around 941 – 1047 AD), Cowherds Fleeing a Storm (風雨牧歸圖), ink and colour on silk, 120.7 x 102.8 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
Details of the above painting.  The cowherd grasps the rim of his hat preventing it to be blown off. The reeds bend wildly in the wind. One can almost sense the gusts of wind and rain.


Yan Ciping (閻次平), active around 1163 AD, Herding in Autumn (秋野牧牛圖), ink and colour on silk, 97.5 x 50.6 cm, Sen-Oku Hakukokan Museum, Kyoto (泉屋博古馆)

Details of the above painting


Xia Gui (夏圭)( 1195 – 1224) Grazing on Snow Creek (雪溪放牧圖), ink and colour on silk, 25.7 x 26.6 cm, Palace Museum, Beijing


Zhang Lu (張路) (1464 – 1538) Laozi riding a bull (老子騎牛圖), ink and colour on paper, 101.5 x 55.3 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei


Shi Tao (石濤) (1641-around 1707), Playing the zither before the Bull (對牛彈琴圖), ink on paper, 132.5 x 53.4 cm, The Palace Museum, Beijing
Details of the above painting



Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻)(1895 – 1953) Cow and calf, dated 1940, charcoal and ink wash on paper, 18.5 x 25 cm


Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻)(1895 – 1953) Three oxen, dated 1940, ink and colour on paper, 25 x 55 cm


Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻)(1895 – 1953) Buffaloes, dated 1942, hanging scroll, ink on paper, 57 x 48 cm



Pan Tianshou (潘天壽) (1897 – 1971), Plowing (耕罷), dated 1958, ink and colour on paper, 228 x 122 cm

Inscriptions: 水牛軀體偉碩壯健,性情馴樸耐勞,為農業生產工作者之忠誠戰友,至為可愛。
The water buffalo has a strong and robust body, a docile and hardworking temperament. It is a loyal comrade of farmers. It is most lovely.


Li Keran (李可染)(1907 – 1989) Greeting the spring, dated 1979, ink and colour on paper, 69.5 x 46-5 cm


Li Keran (李可染)(1907 – 1989) Mountain after the rain, ink and colour on paper


Li Keran (李可染)(1907 – 1989) Return from herding, dated 1987, ink and colour on paper, 47.5 x 35 cm


Li Keran (李可染)(1907 – 1989) Buffalo, ink and colour on paper, 84 x 34 cm, Collection of Y.C. Gallery


Li Keran (李可染)(1907 – 1989) Five Buffaloes, ink and colour on paper


Sculptures of the Oxen
Reclining Ox, Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) (Photo Credit: Art Gallery, Chinese University of Hong Kong)


Ox Wagon, Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) (Photo Credit: Art Gallery, Chinese University of Hong Kong)


Ox teapot, (Photo Credit: Art Gallery, Chinese University of Hong Kong)



Year of the Ox: Fortune and Personality – Chinese Zodiac (

中国剪纸 Paper Cut in China 十二生肖 The twelve symbol animals 漢坤東方出品

Han Mo 4 , Feb 1990, A Magazine of Chinese Brush Art, Han Mo Xuan Publishing Co’ Ltd

Ting J S P and Szeto Y K,  1988, The Art of Xu Beihong,  Hong Kong Museum of Art