The sexagenary cycle, also known as the Stems-and-Branches or ganzhi, is a cycle of 60 terms, each corresponding to one year. Thus a total of 60 years for one cycle, historically used for recording days or years in China. Each term in the sexagenary cycle consists of two Chinese characters, with the first being one of the ten Heavenly Stems and the second being one of the 12 Earthly Branches.
For example, February 12, 2021 marks the beginning of the xin-chou year, according to the sexagenary cycle.
Each lunar year in China corresponds to one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. 2021 is a year of the Ox. Why is the ox so special in Chinese culture, and what exactly does it stand for?
According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Ox is associated with stability. The main Chinese character associated with Ox (丑) suggests a change of direction.
After the year we’ve just had, many are hoping this change of direction – coupled with hard work and diligence – can bring new hope for the future. The ox is known for its honest and hard-working nature. It also embodies strength and determination. People born in the Year of the Ox are believed to carry these traits.
The ox is second in the line of zodiac animals, behind the rat whose legend has it that it won a race to claim that position, according to one of the theories explaining the origin of the Chinese zodiac signs.
The strong and industrious ox is a dependable animal on the farm. From plowing fields to pulling carts, oxen are prized for their great contribution in agriculture. So, the animal has been a close ally of Chinese farmers.
As a greatly valued farm animal, ox is also highly regarded in Chinese art. One of China’s most distinguished paintings is the “Five Oxen” by Han Huang from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The quintet comes in varied postures and is given subtle human characteristics.
The ox has also inspired masters like Qi Baishi and Li Keran. Their water buffaloes – illustrated with splashed ink – were considered a breakthrough in Chinese art. As a treasured farm animal, and as symbols of honesty and endurance, oxen continue to hold a special place in the hearts of the Chinese.