February 12th, 2021, marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, but what exactly does that mean? Is there actually any difference between a Western horoscope and a Chinese horoscope?

Like Western astrology, the Chinese zodiac is represented by 12 characters. Unlike Western astrology, all 12 characters are animals. The animals rotate in a fixed order in association with five natural elements, creating a 60-year zodiac cycle in total.

We cut through the bull to break down the Chinese Zodiac basics, including what 2021’s Year of the Metal Ox means for you.

A Closer Look at the Ox: The Second Animal of the Chinese Zodiac

Plush red ox with good luck symbols on it, red decorations in background

According to Chinese mythology, the 12 animals of the zodiac were determined by a race across a wide river. The Jade Emperor invited the entire animal kingdom to participate, and the Ox, strong enough to push past the river’s current, was set to be the first to cross.

That is until the cunning Rat convinced the Ox that he should ride on the Ox’s back. His great eyesight, the Rat claimed, could help them both. Just before they reach the shore, the Rat hops off the Ox, landing ahead, and reaches the other side first. R-u-d-e.

2020 was the Year of the Rat. Shocker? We didn’t think so.

The Ox's Characteristics, Strengths, and Tendencies

Decorative red ox on reflective table

Although this Chinese myth doesn’t paint the Ox in the best of lights, it is actually revered in Chinese culture. Oxen have been critical to the Chinese agricultural industry for thousands of years and are thus associated with strength, hard work, perseverance, and good fortune.

Donna Stellhorn’s Chinese Astrology: 2021 Year of the Metal Ox describes the Ox as intelligent and resourceful. They don’t actively seek the spotlight; rather, they gain recognition through consistent hard work. Though sometimes stubborn, the Ox is also self-disciplined and loyal.

According to Feng Shui consultant Anu Singh, the Ox symbolizes success, abundance, and wealth accumulation. To activate wealth energy, display an Ox in the home's Southeast corner. (For more feng shui fundamentals, check out our article on How to Feng Shui Your Living Room.)

The auspicious nature of oxen isn’t restricted to China, either. The Ox is a common character of Korean proverbs, like, "it is a bad plowman that quarrels with his ox." This proverb was modified over the years to create the English saying, "a bad carpenter blames his tools."

Where Does the Ox Fit Into the Bigger Picture?

White ox statuette on red background with gold "2021"

Jupiter Lai, Hong Kong-based Chinese astrologer, describes 2020’s Year of the Rat as fast, hard, and active. The Rat is associated with yang, the masculine energy within Chinese cosmology.

The Ox’s corresponding element is earth; the Ox’s specific earthly branch is Chou. This gentle giant is associated with yin, which is slower, softer, and more passive than its yang counterpart and represents "stability and nourishment."

Although any astrological predictions are estimative and susceptible to life’s more chaotic twists and turns, previous Years of the Ox have had similar periods of considerable growth, steadfastness, and success.

Years of the Ox Throughout History

Upward angle shot of the New York World Trade Center

1949 marked the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on April 4th. Earlier that year, President Harry S. Truman proposed the Point Four program to help underdeveloped areas worldwide.

In March of 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the United States Peace Corps. Simultaneously, great strides were being made in space travel as Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

The women’s liberation movement of the '60s and '70s culminated in the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade case in which the United States Supreme Court overturned state bans on abortion. Both the World Trade Center in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago were opened in 1973, marking huge achievements in the architectural world.

And on a much more personal-to-the-author note, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd was also released in '73. So, it was a pretty good year.

Notable People Born in the Year of the Ox

Portrait of Malala Yousafzai

The traits and tendencies—the good, the bad, and the ugly—of each animal sign of the Chinese zodiac are believed to be embodied by individuals born under that specific year. According to Chinese astrology, if you were born in the Year of the Ox, you’re likely to possess certain ox-like qualities.

When you consider other notable Ox-babies of the 20th and 21st century, there’s some pretty good company to be had. Barack Obama, Robert F. Kennedy, Princess Diana, Walt Disney, and Malala Yousafzai are all born under a Year of the Ox and have gone down in history as exemplary leaders in political, cultural, and social fields.

Do you have any Oxen in your life? Assuming you’re not hanging out with too many centenarians, the most recent Ox years are 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and of course, 2021.

Famous, infamous, or just a regular Joe Schmoe, the one thing all of these Ox-babies have in common is they’re the least likely to reap the positive benefits of a Year of the Ox.

The Wrath of Tai Sui

Chinese characters on a Tai Sui temple's sign

Generally speaking, the animals of the Zodiac interact with each other in ways specific to each pairing. These relationships are used to determine Chinese Zodiac love compatibility and the predicted fortune (or misfortune) of a specific individual.

Enter Tai Sui, a Chinese astrological deity that is sometimes described as a folk god, a star, the presiding god, or the God of Age. Master astrologer Peter So explains in his 2021 Chinese Almanac that whenever someone enters the year corresponding with their birth year—in this case, Ox-babies in 2021, they are directly challenging the presiding god.

While this doesn’t mean you’re going to be subject to rogue bolts of lightning or falling grand pianos, Chinese astrology would suggest that you might be susceptible to negative emotions, which can, in turn, affect your career, relationships, and health.

The Importance of the Elements in the Chinese Zodiac

Close-up of black metal ox statue

The corresponding element to a Chinese Zodiac year is just as important as the animal sign itself. 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox, which can be indicative of a few things. Stellhorn explains:

"In 2021, there will be times where you feel a substantial burden as if you’re wearing a yoke and pulling the plow. But there is great purpose in what you’re doing...Change is difficult during a Metal Ox year. Metal is inflexible, and the Ox keeps working on the same task until the job is done. It will take effort to change course this year."

The last year of the Metal Ox was 1961. While great progress was made across the globe, it was not a year without strife. We’re early yet into 2021, but patterns can be seen already. Just in the first two months of 2021, we’ve seen groundbreaking history being made on either end of the spectrum, from the first Black female vice president of the US, to attempted and executed government coups worldwide.

So we suppose the real question is—how can we make the Year of the Ox work for us in the long term? How do we concentrate the hardworking, headstrong energy of the Ox sign into positive action?

Finding Happiness in This Year of the Ox

Golden ox ornament with red decorations in the background

Astrological schools of thought—be they Chinese, Western, or Vedic—all rely on natural, scientifically-proven phenomena like the position of the sun, moon, planets, and constellations. Beyond that, astrology doesn’t check many other boxes that qualify it as cold, hard science.

Regardless, there’s no doubt that astrology and celestial phenomena have influenced humankind over thousands of years. And while it might not always be the most accurate, astrology is a fun way to navigate our world with deeper insights into human nature—both our own and others.

Astrological destinies are fun to read, but it’s important to remember the real work gets done here on Earth, not in a constellation wheel. Take time to focus on yourself, fuel your body with healthy foods, and keep your loved ones close.

2020 showed us that none of us are immune to life’s potential for sheer chaos, but there’s still plenty of time to make 2021 a year that isn’t intrinsically linked to the term "dumpster fire." And that’s no bull.

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