Ms Houw said the legend might explain why people born in the Year of the Ox, such as former U.S. president Barack Obama, who was born in 1961, are regarded as honest, earnest and do not seek praise or to be the centre of attention.
There are also five elements that are part of the ancient zodiac calendar – water, metal, earth, fire and wood.
Ms Houw said the Ox year of 2021 was under the influence of the metal element, just like the year of the rat in 2020: “People born in the year of the metal ox are thought to sensitive, active, hardworking and popular among friends.”
Shirley Chan, head of Chinese Studies at Macquarie University, said Chinese zodiac signs are based on the traditional Chinese calendar, also known as the agricultural calendar, developed between 771 and 476 BCE.
The calendar took into account the phases of the moon and seasons, and brought together elements of traditional Chinese culture such as yin-yang philosophy.
“The creation of the Agricultural Calendar emerged from the immediate concerns of an agricultural society, and people also use the calendar for selecting auspicious days for major events and important activities, for example, weddings, house moving, or opening a new business,” she said.
Western astrology purports to predict the future based on the movement of the stars. But Associate Professor Chan said Chinese astrology and the zodiac is about examining the characteristics of the energy or life force (qi or chi) of a particular year and its impact on the environment and people.
“The signs are important as they might help you discover the energy and zest for life and offer some guidance to improve relationships with others,” she said. “By the same principle, an environment should also be made into a space of better energy with a balance of different elements.”
Ms Houw said the ox would be given the limelight during this year’s Sydney Lunar New Year festivities, with two towering oxen lanterns designed by Sydney-based artist Chrissy Lau.
“While the rat lantern is a favourite, because I was born in the year of the rat, the ox lanterns we’re unveiling are wonderful,” she said. “They’re cute, chubby and bring back fond childhood memories of eating giant bowls of longevity noodles at the local restaurant.”
Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.