As over a billion people around the world celebrate the Lunar New Year, Burness Paull’s China Desk share some thoughts on the 2021 Year of the Ox.

Ox overshadowed by the Rat

The ancient legend of the Chinese Zodiac is well worth reading. The Jade Emperor, or Heavenly Grandfather, decreed that there would be a great race to determine which animals would have their name on each year of the calendar.  The order was to be determined by the order in which the animals arrived at the heavenly gates.

There was a river to be crossed and the kind hearted ox carried both the rat and the cat over it. The cruel rat threw the cat into the water where it drowned, losing a place in the Zodiac. On reaching the shore, the rat jumped off the back of the ox and rushed to the Emperor to secure first place. The naïve ox was overshadowed by the rat and had to contend with second place.

Some will recall that 2020 was the Year of the Rat. Living up to its infectious reputation, the 2020 Rat, in the opening words of Albert Camus in The Plague, will be remembered as a year of peculiar events that are the subject of history. Not just in Oran, but across the entirely of our interconnected global world.

2020 was a brutal year of pestilence, which has had a devastating social, economic and human cost. The impact of that will continue to be felt throughout 2021 as we start to look with hope towards recovery.

The events of last year’s Rat will undoubtedly overshadow this year’s Ox and as in the legend from the midst of time, the Rat again steals the limelight from the Ox.

The Ox shall overcome

The Ox as an animal is not an exotic one. It’s perhaps the least notable amongst all the Zodiac animals. The Dragon, the Monkey, the Tiger and even the beloved Dog would all catch our eye, but probably not the Ox.

Since ancient times, humanity has depended upon strength of the Ox for our survival. It traditionally does backbreaking work, especially when ploughing a new furrow for harvesting. It is an under-stated, low key, strong and determined animal.

How appropriate then that Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Robert F Kennedy were all born in an Ox year.

There can be no figure in modern history as understated as Rosa Parks, known as the First Lady of the Civil Rights movement. Her Ox-like determination to remain seated on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama changed the course of history. Barack Obama, another born in an Ox year called her a ‘giant of her age’ as he recommitted us all to continuing the march she started.

Those great leaders of the US civil rights movement, like the Ox, carried out backbreaking work on our behalf. Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy were killed because of it, but still the movement continued to cry out We Shall Overcome.

The Ox is diligent and overcomes obstacles with determination and strength. There are no shortage of obstacles facing us all in 2021, whether that be in politics, business or our personal lives. We start the Year of the Ox with the comfort of knowing that by quietly ploughing ahead, low key and diligently, like the Ox, we can and we shall overcome.

Rethinking the Ox

Many of us think of an Ox as nothing more than a simple beast. It is cautious and steady, healthy and strong. Whether kept in a barn or roaming a field, the Ox is never thought of as having much of an imagination.

Contrast that with the many imaginative and creative personalities who were born in Ox years. Walt Disney is perhaps the most famous, along with Van Gogh, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin.

Through their respective arts, they help us take a step back and re-imagine the world around us. Their talents open our minds and enable us to see and hear anew. Perhaps this is what we need more of in 2021.

To rebuild ourselves, our communities, our businesses and our world in 2021, we will need the drive, strength and determination of the Ox. We also need to re-imagine the Ox.

Through kindness, the ox helped the Rat and the Cat across the River. With contentment, the Ox accepted second place in the race. And with deep inner strength and determination, the Ox diligently carts us away from last year and enables us to look forward with hope to a happier new year for all.