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The Ox - a traditional part of Chinese Culture
    2009-02-05 15:35:28     CRIENGLISH.com

This year is the Year of the Ox. Since ancient times, China has boasted a well-developed agricultural sector and the ox is an important part of it. Because of the contributions the ox has made to the lives of the Chinese people, it has become part of traditional Chinese culture. Yingying explores more by taking a look at an exhibition held by the Capital Museum.

Ox in Farming [photo: cribeyondbeijing.com]

At the beginning of the Year of the Ox, the Capital Museum launched an exhibition entitled "Niu Nian Shuo Niu," or "Talking about the Ox in the Year of the Ox." With hundreds of relics chosen from the Hanyangling Museum and the Jingwen Cattle Culture Pottery and Porcelain Museum in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the exhibition depicts the images of ox and ox culture throughout Chinese history.

Zhang Wenyong is the curator of the exhibition. 

"Holding an exhibition about the animal whose year it is in the Chinese Zodiac is a Capital Museum tradition. This year is the Year of the Ox and the ox features prominently in Chinese culture. This exhibition shows part of Chinese ox culture, which originates from agriculture."

The exhibition includes three sections: the Ox in Agricultural Cultivation, the Ox as an Image or Ornament and the Ox as a Theme of Artistic Creation.

As one of the first animals to be tamed by human beings, oxen were used in agriculture back in the Neolithic age 7,000 years ago. The first section of the exhibition, the Ox in Agricultural Cultivation, is in fact also the history of Chinese agricultural development.

Zhang Wenyong explains. 

"In ancient China, agriculture was the most important part of the social economy and the ox was an essential component of agricultural cultivation. Ox farming started in the Neolithic age and flourished in the West Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. For the great contributions the ox has made to Chinese society, it has always been praised by people."

Though the heyday of ox farming has ended in China, some remote areas still use oxen to farm the land. In the past thousands of years, oxen have been working hard to help humans.

Zhang Wenyong introduces a set of oxen pottery. 

"These oxen were entombed in the mausoleum of Emperor Jing, the fourth emperor of the West Han Dynasty. As entombed items in an emperor's mausoleum, they have to be made with different materials to show their owner's royal identity. The bodies of the oxen are made of pottery but the horns and tails are made of wood. The wooden parts became mouldy over the years so the three oxen we now see have no horns or tails."

Even emperors needed oxen to be buried alongside them. It is not hard to imagine how important an ox was for Chinese people in that period.

Oxcart [photo: cribeyondbeijing.com]

Oxen can bear hardships and hard work but never ask much in return, thus Chinese people always praise them for their lofty and noble character. They are also mostly gentle, but sometimes stubborn. However, people do not take these as their flaws. On the contrary, oxen are considered lovely that way and the image of ox has been widely used in ornaments.
Zhang Wenyong says the ox was not only used as a decoration but also as a symbol of identity in some certain periods in ancient China. 

"Originally, oxcarts were used to carry goods. However, in the late East Han Dynasty, about 1,800 years ago, it became people's main mode of transport. As oxcarts are larger than carriages and have sails on them, people can sit in it much more comfortably than sitting in a carriage. From the number of oxen an oxcart uses, one can tell which class the owner belongs to. The emperors of the North Wei Dynasty, some 1,500 years ago, used oxcarts with twelve oxen."

People spare no words of praise in their discussions of an ox's virtues and the ox has always provided artistic inspiration. Many Chinese writers wrote articles, praising the spirit of the ox.

As this year has just started, the exhibition encourages people to be more bullish and to move forward vigorously in spite of difficulties, as the ox would do!

For Beyond Beijing, I'm Yingying.



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