What You Don’t Know About Chinese New Year
2021 is the Year of the Ox, the ox being of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals. In fact, there are similar customs in many countries. For example, Myanmar has eight zodiac animals that, similarly to the Chinese zodiac, are assigned to people depending on their date of birth.
In China, the order of the twelve zodiac animals is: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig.
生肖 (shēng xiào): n. the Chinese zodiac
hán yǒu shí èr shēng xiào yuán sù de zhū bǎo zài zhōng guó shí fēn chàng xiāo 。
含 有 十 二 生 肖 元 素 的 珠 宝 在 中 国 十 分 畅 销。
Jewelry containing elements of the Chinese zodiac is very popular in China.
1. The Legend of the Dragon
The dragon has a special meaning in many countries, where it is considered a sacred animal despite the fact that no one has ever actually seen one. In China, there are many stories about the dragon, one of the most famous of which revolves around its willingness to sacrifice its position in the zodiac in order to save a whole village from a drought.
龙 (lóng): n. dragon
nǐ shǔ shén me?
你 属 什 么？
What’s your zodiac animal?
wǒ shǔ lóng.
我 属 龙。
Another story touches on the dragon’s mythical nature. It is said that there was an ancient painter who was very skillful at drawing dragons. One year, the emperor asked him to draw four dragons in a temple. After the artist finished, the dragons were very lifelike—except for the fact that they lacked eyes. The painter said that once he painted eyes on the dragons, they would fly away. People didn’t believe him, but once the painter added the eyes, guess what happened? The dragon flew away!
2.Using Animals to Emphasize Your Meaning
You’ve probably heard the expressions, “The elephant in the room”, or, “Hold your horses!”, or “He let the cat out of the bag.” As in English, Chinese speakers also use animals when making a point.
动 物 : n. animal
nǐ zuì xǐ huɑn shén me dòng wù?
你 最 喜 欢 什 么 动 物？
What’s your favorite animal?
wǒ bù xǐ huɑn dòng wù.
我 不 喜 欢 动 物。
I don’t like animals.
nà wǒ jiù bù xǐ huɑn nǐ!
那 我 就 不 喜 欢 你！
Then I don’t like you!
If you want to express well wishes to your friends in an endeavor, you can say,
zhè jiàn shì qing nǐ yí dìng néng xíng, zhù nǐ mǎ dào chéng gōng!
这 件 事 情 你 一 定 能 行， 祝 你 马 到 成 功！
You can definitely do it; I wish you a swift success!
(hint: 马 (mǎ) means “horse”—why do you think a horse is involved here?)
When you try to explain something to someone else, but they just can’t get it, you can say,
wǒ hé tā shuō le bàn tiān, tā yě bù lǐ jiě, zhēn shì duì niú tán qín!
我 和 他 说 了 半 天， 他 也 不 理 解， 真 是 对 牛 弹 琴！
I talked with him for a long time, but he didn’t understand. It’s really casting pearls before swine.
(hint: 牛 (niú) means “cow” or “ox”, but this expression isn’t about pearls—can you translate it literally?)
Finally, If you want to express that doing something superfluous backfired, you might try saying,
wǒ yuán běn xiǎng gěi dàn gāo zài jiā yì diǎn zhuāng shì, jié guǒ huà shé tiān zú le!
我 原 本 想 给 蛋 糕 再 加 一 点 装 饰 ，结 果 画 蛇 添 足 了！
I originally wanted to add a little more decoration to the cake, but I drew legs on a snake!
(hint: 蛇 (shé) means “snake”—can you figure out where this expression came from?)
3. About “the Ox”
When Chinese people welcome the new year, they often incorporate their wishes for the future. For example, in 2021, people will say to each other, “I wish you a happy Year of the Ox!” Some people will even combine English and Chinese, making a play on words with the slightly different, “I wish you a happy ‘niú’ year!”
牛 (niú): n. ox; cow
The ox is one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, ranking second in the cycle. In ancient China, the ox represented diligence and strength, due to its capacity for and importance in cultivating land, agriculture, transportation, and even military affairs.
Around the world, cattle in general have and are seen as symbols of wealth, power, and even the divine. For example, in India cattle are regarded as sacred animals, due to divine cows appearing in ancient Hindu texts. In Spain, the bull also represents the spirit of entertainment and adventure, and the cultural legacy of bullfights and “the running of the bulls” is known in countries everywhere.
Even in the finance world, we often hear the word “bull” when talking about the stock market, which means that the stock price is and will continue to rise.
We hope that you’ve learned something here today, and have a very “牛” year in 2021! Let us know what other topics you’d like to learn about in the comments below, and follow eChineseLearning on social media for tips, tricks, updates, and sales.