The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 9): Ox (牛)

Da Qiong (Colossal Firmament)

PureInsight | January 16, 2006


Watch online (4:53) | Download (7,713KB)

An opening poem recitation by a group of children:

Oxen are healthy because they love eating grass.
Oxen get up early every day around the year.
Oxen are good at plowing the crop field and pulling carriages.
Oxen won the battle for Tian Dan (田單), the general for the Qi State.
Oxen are hard-working yet reticent animals.
Oxen work hard without complaint until they retire.

Yuan Yuan: Grandpa Brush Pen, a few days ago I went to visit my grandmother and saw an ox! All of sudden it mooed loudly and scared me!

Ying Ying: Grandpa Brush Pen, could you tell us some stories about oxen?

Grandpa Brush Pen: No Problem!

In the old Chinese agricultural society, almost every household had at least one ox. Oxen were man's best working partners. With their robust build and strength, they provided a lot of hard labor for their owners. It was a fairly common to see an ox plowing the field under the blazing sun or pulling a heavy ox wagon on the winding road in a village.

To repay oxen for their diligence and hard work, children in the farming villages would often take oxen to the river for a bath in their spare time. At dusk in the summer, farmers would burn a heap of damp straw to repel mosquitoes with smoke for the oxen. There is profound friendship and affection between man and ox. This is why a lot of farmers in the countryside refuse to eat beef.

Yuan Yuan: Why does my mom say I have a temper of an ox when I throw a fit?

Grandpa Brush Pen: Ha! Ha! Ha! "A temper of an ox" is a phrase to describe a person that rarely loses his temper but refuses to compromise once he loses his temper. Oxen are normally very docile and cooperative. They work hard without making any fuss and obey their owners, but if you are extremely unreasonable and offend them, they will stand still, refusing to move an inch, despite pulling, pushing and flogging. When an ox is mad at someone, it will even ram into him with its horns.

An ox's head is the most prominent part of its body. This may be why the ancient Chinese people featured its head when they created the character for ox. Horns are the most prominent features of an ox's head. They are symmetrical and have an elegant curve. In oracle-bone scriptures, there were many variations for the horns in the character. Some horns looked straight and others looked curvier. Below a pair of horns was a pair of long ears, which were used for hearing, as well as repelling mosquitoes.

In the Small Seal form, the character for ox remained the same. In the modern handwriting, the left horn is exaggerated and the pair of horns is no longer symmetrical.

Did you know that, besides plowing the fields, oxen have won battles for men?

Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan: Really?

Grandpa Brush Pen: In the Warring States period from 5 to 221 B.C., Yan and Qi states were fighting each other to rule China. The Qi state was defeated and lost every city but Ju and Jimo. At the pivotal moment, Tian Dan, Qi state's general, thought of a battle strategy. He brought in a herd of oxen and tie oil-soaked reeds to their tails. That night, they lit up the oxen's tails. The pain from the fire drove the oxen to charge into the Yan state's base camp. The Qi state's army followed the oxen's attack and recovered their homeland. This is the famous fire oxen army in Chinese history.

Ying Ying: I had no idea oxen have done so much service for the mankind!

Yuan Yuan: Oxen are something else!

Grandpa Brush Pen: Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan, do you now have a better understanding about oxen besides beef noodles, cow milk and milk caramel? In fact, oxen are truly important to mankind. This is not an exaggeration at all!

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