The ox is often used to indicate something big in size or large in number. Conversely, to describe something unimportant or trivial, Chinese people often talk of a single hair from nine ox, which in Chinese is jiǔ niú yī máo (九牛一毛 lit. nine ox one hair).
The youngest ox people are those born in the year 2009. People of this sign are believed to be industrious, patient, and cautious, and are considered to possess the potential talent to become leaders with strong will, faith and a devotion to work.
Reflecting these ox virtues, there is a phrase chū shēng niú dú bù pà hǔ (初生牛犊不怕虎) meaning that a newborn calf is not afraid of tiger. It is often used to describe courageous young people who are not easily affected by others or their surroundings, but instead follow their heart in the pursuit of their dreams.
As regards the weaknesses of the ox, they are considered to be obstinate (gùzhí, 固执). In Chinese, the best way to describe a stubborn and fractious person is to say they have an ox temper (niú pí qì, 牛脾气).
According to the Chinese zodiac, the ox is also poor at communication. The Chinese idiom duì niú tán qín (对牛弹琴) vividly reflects this attribute and translates as “play an instrument in front of an ox”. It is a sarcastic expression which suggests playing an instrument in front of such an animal would be addressing the wrong audience. Its English equivalent might be to “cast pearls before swine,” which is said to come from the Bible and infers a similar meaning of offering things to someone who would not appreciate them.
There is an oft used idiom which describes two lovers. Niú láng zhī nǚ (牛郎织女 lit. The Cowherder and the Girl Weaver). In the story the two met but once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar.
Today among Chinese people, the qīxījié festival (七夕节), also called the Double Seventh Festival or Magpie Festival, is now celebrated in a similar way to Valentine's Day in the west, though its date is not fixed and shifts slightly from year to year.
Meanwhile, the story of the cowherder and the girl weaver is reflected in modern life in China given that many migrant workers leave their wives and children to work elsewhere, often for months at a time, only meeting up during the annual Chinese new year.