The Spring Ox and Cowherd of the Chinese Almanac – 1

On the first and last page of a traditional Chinese Almanac you will find an illustration of an ox and cowherd. If you look at them carefully you will find subtle differences between the illustrations. What do the illustrations mean? Does it convey some information?

The illustration is normally called the Spring Ox drawing and it provides overall climatic information in a pictorial manner. The illustration on the front page shows climatic information for the current year while the one on the back page is for following year.

The Spring Ox was originally a clay figure for ceremonial purposes. In the old days, royal officials would whip the Ox on the first day of spring (Li Cun) to signify the start of a new solar year.

There are rules governing the relative dimensions of the Spring Ox and the Cowherd. The height of the Ox is four units of length to represent the four seasons. The length of the Ox is eight units of length to represent the eight seasonal nodes while the tail is 1.2 units of length to represent the twelve months of a year.

The length of the branch that the Cowherd uses as a wand is 2.4 units of length to represent the 24 knots and qi of a year. Finally, the height of the Cowherd is 3.65 units of length to represent the 365 days of a year.

Spring Ox and Cowherd
Spring Ox and Cowherd

For the Spring Ox diagram to convey weather information effectively it should be in colour. Nowadays as society become less dependent on the illustration, it is shown in black and white on most almanacs.

What kind of information does it convey?

The colour of the head of the Ox tells the element of the Heavenly Stem of year. In a Wood year (Jia or Yi), the color of the Ox’s head is green. In a Fire year (Bing or Ding) it is Red while in an Earth Year (Wu or Ji) it is Yellow. During a metal year (Geng or Xin) it is white while in a Water year (Ren or Gui) it is black.

The colour of the body of the Ox tells the element of the Earthly Branch of the year. In the Wood years of the Tiger or Rabbit (Yin or Mao) it is green while in the Fire years of the Snake or Horse (Si or Wu) it is Red. In the Metal Years of the Monkey and Rooster (Shen or You) it is white while in the Water Years of the Pig and Rat (Hai or Zi) it is black. Finally in the Earth years of the Dragon or Goat or Dog or Ox it is yellow.

The colour of the Ox’s stomach denotes the The Na Yin (received notes or hidden) element of the year. It is green for wood, red for fire, yellow for earth, white for metal and black water.

The colour of the Ox’s horns, ears and tail denotes on the element of the Heavenly Stem of the first day of Li Cun (Start of Spring – usually on or around 4th Feb). The colour of the Ox’s knees denotes the element of the Earthly Branch of the first day of Li Cun. Again it is green for wood, red for fire, yellow for earth, white for metal and black for water.

The Na Yin element of the first day of Li Cun is denoted by the colour of the hooves of the Ox.

The Yin or Yang of the year is denoted by the side to which the Ox’s tails bend. It bends to the right in a Yin year and to the left in a Yang year. In addition, the Ox’s mouth is shut in a Yin year and opened in a Yang year.

Even the texture and colour of the rein tells denotes something about the Stem and Branch (or animal sign) of Li Cun (first day of spring). If the first day of spring is a Rat, Rabbit, Horse of Rooster day, the rein is made from hemp. For an Ox, Dragon, Goat or Dog day it is made of silk. Finally for a Tiger, Snake, monkey or Pig day it is made of linen.

The colour of the rein is determined by the element of the day. As usual it is green for wood, red for fire, yellow for earth, white for metal and black for water.

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