By Chung Ah-young
The New Year has finally set in, with much anticipation that it will be a year filled with blessings.
The year 2009 is the Year of the Ox, according to Chinese astrology. The ox is the second animal in the zodiac and often associated with honesty, faithfulness, strength and gentleness.
But it also sometimes represents stupidity and stubbornness. The animal was an indispensable asset for Korean agriculture, as it was used to plow the soil here day after day. As such, ox people are believed to labor through their daily responsibilities either at work or at home without complaint.
The basic character of oxen is success through hard work and sustained effort, finding no benefit in concocting get-rich-quick schemes.
Ox as Time, Space and Zodiac Sign
According to the National Folk Museum of Korea, the Chinese zodiac marks time and space based on the movement of heavenly bodies and seasonal change. The lunar calendar is structured over a 60-year cycle that consists of two separate interacting cycles ― the ten "heavenly stems" and the 12 zodiac animal signs.
The ox is the second animal in the zodiac and the five ox years within the 60-year cycle are called "eulchuk", "jeongchuk", "gichuk", "sinchuk", and "gyechuk" in that order. The ox year comes every 12 years.
The ox also symbolizes north-northeast, as seen by the markings on star maps and sundials. This unique concept of time and space was used extensively for fortune telling and is frequently expressed in charms, divination books, gravestones and guardian god figures.
As Korea has traditionally been an agricultural society, oxen meant much more to farming families than just livestock.
The ox was indispensable for its role in plowing fields and as a means of transportation for its owner. It was also considered a "walking safe" that could be sold when its owner was in urgent need a large sum of money, the museum said.
The importance of the ox in Korean agricultural communities is reflected well in traditional ancestral rituals. Ox horns, skins and fat were widely used in daily life, not to mention the meat that was regarded as a premium food ingredient.
There is an old Korean expression that "there is nothing to waste from an ox except for the yawns".
Traits and SymbolismM
The ox is often described as dependable, patient, hardworking, strong and gentle. These positive attributes became symbolism reflected in religion, philosophy, literature and many other aspects of daily life.
The folktale of an ox saving its owner from a tiger is regarded as an example of the Confucian ideal of loyalty. The image of a shepherd boy riding its back is straight out of a Taoist handbook.
In Buddhism, the ox symbolizes the essential goodness of human nature. The shape of a lying ox or the shape of its stomach was a feng shui technique to determine ideal housing sites, according to the museum.
Honesty and integrity are often the themes in proverbs about oxen, and such symbolism is evident in everyday items.
Oxen in Folk Customs
The importance of draft animals is reflected in shamanistic rites of ancient times.
The "sonoreum gut", or ox worship rite, is a shamanistic ceremony performed for good harvests, good luck and prosperity for the family and local community. It is performed around the first full moon of the new year of the lunar calendar.
Through singing and dancing, the shaman dramatically attempts to tame cattle to make plows, showing the ritual's nature as an agricultural rite.
The most distinctive part of the performance comes at the end, when the shaman hops on a swing made of two blades and swings forward to exorcise evil spirits. Although there are different types of "sonoreum gut" around the Korean Peninsula, the double-blade swing appears only in Pyeongsan, Hwanghae Province, now part of North Korea.
Exhibitions Featuring the Year of the Ox
The National Folk Museum of Korea is presenting an exhibition focusing on the images and symbolism of the ox in Korean traditional culture and its roles in everyday life over the course of time.
The items, on display until March 2, reveal how closely images of the ox are connected with various aspects of daily life.
The exhibition displays an ox-horn inlaid box, spool, cloth holder, paintings of farming scenes, glasses made of ox horns, cardiac stimulant made from bezoars and paintings of birds and flowers.
The Jeonju Historical Museum is also holding an exhibition featuring ox-related items through Feb. 22.
Consisting of 12 parts, the exhibition displays "dangsajudo", a fortune-telling book from the late Joseon period, a feng shui book, a replica of "Jeongjo Sillok" including a letter forbidding the butchery of cattle, folk paintings, fans with spokes made of double slips of bamboo decorated with pictures of cows, plows and yokes.
The museum said that it also has panels introducing interesting stories from and characters born in the Year of the Ox.
The Debec Plaza Gallery in Daegu is presenting "The Friendly Cow 2009" through Jan. 7. The exhibition displays about 50 artworks with cow themes by 16 artists, varying from oil paintings, engraving prints, folk paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
Featured artists include the late Park Su-geun, Yang Dak-seok, Kim Ki-chang and Hwang Yu-yeop.
Famous Ox People
Celebrities who were born in the Year of the Ox are set to take a great leap this year.
, Kim Yoon-jin
, Jeong Woo-seong
, and Lee Jeong-jae
were born in 1973, the year of the ox.
Highly-acclaimed actress Jeon, who has won many accolades including the best actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in "Secret Sunshine
" in 2007, will give birth to a baby this month while taking a rest after filming "My Dear Enemy
Kim, who recently received rave reviews for her work in the Korean film "Seven Days"
, will begin shooting "Lost: Season 5" from this year. Kim is well known in the U.S. for her role as Kwon Sun-hwa on the ABC television series.
Jeong has become a businessman after launching his cosmetic line targeting the 20-30 demographic in association with Lee Jeong-jae
. He also achieved great success with the Korean blockbuster movie "The Good, the Bad, the Weird
" last year.
Lee has extended his career range from gentle and soft to his profligate character in the film "The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan
". He's also involved in the fashion business with Jeong.