The Chinese Year of the buffalo
in the element earth

written by Dr. Klaus G. Muller

The age of a Chinese is traditionally counted from the day of conception. Thus he is nine months old when born. But according to Chinese belief, it is only at the moment of birth that the sign of the corresponding animal of the zodiac is burnt into the heart of the newly born and determines his character. The Chinese begin their new year at the new moon, approximating our fifth of February. On 26 January 2009 begins the year of the buffalo in the element earth. Age was once reckoned in moon years; sun years were taken over from the Europeans. The years are named after the twelve animals whose names in ancient China were also given to each of the two-hour divisions of the 24 hours of the day: rat, water buffalo, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Some animal signs, their years and those born in them are considered especially lucky. This superstition has led to planned “baby booms” nowadays often helped by cesarean delivery.

      The years are counted in cycles of 60, comparable to our centuries. This stems from a combination of the twelve animal signs and the five elements, metal, water, wood, fire and earth. These elements form the chain of life. Metal (container) collects water, water allows wood to grow, wood feeds the fire’s flames, fire turns into ash, or earth, the earth contains metals. Like yin and yang they complete the great harmony of the world. Just as the animal cycle of the years affects the character, according to Chinese astrology the elements do too. The rays of the earth are thought to make a person independent, uncompromising, resolute, energetic, ambitious and unerring, as far as the characteristics of his zodiac sign allow.

      Once upon a time the ancestors of the water buffalo were two stars in the firmament. People on earth lived very poorly. Sometimes they had nothing to eat for weeks on end. One day, the gods wanted to show mercy. They sent the buffalo stars down to earth with the good news for men that in future they would have a meal every second day. The buffalos muddled the message and announced that from now on everybody would eat twice a day. When they returned, the gods were angry and said: “We do not want to revoke the good news. But in order to assure the two meals per day you have promised, you shall go down to the earth, live with the farmers and help with the work in the fields forever.” And so buffalos became the diligent helpers of man. The buffalo also stands for bullock, bull, cow, ox and yak. To the present day many Chinese do not eat beef, perhaps out of gratitude for the helper who pulls the plough and ensures their food supply or perhaps because Buddhism, brought from India, encourages respect for the sacred cow, the maternal, mild, lifegiving, nourishing exemplary animal of Hinduism and Buddhism.

      According to Chinese astrology, people born in the year of the buffalo are reserved and relaxed, inspire confidence in others and are thus frequently entrusted with confidential missions. They are mentally alert, eloquent and show exceptional dexterity. Rubens and Napoleon were born in years of the buffalo.

      In an old Chinese legend, once every year an enormous evil beast came out of the sea on the first day of the New Year. It was found out that it did not like the red colour and loud noise. So the Chinese dressed in red - the colour of luck, carried red lampions and ignited crackers on that day to drive it away. This custom has lasted to the present day and now cheers the New Year.

Klaus G. Muller, 2009


The Chinese New Year of the tiger in the element metal

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