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Author: Qian Kan

Year of the Ox: Chinese New Year

Updated Thursday, 11 February 2021

牛年快乐 ! Niú nián kuàilè! Happy Year of the Ox. Why not learn how to write and pronounce basic Chinese words to celebrate Chinese New Year?

According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, we enter the Year of the Ox on 12 February 2021. Because of its role in agriculture, the Ox is a valued animal in Chinese culture. Characteristics, such as being hardworking, diligent, dependable, honest and strong are attributed to the Ox.  Each Chinese Lunar year is associated with an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle. Babies born between 12th February 2021 and 1st Feb 2022 will be given the animal sign ‘Ox’.

Now let us look at the word ‘ox’, which is a very interesting word with multiple meanings. Let us first look at how it is written, its sound and meanings, and then a clever pun and few common expressions...

Chinese new year 2021 - papercut Ox

1: Learn how to write this character

In its written form, a Chinese character is constructed with a series of strokes.  ‘Ox’ (牛) is a very easy character to write, with just four strokes:

1st stroke

2nd stroke

3rd stroke

4th stroke


Click here to see how it is written (notice the direction in which each stroke is made). Note the second horizontal stroke is slightly shorter than the third stroke.

2: Learn how to say it and its meanings

牛 is pronounced ‘niú’ (like a drawn out e in ‘new’) and it has several meanings. When it is used as a noun, it is a generic term for cow, bull, cattle, ox.  When it is used as an adjective, it can mean ‘cool’, ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, ‘incredible’. Hence, Year of the Ox is going to be an awesome year!

  • 牛年快乐!niú nián kuàilè! Happy Year of the Ox! (lit. ox year happy; extra meaning ‘awesome and amazing year happy’)


  • 你真牛! Nĭ zhēn niú!    You are awesome!   


​​3: A clever pun and some common words that contain 牛 niú:

To say goodbye to a devastating and challenging year of 2020, and to welcome the coming of the new year, there are many witty, positive and creative Chinese New Year greetings. As many words in Chinese share the same pronunciation, plays with words and pronunciation are very common. Here is one which has become popular on Chinese social media recently:

  • ’转乾坤 niú zhuǎn qián kūn    Oxing/turning things around

This pun is created by two words sharing the same pronunciation as the first character 牛 niú (cow/bull/ox) in the phrase above and the first character 扭 niǔ (to turn; to twist) in the well-known four-character proverb below are pronounced niu (although with different tones):

  • 转乾坤 niǔ zhuǎn qián kūn        Turning things around

Below are a few often used words/expressions containing the word 牛 niǔ :

  • 牛肉      niúròu       beef (lit. cattle meat)
  • 牛奶      niúnǎi       milk (lit. cow milk)
  • 牛仔裤  niúzǎi kù   jeans (lit. cow boy trousers)
  • 吹牛     chuīniú      to brag/bragging (lit. to blow cow/bull/ox)

Note: If you want to hear how these words/phrases are pronounced, copy and paste the characters into Google Translate where you can hear the pronunciation.

The Chinese New Year festival season will last to February 26th (Lantern Festival), 15 days in total.

Celebrate the new year by dipping into some of our fantastic resources on China and Chinese.  In addition to those free resources, you may also wish to have look at our newly launched short course in Chinese business culture, starting on 27th February 2021.

Happy Niu/New Year!

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