Pondering the Year of the Ox

There was an interesting op-ed in today’s Boston Globe about Niu which is the Chinese for Ox.  The writers invoke the spririt of niu as the spirit of President Obama.

Niu has been an important labor force on Chinese farms for thousands of years. Therefore, in Chinese culture, niu is often used to symbolize a hardworking and trustworthy spirit. There is a famous saying in Chinese – “Although niu only eats grass, it produces milk” – which praises niu’s willingness to contribute. In addition, a poem by the 20th-century Chinese writer Lu Xun brings home niu’s attitude of serving without complaining: “To a thousand pointing fingers I defy with fierce brows, and to younglings I’d be fain to bow and serve as a niu.” Niu’s qualities – no-complaints, trustworthiness, unselfishness, and willingness to give and serve the people – are exactly the spirit that we should pursue in a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear amid the crisis.

That spirit must inhabit us all. As President Obama said in his inaugural address, there is a demand to return to the truth – the values upon which America’s success depends – including honesty, hard work, courage, and fair play.

The one thing I don’t really understand is the writers seem to be using “ox” and “bull” to refer to the same animal.  In English “bull” refers to a male and would never give milk no matter how much grass he ate.  But that quibble aside, they have a point.  They conclude

In Chinese, crisis (wei ji) means crisis (wei) and opportunities (ji). The crisis may open up an opportunity for the world’s largest developed country and largest developing country to address global challenges instead of triggering a crisis in bilateral relations. Obama has the choice to turn a crisis into an opportunity – if he leads in the spirit of niu and works with world leaders to turn the year of the ox into the year of the bull.

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