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Let's bring here a bit of tradiion.......
According to one legend, in the sixth century B.C. the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in creation to a race, only twelve showed up: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Lamb, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig, and according to their places in the race, the Jade Emperor had given them each a number starting with the Rat who was the winner of the race.|
Many legends arose from the Race of the Chinese Zodiacs. One told of the reason why cats and rats shall always be enemies: He and the cat (at the time good friends) were poor swimmers, so they asked the ox if they could stay on top of his head to cross the river. Along the way he pushed the cat off the ox's back. And the cat, incapable of swimming, lagged behind. The rat stayed on top of the ox's head until the ox was almost at the finish line. And as the ox was about to cross it, the rat jumped from the ox's head and became first place. And the cat and rat have been enemies ever since.
Another legend tells that the cat had asked the rat to wake him up the day of the Race. The rat agreed, but on the said day, he did not wake the cat in his greed to win. When the cat finally woke up and got to the racing ground, he found the race to be over. The cat then swore revenge upon the rat.
The legend of the Zodiac Race, of course, is by far the least credible of all explanations of the origin of the Chinese zodiac. Because the "twelve earthly branches" which correspond with the zodiac, was already in existence as early as the Zhou era, long before the advent of Buddhism. A parallel decimal set of symbols called "ten heavenly stems", corresponding with yin-yang dualism and the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) was in existence in the Shang dynasty as the stems were part of Shang rulers' names. The order of 12 Chinese zodiac animals was based on the number of toes/hooves, alternating between even and odd numbers. Rat was the first because unlike other animals of the Chinese zodiac which all had the same number of toes/hooves on each leg, rat has four toes on the front legs and five on the rear legs, so it was selected to be number one. Ox is second with four hooves on each leg, and tiger is the third three with five toes, hare is the fourth with four toes, dragon is next in line with five fingers on its claw, while snake ranks number six because it lacked any legs and zero is an even number, etc.
The Ox is the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. This powerful sign is a born leader, being quite dependable and possessing an innate ability to achieve great things. As one might guess, such people are dependable, calm, and modest. Like their animal namesake, the Ox is unswervingly patient, tireless in their work, and capable of enduring any amount of hardship without complaint.
It seems so, that the chinese niu (牛）would be refering here to a "male" bovine. If we look at the Vietnamese horoscope we will see that the OX symbol is represented by a "male water buffalo". Same here, the Greek horoscope (what we call western horoscope, also with 12 signs) depicts the symbol "taurus" like a male bull, derived from the greek word "tauros". There are a number of interested studies that suggest that some bulgarian/turk ancient civiization imported these synbols from the nothern tribes of China.
Sources: Whitfield, Susan. (2008). The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith. Chicago: Serindia Publications Inc and Online version of Wikipedia.