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Of Ox and Hope-driven Dreams

Feb 08, 2021

In 2021, the world enters the lunar year of the Metal Ox – a year beginning February 12th, 2021 and lasting until January 30th, 2022. The Ox is the second of a 12-year cycle in which animals appear in the Chinese zodiac.

Today – with the global pandemic hopefully entering its final phase, the reeling global economy, and continuing threats of climate change, the importance of science has never mattered more. In contrast to lunar or zodiac calendars seem  superstitious by comparison. As superfluous as these indicators may appear hope still springs eternal. 

Hot spots of COVID cases and new variants are popping up as quickly as the CCP seems to stomp them down. This will clearly curtail the festivities and travel that is an integral part of the Chinese New Year. Yet as Nicholas Kristof points out, China badly bungled its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but then went into overdrive to address the problem and save hundreds of thousands of lives.  

With COVID cases rising, government officials are urging Chinese residents to stay at home to contain the virus. Typically, tens of millions of people travel for the Chinese New Year—also known as the Spring Festival—in mid-February. 

This will, for the second year in a row, curtail China’s largest national holiday which has social as well as economic implications.  

The Ox is seen as a lucky sign and this year is a perfect time to focus on relationships – whether these be friendships or romance, global or international bilateral connections. Metal itself is also the toughest of all the elements. 

Twelve years ago, in 2009, the last cycle of the year of the Ox, the Chinese people were longing for better times. There were grand hopes that the Year of the Ox would be more bullish than disaster-stricken like 2008 – a year that was as disastrous as 2020 today, bearing a Chinese tainted-milk scandal that sickened thousands of babies and the Great Wenchuan Earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people. Many of the dead were children who died in poorly constructed schools that crumbled in the quake. I walked the wrecked town of Beichuan weeks after the devastation with tears streaming down my face. 

One Chinese greeting captured the sourness of the prior year: "Goodbye to the snows of ‘08, the quake of ‘08, the pain of ‘08, the bitterness of ’08. May the Year of the Ox be bullish for you." 

Then as now, the Chinese people had grown tired of “eating bitterness.” In a culture that values perseverance and effort, eating bitterness is on the top of many Chinese people’s minds. chi ku, (eat bitterness) is a phrase that means to persevere through hardship without complaint— yet it does not mean they like to eat it. 

Fantasy and Reality

With over one-fifth of the global population paying mind to the power of the zodiac signs, perhaps we should all pay some attention. 

What can we dare hope for in the coming year in our U.S. relationship with China – arguably the most important bilateral relationship in the world today? 

Colleagues on both sides of the Pacific predict the following:

● China’s GDP will grow 7.5% in the new year.

● Half the global population will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

● Global travel will resume and people will be encouraged to take a broader view of the world.

● The U.S. and China will stop bickering and regain some level of trust that allows for collaboration and cooperative efforts that benefit the world.

● A desire to stop working like an ox and enjoy life. 

These aspirations may seem as fanciful as the folklore surrounding the power of the zodiac signs themselves, but with real expectations placed on the lunar calendar, it may provide a much needed injection of hope into the narrative.. 

The Most Important Bilateral Relationship in the World

Clearly a positive and peaceful relationship between the strongest developed nation (USA) and the most populous, fast-developing nation (PRC) is essential for global well-being. Yet the strain in this relationship mirrors the pain of the global COVID-19 pandemic that is only now beginning to take its hands off the lungs of the world. 

The U.S. and China will continue to play an oversized role in world affairs – even more so than the zodiac can predict – for how 2021 and beyond will shape up. With the new President, Joe Biden, in the White House, there is optimism that a reset of the U.S.-China relationship might begin. Yet, few are holding their breath that the stars will align and the significant issues and animosity that has built up between our two nations will magically disappear.

Can the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China collectively stop being bull-headed long enough to forge a win-win strategy that does not negate our respective national interests, while advancing the interests of all of humanity?   

Sometimes against all odds, against all logic, humans still hope. Because, without hope we have nothing. 

May the 2021 Year of the (metal) Ox be the start of peace, happiness, prosperity, and new beginnings for us all.  

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