Cattle performed physical labor in early Taiwanese society and were considered important household assets and loyal companions. With the evolution of lifestyles, culture, industries, and transportation have come changes in the relationship between people and cattle. In 2021, we welcome the Year of the Metal Ox. Based on multiple views from nature and culture, this special exhibition leads visitors in learning about “cattle”, including their biology and the interweaving of their life histories with those of humans. Based on concern for the environment and culture, and in the face of changing times and industries, reflection on the relationships between humans and cattle is encouraged.
When you think of cattle what image comes to mind? Is it of an animal with a large sturdy frame and two sharp horns chewing on grass? It is not only cattle that possess these characteristics.
The naming of species is usually based on build, coloring, size, habits, and the name of the person who discovered it. There are many organisms named after “cattle” due to a similar characteristic, habit, or its relation to cattle. However, some organisms that appear very different and are found in very different environments from cattle may be closely related and share a common ancestor. Before learning about “cattle”, the representative animals of this year in the Chinese zodiac, let’s first talk about organisms named after but not related to cattle, and cattle’s relatives with no resemblance.
There is fossil evidence of cattle activity in Taiwan at least 10,000 years ago. However, at later Prehistoric archaeological sites, there are no traces of cattle. These animals are also absent from ancient indigenous legends.
From the 17th century, cattle began to be brought to Taiwan by governors and immigrants and increased in numbers through breeding, providing physical labor for traditional industries. In the 17th century, the Dutch set up divisions to manage cattle. During the Qing dynasty, cattle markets appeared. Subsequently, during the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945), a cattle registration system was introduced. In each era, cattle identification and management methods were developed for effective management and safeguarding of cattle resources.
In Taiwan’s traditional society, the main contribution of cattle was physical labor. This included plowing fields, driving industrial equipment, and providing short and long-distance transportation of people and goods. They were even assets that a family could buy and sell. This led to emotional bonds with these animals. They were important for maintaining livelihoods and also thought of as companions. During the Japanese colonial era and after World War II, there was gradual industrial transformation and the introduction of Western foods. Cattle began to be used to produce dairy products and beef. Due to continuous improvements in breeding methods, their numbers increased creating value for the food processing and food and beverage industries.
In traditional society, cattle were important to industrial development and farming. As such, cattle featured prominently in annual events and rites to mark the different stages of life, such as“whipping the spring ox” and eating glutinous rice dumplings during the winter solstice, as well as the grand ceremony to worship Confucius and traditional weddings. In addition, they have appeared transporting deities or as deities themselves. Moreover, the ox-plow and ox-fight battle arrays are traditional forms of entertainment. Even in the naming of settlements, the Chinese character for cattle appears.
Due to the transformation of society and industry, farm cattle have dramatically decreased in number and have become distant from most of us. However, the opposite is true for dairy and beef cattle. Perhaps from memories and preservation of intangible cultural assets, animal welfare, globalization of the livestock industry, respect for the coexistence of animals and people, conservation of tame and wild bovid , and carbon emissions in the face of global warming, we can rethink our relationship with cattle.
“Taking the bull by the horns” refers to bravely facing problems or difficulties. In 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic tested many people. As we enter a new year, the situation may become better or worse. However, it is hoped that together we can all bravely and astutely face the challenges of a new year, and “take the bull by the horns”