YMC 2 Year of the Ox

  • Pou Auaha / Creative Director
    Ying-Min Chu
  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Director
    Ryan Shields
  • Ngā Kaimahi / Team Member
    Niki Chu
  • Client
    New Zealand Post

2021 is the year of the Ox. New Zealand Post wanted to celebrate the Chinese New Year with a series of stamps. They were looking for a fresh, modern interpretation of the festivities – something that Kiwis, stamp collectors, and the Chinese community would be excited about.

To do the project justice, we dove into the world of the Chinese Zodiac. For Chinese, the year of their birth is significant in shaping the trajectory of their lives. Those born in the year of the Ox are thought to be dependable, diligent, and determined. The illustration style sought to be a contemporary take on the Chinese Nianhua poster tradition. These posters are created specifically to commemorate the arrival of a new year. They evoke a strong sense of nostalgia for Chinese traditions. The style of the posters has its origins in woodblock printing made popular during the Ming dynasty. Back then, various motifs were used, from portraits of immortal gods to illustrations of mythical stories and depictions of beautiful babies that represent the birth of the new year. By referencing the Nianhua poster, the stamps create a modern connection between Chinese New Zealanders and the ancient cultural practices of mainland China.

Chinese New Year traditions are filled with meaning. These illustrations are also embedded with significance. The Chinese Zodiac is built on the principles of yin and yang. So for colours, we chose to pair the bold use of a fiery red, which helps drive away evil spirits, with a cooling blue. The Ox is a symbol of determination and honesty and the smiling infant represents happiness. By depicting the Ox and the infant together, a relationship between these two concepts is created. As the Ox and infants march together, they represent new beginnings and a celebration of the year ahead. Clasped in one baby’s hand is a lotus flower. It’s a popular Chinese icon used to signify purity and a fresh start for the coming year. Another motif is a toddler raising an Ox kite to represent freedom and good luck. As the kite resembles an Ox, it also signifies a year when hard work is rewarded with prosperity. In another scene, the Ox and an infant share an apple; this act of sharing represents peace.

The illustrations are framed by a box border. This treatment draws on the visual customs associated with the Chinese lunar calendar. Both the calendar and the stamp feature bold typography, simple colour palettes, and a series of boxed-in elements that are divided by thin lines. By referencing the calendar the stamps pay homage to the original purpose of the Chinese Zodiac - a way for the Jade Emperor to track time.