Chinese Life in the Tibetan Foothills/Book 8/Eclipses and Comets

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Eclipses and Comets (日月食及彗星),
jih yüeh shih, sao hsing

The heavenly dog is said to be a star known as t'ien kou hsing; it eats the moon, causing eclipse.

Lo hou hsing (羅睺星) is a very unlucky star, which it is believed tries to devour the sun at eclipse times. The evil spirit from this star is said to have retarded the birth of Sakyamuni for six years.

In an eclipse of the sun or moon, it is believed that the Emperor or Empress, respectively, has lost virtue.

During an eclipse of the sun, a tub of water is placed in the full glare of the sun and the progress of the eclipse is watched in the water.

The official calendar carefully gives the dates of all eclipses and particulars as to when they begin and finish. Previous to the eclipse a proclamation is issued calling upon the people to save the sun or moon. The official sets up an altar, and candles and incense are burned thereon while he prostrates himself and begs the restoration of the luminary to its normal size; the chiao kuan or head of the religious sects goes round the altar beating a gong till the eclipse is over. In each house an instrument for making a noise is used to frighten away the evil dog. All the temple drums and gongs are lustily beaten till the eclipse is ended.

The year that the Emperor Kuang Hsü died, the people declared that the sun had become red like blood, which indicated that the dynasty had come to an end, or that some great change was about to take place.

A comet is a very unlucky omen; and the appearance of Halley's comet in 1910–11 brought with it a great deal of unrest and fear. The people believe that it indicates calamity such as war, fire, pestilence, and a change of dynasty. In some places on certain days the doors were unopened for half a day, no water was carried and many did not even drink water as it was rumoured that pestilential vapour was being poured down upon the earth from the comet.

Along with eclipses and comets comes a third herald of change, namely, the bird called the white-tailed swallow. It is said that when the Manchus took China this bird came and killed the canaries and took possession of their cages. In 1911 it is reported to have made its appearance in Ssŭch‘uan, and when possible it was caught, beheaded, dismembered and thrown to the four winds, as it indicated another foreign invasion of the country.