Traditional Chinese Astrology

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In our modern age, what is regarded as Chinese astrology generally refers to fate-calculation. The most sophisticated systems of fate-calculation are the Ziping method described in Appendix II and the Ziwei dousbu method referred to in Chapter 3. Knowledge of astronomy and an ability to identify stars in the night sky are not essential in these methods. Traditional Chinese astrology would however require knowledge of astronomy. Both in Europe and in China, the word 'astronomy' in the past used to include what is now known as 'astrology'. However, while in Europe astronomy and astrology parted company with the coming of the scientific revolution, in traditional China the two never separated from each other and remained together to the very end until their 'astronomy' component was replaced by modern astronomy. Another characteristic of Chinese astrology is that, unlike Western judicial astrology, it did not draw up horoscopes to read the destiny of individuals. This is the traditional astrology contained in the Chinese official histories. A full translation with annotations, additions and amendments of the astronomical chapters in one of the official histories is given in Ho Peng Yoke (1966).1 As it is only feasible to select some of the many stars and asterisms, together with some of their astrological significance and interpretations for mentioning in this account, those who wish to seek further details may like to refer to the Astronomical Chapters of certain official dynastic histories, such as those of the Jin fr, Sui 1%, Tang J#, Song and Ming BJ dynasties.

Chinese astrologers found correlation between the stars in the heavens and the bureaucrats on earth as well as between celestial regions visible to them and geographical places known to them. Since astrologers were generally in the employment of the emperor or were aspirants for a grant of royal audience, it is not surprising that Chinese astrology evolved round the emperor and personalities and affairs directly connected with him. The Pole Star was thus regarded as the most important star in the heavens. In astronomy it was the reference point from which polar distances of other heavenly bodies were measured and in astrology it symbolized the emperor. Even Confucius himself had made reference to this star. A passage in the Lunyu tmt5 (Confucian Analects) reads:2 'The Master said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtues may be compared to the North Star, which keeps its place while all stars turn towards it."'

Due to the precession of the equinoxes, different stars during the course of history have played the role of Pole Star. Our present Pole Star is a Ursae Minoris, but in the past other stars found near the path of the Celestial North Pole were assuming this role at different times as the counterpart of the Chinese emperor in the heavens. The Pole Star lies near the centre of the region of perpetual visibility in the northern night sky to people in the northern hemisphere. The asterism close to the North Star and the stars within them represented those around the emperor, like the empress and the imperial concubines, the Crown Prince and other children of the royal family, secretaries and attendants within the palace, the canopy hovering above the throne, the chief justice and the almoner. Two chains of stars, representing the walls surrounding the imperial palace, surround these asterisms. These two chains of stars together with the asterisms they enclose formed the Ziweiyuan ^WiM (Forbidden Purple Enclosure). Asterisms and stars along as well as immediately outside the walls represented senior members in the civil and military establishments. There the scholars also found a place in the Wenchang XH (Literary Brilliance) asterism, which consisted of six stars in Ursa Major.

Outside the Western Wall of the Forbidden Purple Enclosure lies perhaps the most fascinating and conspicuous constellation in the northern hemisphere. This is the Plough, known variously as the Dipper, the Great Bear, the Bushel, etc. In Chinese, it is the Beidou (Northern Ladle) asterism. It consists of seven stars in Ursa Major, with a, (3, y and 8 UMa forming the box and e, C, and r) UMa the handle. Beidou asterism has played a very important role both in Chinese astrology and in Daoist liturgy. An extract from the Astronomical Chapters of the Jin Official Dynastic History says:3

(The famous astrologer) Shi (Shen) said that the first star . .. symbolizes the emperor, the second star. . . symbolizes the empress, the third star.. . governs internal chaos, the fourth star signifies punishment, the fifth .. . governs the support given by the central authorities to the four quarters to repel invasions, the sixth controls the granaries and the seventh the weapons. It is also said that the first star governs the heavens, the second earth, and the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh stars govern (the wuxing) Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal respectively. It is also said that the first star governs (the State of) Qin is [in modern Shaanxi province], the second Chu HI [in modern Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Jiangsu provinces], the third Liang ^ [in modern Shaanxi province], the fourth Wu ^ [in modern Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces], the fifth Yan M [in modern Hebei and Henan provinces], the sixth Zhao it [in modern Shanxi and Hebei provinces] and the

Figure 1.1 Star Map: Ziweiyuan and the circumpolar constellations.

seventh Qi ff [in modern Shandong and Hebei provinces] When the seven stars of Beidou asterism are bright, prosperity in the country is presaged.

It is mentioned in the Xingjing JÉÜ (Star Manual), a work compiled during the fourth century bc, that Beidou asterism originally consisted of nine stars, but two of which had since become invisible. We need not worry too much about the Chinese legend that all nine stars were visible in ancient time under the rule of sage emperors, but two of them disappeared from sight when virtue was wanting from their successors. If the line joining the sixth and the seventh star were extended outwards it would come close to several stars in the constellation Bootes. Zhaoyao ÍñW¡ (y Bootis) would be one of them and it would have been within the region of perpetual visibility to people in north China before 1500 bc.4 Perhaps one should also consider another possible answer. We remember that in the Greek tradition there was the invention of a counter-sun to make up the number 10 and in Aristotelian Europe the number 5 was used to justify that there could be only five planets. Now 9, being the highest single digit number in the decimal system, has always been highly respected in the Chinese tradition. For example, the phrase jiu wu zhi zun (eminence of the numbers

9 and 5) was reserved only as a mark of respect when referring to the emperor. Perhaps numerology was also responsible in bringing about the nine stars in the Chinese Beidou asterism. During the Han period, an apocryphal treatise matched the nine stars of Beidou with the nine numbers in the jiugong A. "3 (Nine Palace) magic square, forming the basis of the Taiyi and the Qimen Dunjia cosmic boards described in Chapters 3 and 4.

Although the stars within the circle of perpetual visibility could be seen throughout the year and all through the night (weather permitting), astrologers could only observe the brightness or dimness of these stars mainly caused by changing atmospheric conditions. Outburst of a supernova, for example, was a rather uncommon event. Hence, these stars would not have given Chinese astrologers too much scope for interpretation. Serving their purposes more had to be stars and asterisms along or near the ecliptic and the equator where the moon, the planets and comets appeared to supply abundant data to enable them to make predictions. To meet the desire of the emperor to know more about what the stars were telling, a region among the constellations Virgo, Leo and Coma Berenices was reserved for him. This was the Taiweiyuan j^fkis. (Supreme Subtlety Enclosure). Within the enclosure were, for example, the Wudi Eiir (Five Emperors) asterism representing the emperor, and the star Taizi (Crown Prince) for the crown prince, as its name implied. A comet or a nova near the Wudi asterism would bring ill omen to the emperor. Along the two chains of stars forming the walls of the enclosure were stars representing senior civil and military officers. For example, there were the two stars Zuozhifa ii^LSfe (Left Keeper of Law) (r| Virginis) and Youzhifaii#L'?£ (Right Keeper of Law) (Zavijava), the former symbolizing the Chief Justice in the Court of Revision and the latter the Imperial Censor. The Jinshu -§!ir has the following to say:5 'The two Keepers of the Law govern the investigation of the demeanor of the officials. When the officials are loyal and respectful towards the emperor the stars Keepers of the Law appear bright and lustrous.'

A group of 15 smaller stars northeast of Wudi asterism formed the Langwei llMi (Seats of the Court Gentlemen) asterism. A comet or a nova appearing in their midst would be regarded as a warning to the emperor of an impending rebellion from among the ranks of the civil officials. When the stars were not visible, the astrologer would read it as a presage of the demise of the empress or an imperial concubine, if not the death of a favourite courtier. The Jinshu says:6 'When the stars of Langwei appear large and bright or when a guest star [i.e. a comet or a nova] is found in their midst one may expect a rebellion by a senior officer against the throne.'

traditional chinese astrology

Figure 1.2 Star Map: Taiweiyuan and surrounding constellations.

A third enclosure known as Tianshiyuan A rfJijl (Celestial Market Enclosure) among the constellations Hercules, Serpens Caput, Ophiuchus, Serpens Cauda and Aquila to the north of the Scorpion was also identified in Chinese astronomy. This enclosure catered for the economist. For example, within it the Shilou TfiflS (City Tower) asterism would foretell commodities prices and whether weights and measures were correctly used, the Liesi (Rows of Shops) asterism governed the supply and demand of precious commodities such as jades, the Chesi ^it (Mobile Vendors on Carts) asterism represented places of assembly of merchants, and so forth. The stars forming the chains of walls of the Celestial Market Enclosure were named after political entities in the Spring-and-Autumn as well as the Warring States periods and were meant to be their counterparts in the heavens. Here we get some indication that Chinese astrology as mentioned above was already flourishing during the period between the eighth and the third century bc.

Figure 1.3 Star Map: Tianshiyuan and surrounding constellations.

The region of perpetual visibility around the North Pole was known as the Central Palace (Zhonggong l3^). The rest of the heavens was divided into four segments or the four palaces, namely (a) Eastern Palace (Donggong ^Hi), also known as the Azure Dragon (Canglong IffI) or Blue-Green Dragon (Qinglong Wll); (b) Western Palace (Xigong IS'S), also known as the White Tiger (Baihu Sift); Northern Palace (Beigong also known as the Sombre Warrior (Xuanwu or Yuanwu 7UÄ); and Southern Palace (Nangong SH), also known as the Vermilion Bird (Zhuque ifcüi). Distributed evenly in number among the four palaces and more or less along the equator were the 28 lunar mansions (xiu ?§), which also played an important role in Chinese astrology.

The first lunar mansion Jue Pi (Horn) comprised the bright star Spica (a Virginis) and £ Virginis. Spica governed military matters and the generals, while the second star governed law and justice. To the east of the Horn

Figure 1.4 Star Map: Region around the Northern Palace.

came the four stars of the second lunar mansion Kang % (Neck). According to the Astronomical Chapters in the Suishu Pr Ir (Official History of the Sui Dynasty), scintillation observed among these stars would forebode large number of the population falling ill. Next came the four stars of the third lunar mansion Di £ (Roots). When the last two stars of Di (i.e. y and P Librae) appeared bright and large they would bring peace to the country but, when they scintillated, many could be expected to be enlisted into forced labour. The fourth lunar mansion Fang M (Chamber), the fifth lunar mansion Xin 'L (Heart) and the sixth lunar mansion Wei H (Tail) together form the Scorpion. The four stars of Fang represented the Prime Minister and his Deputy, and the Commander-in-Chief of the army and his second in command. Xin comprised three stars with the bright star Antares at the centre. Antares was reserved for the emperor and the stars next to it the Crown Prince and the princes. The nine stars of the sixth lunar

Figure 1.5 Star Map: Region around the Western Palace.

mansion Wei represented the empress and the imperial concubines. The Astronomical Chapters of the Suishu say that when these stars looked small and dim the empress could be expected to suffer from some serious illness. The last lunar mansion in the Eastern Palace was the seventh lunar mansion Ji % (Basket), comprising the four stars y, 8, e and ti Sagittarius. These stars were carefully watched for signs of movements of foreign troops along the border.

The Northern Palace began with the eighth lunar mansion Nandu S4-(Southern Ladle) that looks like a miniature replica of the Plough. Comprising six stars in Sagittarius, this lunar mansion told the personal fortune of the emperor as well as other important impending events. The Astronomical Chapters of the Jinshu say:7 'When the stars of (Nan)dou appear very bright they indicate that the reign will be peaceful and that conferment of titles and dispensation of emoluments will proceed without interruption.'

At the same time those of the Suishu say:8 'Pointed rays and scintillation observed among these stars would sadden the emperor and presage war, migration of the population and a minister being removed from his office.'

Next came the ninth lunar mansion Qianniu (Cowherd), comprising six rather faint stars in Capricornus. The Cowherd governed gates, bridges, cattle and horses. Then followed the tenth lunar mansion Xunu (Maid-in-Waiting), consisting of four faint stars in Aquarius and governing marriages and the textile industry. The next three lunar mansions extended from Aquarius to Pegasus and should be of special interest to the architect and the civil engineer. The eleventh lunar mansion Xu ÉL (Wilderness) governed temples and places of worship, the twelfth lunar mansion Wei fa, (Rooftop) governed markets and house-building, and the thirteenth lunar mansion Yingshi It'll (Encampment) concerned the arsenal as well as the department of public works. The fourteenth lunar mansion Dongbi jSÜ (Eastern Wall) comprised the two stars y Pegasus and a Andromeda and governed libraries and literary works.

The Western Palace began with the fifteenth lunar mansion Kui H (Stride), comprising 16 stars forming a loop in Andromeda and Pisces. Besides governing the canals and waterways, this lunar mansion also indicated the strength of the armed forces in the service of the emperor. The sixteenth lunar mansion Lou J? (Lasso) found in Aries governed the rearing of cattle, among other functions. The seventeenth lunar mansion Wei PI (Stomach), also found in Aries, governed warehouses and granaries. The Pleiades constituted the eighteenth lunar mansion Mao fp (Stopping Place). The Astronomical Chapters of the Jinsbu say the following about this lunar mansion:9

When the stars of Mao are bright there will be peace and calm in prisons throughout the country. When all the other six stars match the largest star in brightness heavy floods are presaged. If all seven stars look yellow there will be large-scale mobilization of soldiers. The disappearance of one of the stars presages mourning for soldiers killed in action. Glittering or scintillation of the stars foretells the imprisonment of high-ranking officials and funeral rituals. If they look large and glittering violently as if they are leaping up and down they presage that the northern and Western tribal people are on the warpath.

The nineteenth lunar mansion Bi # (Net), comprising eight stars in Taurus, had somewhat similar functions as Mao. It was observed to keep watch over the tribal people, and when the moon entered this lunar mansion abundant rainfall would be expected. The twentieth lunar mansion Zuixi jifH (Turtle Beak) consisted of three stars in Orion and governed the arsenal and military supplies. Almost identical with the Hunter in Orion was the twenty-first lunar mansion Shen # (Investigator), one of the most conspicuous asterisms in the night sky. Among other things, this lunar mansion revealed the loyalty and the ability of the military generals.

The Southern Palace began with the twenty-second lunar mansion Dongjing M^r (Eastern Well), comprising eight stars in Gemini. This lunar mansion indicated the performance of the emperor, whether he was just and impartial. Next came the four stars of the twenty-third lunar mansion Yugui MM. (Ghost Vehicle). According to the Suishu, when its stars scintillated brightly heavy taxes and forced labour would be expected and, when the stars seemed to move, unhappiness among the population due to oppressive legislation would be expected. The eight stars of the twenty-fourth lunar mansion Liu (Willow) in Hydra made predictions concerning food and the kitchen. Brightness of the stars would indicate ample supplies for the kitchen for the preparation of dishes capable of pleasing the Epicurean. The seven stars of the twenty-fifth lunar mansion Qixing -fc£ (Seven Stars) in Hydra governed clothing and embroideries, while the six stars in the twenty-sixth lunar mansion Zhang (Net), also in Hydra, governed treasure and gems as well as food and beverages. The twenty-seventh lunar mansion Yi M (Wings) consisted of 22 stars in the constellation Crater. This lunar mansion governed music and theatrical plays and forewarned about foreign relations, particularly with neighbouring countries in the north and in the west. Finally came the twenty-eighth lunar mansion Zhen (Chariot Cross-Board), made up of four stars in the constellation Corvus. These stars gave warning as to whether horses and chariots had to be put in readiness for war.

Stars and asterisms beyond the three enclosures and the 28 lunar mansions also played a part in Chinese astrology. It is only possible to select the more conspicuous stars for mentioning here. North of the equator we find Altair and y Aquilae forming the Hegu MgJ (River Drums) asterism, which governed the battle drums and iron halberds. On the opposite side of the Milky Way is the bright star Vega. Together with the two stars e and t, Lyrae, it formed the asterism Zhinu tjSs^C (Weaving Damsels) that governed fruits, melons, silk, cloth and treasure. Another bright star, y Bootis, was the star Zhaoyao fSt?§ (Glittering Indicator) that governed soldiers and the northern and western tribal people. Stars and asterisms in the south of the 28 lunar mansions also played a part in Chinese astrology. Canopus was perhaps the most conspicuous among stars in the southern sky to Chinese observers. Known as Laoren (Elder) or Nanji l^S (Extreme South), in Chinese astrology it was regarded as governing longevity and prosperity, and its appearance to forebode peace during the reign of the emperor. Another bright star is a Centauri, which together with e Centauri formed the Nanmen SFI (Southern Gate) asterism that Chinese astrologers kept watch on for signs about garrison troops.

The sun, the moon, the Five Planets, comets, meteors and novae all had astrological significance. Haloes and parhelia, aurorae borealis, clouds and vapour were all taken into consideration. The sun represented the emperor

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