<Previous Section>
<Next Section>

Appendix. The Eclipses during the Reign of Empress of Kao-Tsu

i. Two eclipses are recorded during this period of eight years. In the second year, the sixth month, on the day ping-hsü, the last day of the month, a solar eclipse is recorded (3: 3a). The Han-chi (6: 2a) notes this eclipse in the sixth month without giving any day. The date in the HS corresponds to July 26, 186 B.C., but there was no eclipse at that time.

In the seven years from the last total eclipse in the reign of Emperor Hui, in 188 B.C., to the next total eclipse of 181 B.C., 15 eclipses occurred, of which only one was visible in China. 1 This umbral eclipse is Oppolzer's number 2434, on May 6, 184 B.C., 15 days before a ping-hsü day; calculation of its circumstances shows that it merely reached a magnitude of 0.08 in the present Soochow at 8:48 a.m., local time, a magnitude of 0.05 at the present Changsha at 8:08 a.m., and was invisible in northern China, including Ch'ang-an.

The explanation of this eclipse recording is not easy. It is possible that the eclipse of 184 B.C. was observed at Wu (present Soochow) or Lin-hsiang (present Changsha). But at both of those places the eclipse was little more than a mere contact. At Wu it began at 8:12 and ended at 9:04, lasting 48 minutes; at Lin-hsiang it lasted from 7:48 to 8:16, only 28 minutes. It was unobservable except by special means, such as watching the reflection of the sun in water or in a mirror in order to reduce its glare. A patient astronomer who knew that the eclipse was expected or some farmer accidentally seeing the sun reflected in a flooded rice-field might have seen the eclipse. The Administrator of the Commandery might have then considered it important and have reported the eclipse to the capital. The cyclical day of the eclipse, ping-tzu, might have been mistaken for ping-hsü. The whole procedure however involves so many hardly probable events that it seems better to reject this eclipse as unobservable.

Then how did this listing of an eclipse come to be made? It is not found in the SC; the SC likewise does not record the total eclipse of 188 B.C., which the HS has recorded correctly. It is possible that some eclipse outside of this period of seven years was mistaken for this one; if so, the order of the listed eclipses has somehow been disarranged. Thus it might have been the eclipse of Sept. 29, 192 B.C.; indeed, if that is the case, we can say that all the eclipses from 194 to 175 B.C. were recorded. There is however no other reason for adopting this date.

The juxtaposition of this eclipse in the "Annals" with an earthquake, the death of a pretended child of Emperor Hui, Pu-yi, a flood, and a star seen in daytime (3: 3a, b) make it look as though someone thought that an eclipse was due because of the Empress Dowager's actions, and inserted it into the annals Pan Ku was using to supplement the SC. The latter does not have any of these five calamities, although it elsewhere records the death (with a different month) in its "Tables" (17: 8b). If this listing is an insertion, I do not think that we can blame it upon Pan Ku; the great exactness of the HS's list of eclipses in the latter half of Former Han times and his rejection of the eclipse listed in 157 B.C. just before the death of Emperor Wen (cf. ch. 4: App. III, vi), shows that Pan Ku did not unwarrantly insert eclipses into his History.

Possibly some particularly bold government official manufactured this eclipse to express his dislike of the Empress Dowager's rule and reported it. If so, his deed, if detected, would have brought him capital punishment; during the reign of Emperor P'ing, Kung-sun Hung was accused of having falsely reported a lesser calamity---that a fire had damaged government buildings---and was imprisoned and executed (cf. 100A: 5b). The report of a calamitous visitation was felt as a reflection upon the government, and was dangerous. Since at that time there was much criticism of the Empress Dowager's actions, some official might however have ventured to memorialize an eclipse. At that time the Han officials did not lack bravery. The foregoing seems the best explanation of this eclipse.

ii. In the seventh year, the first month, on the day chi-ch'ou, the last day of the month, a total eclipse is recorded (3: 4b). HS 27 Cb: 13b adds, "It was 9 degrees in [the constellation] Ying-shih [whose stars were then in 319.3° and 320.2° R.A.], [which constellation] is [taken to represent] the interior of the Palace chambers. At that time the 213APPENDIX Empress of Kao-[tsu] showed aversion from it and said, `This is for me.' The next year it was fulfilled," when the Empress Dowager died in the next year. It was indeed dramatic that the only solar eclipse total in Ch'ang-an for centuries should have come just before the death of the Empress Dowager.

Hoang's calendar gives this date as March 4th, 181 B.C., for which Oppolzer lists his solar eclipse no. 2441. Computation of this eclipse shows that it was total in Ch'ang-an at 2:52 p.m., local time, although Oppolzer and Ginzel calculate the umbral path as passing through central China. The SC 9: 7b says, "In daytime it became dark." The sun was in longitude 340.7° = 342.3° R.A.


1. Besides those whose location Oppolzer gives, the following 4 partial eclipses were invisible in China because they belong to initial or terminal runs of exeligmos series whose nearest umbral eclipse was located near the south pole: no. 2430 (i.), no. 2431 (t.), no. 2439 (i.), and no. 2440 (t.). In addition, 4 partial eclipses were visible in the northern hemisphere, but calculation shows that all were invisible in China: no. 2428, on Dec. 31, 187 B.C. was far outside of Chinese territory. No. 2429, on May 28, 186 B.C. was invisible south of 60° lat. No. 2437, on Oct. 19, 183 B.C. was visible only as far east as European Russia and western Siberia. No. 2438, on Mar. 15, 182 B.C., was located far outside of Chinese territory.

<Previous Section>
<Next Section>
IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia