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TU Berlin

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Astrology, Gender and Chinese Politics

Yi-Long Huang (Tsing Hua University, Taiwan)

Ancient Chinese believed that sky phenomena were closely related to the society or the ruling class. Ordinary individuals have no place in traditional Chinese astrology which is quite different from the horoscopic astrology in the Western World.

Most previous studies of the history of Chinese astronomy are focused on its technical/scientific parts. However, astronomy in ancient China is mainly used to prognosticate the fates of rulers and states, or belonging to the so called "portent astrology".

To show the strong interaction between astrology and society in traditional China, I am going to use five-planet conjunction as examples. This rare and the most auspicious event in Chinese astrology implies that one will "amass the world..., the virtuous will receive celebration and the great men who change reigns will control the four quarters."

I calculate the positions of the planets between 1000 B.C. and AD 2000, and discovered that the two most prominent and easily observed five-planet conjunctions are 185 B.C. and AD 710. At the time of the conjunction in 185 B.C., the minimum span of separation was no greater than seven degrees and the empress Lu Zhi (?-180 B.C.) assumed the highest power of the Han empire. Similarly, just after the conjunction of AD 710, the empress Wei poisoned her husband Li Xian and tried to seize the power.

Although the five-planet conjunctions of 185 B.C. and AD 710 were so remarkable and lasted for a period of time, we found so far no written records of these two prominent phenomena. Similar events with less satisfactory conditions were recorded several time in history and were all treated as an extreme auspicious portent. In some cases, the five planets could not even be seen simultaneously on the sky due to the interference of sunlight. The reason is perhaps because astrology considered the appearance of a five planet conjunction to be an omen of an enlightened ruler and of a change of dynasty, whereas the governments of empresses Lu and Wei were marked by virtueless rulers that subsequent historians regarded as extremely evil. It is possible that to avoid the embarrassment of such an explanation the male dominant historians simply neglected to mention the two conjunctions.

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