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ON "THE YEAR -687"


* The title of a chapter in Worlds in Collision. Instead of the abbreviations "A.D." and "B.C.", astronomers prefix a plus or minus sign, and they also find it convenient to assume the existence of a year zero. Thus, the astronomical year +687 equals 687 A.D., but -687 is actually 688 B.C. Velikovsky here was referring to the historical year 687 B.C. He employed a number of locutions including "minus" to avoid "B.C.", with its religious connotations. But in verifying astronomical data from publications referred to herein, care must be taken to distinguish the astronomical from the historical year, or only confusion will result.

Part Two of Worlds in Collision delineates a series of close encounters between Earth and Mars thought to have taken place in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. To the last of these events, the author attributes the destruction of Sennacherib's army by a fiery blast in the year 687 B.C. "Their souls were burnt, though their garments remained intact."(1) This seemingly nonsensical detail has a ring of truth. Some of the victims of the terrible and uncanny fires that swept across the countryside around Peshtigo, Wisconsin on October 8, 1871 were found in a similar condition.(2) Jewish traditions record that coincidently with this event the day was unnaturally lengthened, on the first night of Passover, near the beginning of spring.(3) Identifying this account with the Chinese report of a meteor shower, Velikovsky gives us the exact date: March 23rd. A whole chapter is devoted to various ancient traditions in which he finds other descriptions of the same events. On what is this date based and how securely connected are these various other traditions?

MARCH 23rd

Velikovsky's sources for the meteor shower, the Catalogues of Abel Rémusat and Édouard Biot, agree on this date.(4) Both authors took their information from Chapters 291 and 292 of Ma Tuan-Lin's thirteenth-century Wên Hsien T'ung K'ao, being a compilation of Chinese records of meteors and meteorites from dynastic histories and ancient books.(5) It is the earliest observation in the list. Ma got it from the Ch'un Ch'iu (or Spring and Autumn Annals), edited by Confucius from the annals of the State of Lu. There it appears under the entry for the seventh year of Duke Chuang of Lu, which, in the chronology that became traditional among Chinese scholars, corresponds to 687 B.C. Legge translates the passage as follows: "In summer, in the fourth month, on sin maou, at night, the regular stars were not visible. At midnight, there was a fall of stars like rain." The Tso Chuan commentary adds that "the night was bright".(6) The phrase "there was a fall of stars like rain," perplexed some later Chinese commentators,(7) but it seems a natural enough way of saying there were a hell of a lot of meteors.

Legge himself gives the seventh year of Chuang as 686 B.C. in the tables which follow his chapter on "The Chronology of the Ch'un Ts'ëw" in the Prolegomena. In these tables all dates in the Ch'un Ch'iu period are reduced by one year from those of the traditional chronology (722480 B.C.). However, this is based upon a failure to understand his collaborator and fellow missionary, John Chalmers, who performed all the astronomical and calendrical computations. His dates are given in astronomical years, which he explained to Legge as follows:

"The year may be expressed in either of these forms:
-775 for Astronomical purposes;
B.C. 776 for Chronological purposes."

(See page 88 of the Prolegomena.) However, the following statement by Legge shows that he missed the point of the explanation: "At his request also I have given the years in his calculation as -719, -708 &c., instead of B.C. 719, 708, &c., as being in accordance with the usage of astronomers." In Chalmers' example the digits of years given as equivalent differ by one, but in Legge's example they are the same that is, the same numbers, but actually different years. Examination of the calculated dates of eclipses and lunations in Chalmers' tables shows that they pertain to the astronomical year, even where Legge has captioned them "B.C." (All dates are given in the Gregorian calendar, which may also lead to confusion.)

Before we can take up the matter of verifying the date March 23rd, some remarks on the Chinese calendar must be made. Basically, it was lunar, but in Chinese thought the calendar was much more than a scheme for regulating the days, months, and years. It was invested with great political and mystical significance, through a series of symbolical and numerological correspondences. According to a theory which owes much to the late fourth-century B.C. philosopher Tsou Yen, each dynasty rules by virtue of one of the five elements, which successively predominate in nature.(8) Each element was associated with a color, number, season, direction, sector of the sky, planet, and musical pitch.

The Chou dynasty (ca. 1100-256 B.C.) was thought to have ruled by the virtue of fire. Water conquers fire, therefore when Ch'in Shih Huang-ti came to power (ca. 221 B.C.), he thought it had been by the virtue of water, changed the beginning of the civil year, and adopted black as the color of court dress (dark blue and black being considered the same color). Eventually after the Han dynasty had succeeded the Ch'in (202 B.C.), it was concluded that it had acquired its power by virtue of the element earth, which conquers water. So we read in the Han Shu that, in the year 104 B.C., "In the summer, in the fifth month [the Emperor] corrected the calendar and took the first month as the beginning of the year; [among] the colors, he took yellow [as the ruling color], and [among] the numbers, he used five. He fixed official titles and harmonized the sounds of the musical pipes."(9) All official titles then had to consist of five characters.

Our seasons begin with the cardinal points of the year the solstices and equinoxes. The Chinese seasons, which were reckoned to be of equal length,(10) begin midway between the cardinal points. Thus the winter solstice was placed in the middle of winter, the vernal equinox in the middle of spring, and so forth. The "Canon of Yao" in the Shu Ching describes this arrangement in the instructions given by Yao to the astronomers Hsi and Ho: "The day . . . is of the medium length, and the star is in Neaou; you may thus exactly determine mid-spring.... The day ... is at its longest, and the star is Ho; you may thus exactly determine mid-summer. . . The night . . . is of the medium length, and the star is Heu; you may thus exactly determine mid-autumn. . . The day . . . is at its shortest, and the star is Maou; you may thus exactly determine mid-winter."(11)

The solstices were observed by measuring the noonday length of the shadow of a vertical gnomon, traditionally eight Chinese feet high. The equinoctial lengths were calculated by linear interpolation, as we see in the Chou Pei Suan Ching, or "Mathematical Classic concerning the Dial and Gnomon".(12) The summer and winter solstice shadow lengths of an eight-foot gnomon are given as 1.6 and 13.5 feet, respectively, which would correspond to a latitude of about 35 north, where all the ancient centers of Chinese civilization were located. The figure given for the equinoxes is 7.55 feet, almost two feet more than it should be. (One Chinese "foot" is approximately 10 inches in length.)

To make a reasonably accurate determination, such measurements would have to be aided by calculation from the observations of previous years. According to Shigeru Nakayama, a "1 cm. error in the measurement of shadow length creates four to five days error in determining the date of winter solstice" and "eight days error in the date of summer solstice".(13) Of course, such observations, no matter how precise, cannot give the hour of the solstice, as they must be made at noon.

Henri Maspero has given good reasons for believing that in Han times, at least, only the summer solstice was carefully measured.(14) Measurement of the shadow was a state ceremony and according to the Chou Li, the template with which this act was performed, called a t'ou kuei, was made of jade. One can hardly imagine a jade template long enough to measure the winter shadow. Now the inequality of the seasons not being known, if the year be reckoned at 365 1/4 days, the interval from summer to winter solstice would be 182 5/8 days. In reality it was a little more than 181 days. The T'ai ch'u ("grand beginning") calendar reform of 104 B.C. was supposedly inaugurated in a year when the first day of the first astronomical month coincided with the winter solstice, but actually the solstice fell two days earlier. A calendar for the year 39 B.C. found by Sir Aurel Stein at Tunhuang also places the winter solstice two days late.

The months were numbered in two different ways. Astronomically, they were designated by the twelve terrestrial branches ("chih"), from tzu to hai (see Fig. 1), starting with the month of the winter solstice. The chih were also used to designate the twelve double-hours of the day, beginning with the period from 11:00 P.M. to 1:00 A.M. Thus as de Saussure observed,(15) midnight was the zero point of the day, and winter solstice, the zero point of the year. In the civil calendar, the months were designated by ordinary numerals from one to twelve. If an intercalary month fell between the fourth and fifth months, say, it would be called the fourth intercalary month. The starting point for the numbering of months in the civil calendar was changed several times in Chinese history.

Exact knowledge of the calendar dates only from Han times (ca. 202 B.C.-220 A.D.). Intercalations in the T'ai ch'u calendar were regulated in such a way that the spring equinox always fell in the second month. Thus the civil calendar began with yin, the third astronomical month, two months after the solstice. This was accomplished by means of the twenty-four solar nodes ("chieh," as the nodes of a bamboo stem) or portions ("ch'i") of the year, each of which represented the motion of the Sun through 15 of the sky. The position of the first node ("beginning of spring") coincided approximately with the beginning of the first month of the civil calendar, the fourth, tenth, sixteenth, and twenty-second nodes being fixed at the equinoxes and solstices (see Table 1).

[*!* Image] Figure 1. THE TEN CELESTIAL SYSTEMS. THE TWELVE TERRESTRIAL BRANCHES. The kan-chih sexagenary cycle (also called chia-tzu, from the first pair of terms).

1. Beginning of spring
13. Beginning of autumn
2. Rainwater 14. Cessation of heat
3. Stirring of Insects 15. White dew
4. Spring equinox 16. Autumn equinox
5. Clear brightness 17. Cold dew
6. Grain rain 18. Descent of frost
7. Beginning of summer 19. Beginning of winter
8. Grain fills out 20. Light snow
9. Grain in beard 21. Heavy snow
10. Summer solstice 22. Winter solstice
11. Slight heat 23. Slight cold
12. Great heat 24. Great cold
Table 1
The 24 Solar Nodes

The odd-numbered nodes were called collectively chieh-ch'i ("node-portions"); the even-numbered, chung-ch'i ("center-portions"). The interval between two chung-ch'i was about 30.44 days, while a month would last 29 or 30 days. From time to time it must happen that a chieh-ch'i falls in the middle of a month with no chung-ch'i. Such a month would be intercalary, provided it did not follow the eleventh or twelfth month.(16) Except for a brief interlude in the reign of Wang Mang (9-23 A.D.), this was essentially the calendar used until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the Kuomintang government, with only minor modifications. Even today the 24 solar nodes are used as a kind of farmer's almanac by the peasants. How far back in antiquity they were known cannot be said with assurance, but the Chou-era Travels of Emperor Mu twice dates events in the Emperor's itinerary by the expression, "great heat," the name of the twelfth node.(17)

For the exact dating of events, the Chinese did not number the days of the month, as we do. Instead, they used an endlessly repeating cycle of sixty pairs of terms. The ten kan, or celestial stems, were combined with the twelve chih, or terrestrial branches previously mentioned, the symbols in both sets succeeding one another at each step in the cycle, odd paired with odd, and even with even, so that sixty combinations are produced, and then the series starts over again (see Fig. 1). These numbers were used as a day count as early as late Shang times (ca. 1500 B.C.), as revealed by the thousands of tortoise shells and bones inscribed by Shang diviners unearthed near Anyang. Much later they were used to number the years as well. The cyclical numbers in ancient books such as the Ch'un Ch'iu may have been interpolated or altered by later court historiographers, who are suspected of having "improved" old records with their canons of eclipses and recurrent meteor showers, much as modern scholars are wont to do.(18)

The Ch'un Ch'iu meteor shower happened "In summer, in the fourth month, on sin maou". Sin maou, or hsin mao, is the twenty eighth term of the repeating kan-chih cycle. A given cyclical day number will fall during every other month in most years. It is a characteristic of the kan-chih cycle that the same number falls on the same date in the Julian calendar every 80 years, which makes it easy to prepare tables for converting Chinese dates to Julian, and vice versa. It only remains to determine the months in a given year to identify the date.

It was believed by Chinese scholars that the T'ai ch'u reform marked the restoration of the calendar of the Hsia dynasty, which was believed to have begun with yin, the third astronomical month. Then, it was thought, when the Shang dynasty took power, the civil year was made to begin one month earlier. The Shu Ching appears to allude to this in Book Six when it says that Emperor T'ang "proceeded to change Hea's commencement of the year," in Legge's translation.(19)

This could have been justified by precession of the stars which marked the position of the Sun at winter solstice. Then supposedly the Chou advanced the civil year once again, so that it began with the month of the solstice. Ssuma Ch'ien expressed this belief when he wrote: "The beginning of the Hsia was the first month (of Han); that of the Yin was the twelfth month; that of the Chou was the eleventh month."(20) The short-lived Ch'in dynasty (ca. 221-206 B.C.) celebrated new year's day one month earlier still, in the month "hai". Yet peculiarly, they adhered to the numbering ascribed to the Hsia, so that they called it the tenth month!(21) "Then the Han, in 104 B.C., supposedly restored the original situation by making the year once more begin with the first month. This sequence, however, while quite possible, cannot be proved for the dynasties preceding the Ch'in and Han."(22)

If the ruler of a fief did not follow the royal calendar, it would signify that he had imperial pretensions, and be considered as an act of treason. The traditional chronology places the beginning of the Chou dynasty at 1122 B.C. (ca. 1050 B.C. according to the Bamboo Books). After the capital was moved east to Loyang in 771, however, it entered a long decline and in Ch'un Ch'iu times was a dynasty in little more than name. During this period the number of states was continually being reduced as the stronger ones absorbed the weaker. Apparently some states during this period followed their own calendars.(23) The Han Shu mentions six calendars known in early Han times, including those named Chou and Lu.(24) But these ascriptions are open to question.(25) The state of Lu indicated its loyalty by dating the regnal years of its dukes from the first month of spring, "the king's first month". Events in the Ch'un Ch'iu are entered by the season, the month (where appropriate), and occasionally, the cyclical day. When there is nothing to record during a whole season, the annals will say: "It was autumn the seventh month." Spring regularly begins in the first month, summer in the fourth, autumn in the seventh, winter in the tenth. If "the king's first month" was the first month of spring, just as it was under the Han, it would appear that the tradition that the Chou began their year in the month of the winter solstice must be wrong. How can this contradiction be resolved?

There are 36 solar eclipses recorded in the Ch'un Ch'iu. These provide a clue. The data are summarized in Table 2. In the first three columns are listed the duke of Lu and the year and month of his reign in which the eclipse was said to have occurred. The month number in Roman numerals is followed by an Arabic "1" if the character shuo <INSERT KVI4_11.TIF HERE> appears in the text, which means the first day of the

month. Most of the entries have this character, and that some do not may be an oversight. (Legge does not always bother to translate it.)

Eclipses can occur only at a conjunction of the Sun and Moon, and if the Chinese were consistent, this is an indication that the months at this time were reckoned from one conjunction to the next, rather than at first crescent, which occurs on the next evening when the Moon has moved far enough east of the Sun to be visible above the western horizon. This usually takes about 24 hours. Except during eclipses, conjunctions are invisible, so this implies that some system of calculation was in use. In Han and later times the months began on the calculated date of first visibility, so that eclipses are always said to happen on the last day of the month. The cyclical day number is given in the fourth column. In three cases it is lacking. Where the text indicates that the eclipse was total, that is noted in the same column, to the right.

[*!* Image] Table 2. Solar Eclipses in the Ch'un Ch'iu

On the right are modern calculations from Oppolzer's Canon of Eclipses.(26) The years are given in astronomical style, each corresponding with the regnal year opposite. The Julian dates given have been adjusted for the longitude of China. The corresponding cyclical day number is calculated with the aid of a table.(27) In the sixth column, in Roman numerals, is the month number, taking the month of the solstice as first. This can also be found in tables.(28) In the same column, to the right, is the difference from the month number given by the text. An excess of +1 is not necessarily a discrepancy: it may indicate the presence of an intercalary month earlier in the year. (We do not know where they could be inserted.) If a conjunction occurred within two or three days of the winter solstice, the Chinese calendar-makers' count might differ from ours.

In two cases there is no modern calculation which might fit the ancient records. Each of these follows the record of another eclipse by one month, which is not now possible, and so is probably explained by duplication in the text. Of the remaining 31 records which give a day number, 29 agree with the calculation. Perhaps the best argument for the authenticity of the dates in the text is the relatively poor agreement of the month numbers. If a later hand doctored the day numbers, we may wonder why he did not also work out the month numbers according to some consistent theory. We do not know how erratic the intercalations might have been. There are two eclipses prior to the supposed date of Earth's encounter with Mars in which the cycle-day is given, and both of these agree with the calculation.

Of course these calculations assume no disturbance in the motion of the Moon, the rotation of the Earth, or the orientation of its axis (which determines the seasons). Prior to any cosmic catastrophe they could not be valid. The corollary is equally obvious: If the data do fit the calculations, no subsequent catastrophe could have happened. One must assume either that no such event occurred, or that the data have been falsified.

Astronomical Year
Julian Date
Gregorian Date
-709 Dec. 5 Nov. 27
-694 Dec. 19 Dec. 12
-693 Jan. 7 Dec. 31
-692 Dec. 27 Dec. 20
-667 Dec. 20 Dec. 13
-666 Dec. 10 Dec. 3
-665 Nov. 29 Nov. 22
-611 Dec. 1 Nov. 24
-609 Dec. 9 Dec. 2
-573 Dec. 1 Nov. 25
-552 Dec. 10 Dec. 4
-551 Dec. 28 Dec. 22
-550 Dec. 17 Dec. 11
-549 Dec. 6 Nov. 30
-547 Dec. 13 Dec. 7
-533 Dec. 10 Dec. 4
-520 Dec. 15 Dec. 9
-519 Dec. 4 Nov. 28
-518 Dec. 23 Dec. 17
-517 Dec. 12 Dec. 6
-509 Dec. 14 Dec. 8
-508 Dec. 3 Nov. 27
-507 Nov. 22 Nov. 16
-505 Nov. 30 Nov. 24
-504 Dec. 19 Dec. 13
-503 Dec. 7 Dec. 1
The Beginning of the Year in the Ch'un Ch'iu
(Author's calculation)
Table 3

Other events recorded in the Ch'un Ch'iu are often dated by the cycle day and month. (I have not found any entry dated in an intercalary month. Perhaps such a date would have been regarded as inauspicious, and only the cyclical day was given.) Without the eclipses these indications would be hopelessly ambiguous. A given day-number will be repeated nearly every other month, and the month designated as, say, "tenth," might actually be the eleventh lunation of the year, if preceded by an intercalary month. On top of that, we can be sure that at least some of the numbers in any text which has been copied so many times must be wrong. There are not enough such dates to reconstruct the calendar of the whole period, but a few short sequences can be put together without any internal contradictions, if we assume that there could be no more than one intercalary month in a given year, and no more than two years in a row with intercalary months. From this I have worked out the beginning of the year in 26 cases. The results are given in Table 3. I find that in -693, the new year began with the month after the winter solstice, and in -507 it began with the next previous month. In all other cases it began with the month of the solstice. The mean date is December 5 Gregorian. Some of the data on which the reconstruction is based are shown in Table 4.

This falls short of the precision which could have been attained, but it does suggest that the Chou usually managed to keep the beginning of the year in the month tzu. However, in announcing the seasons in the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth months, they had so displaced them that their spring nominally began about two weeks earlier than our winter, instead of six weeks after, as described in the Shu Ching and as practiced for 2,000 years since the Former Han! Similar conclusions were reached by de Saussure(29) and Chalmers,(30) although Chalmers, who attempted a reconstruction of the calendar for the entire Ch'un Ch'iu period, found a much greater variation in the year's beginning than indicated here. I give some of his results in Table 5 for comparison.

Now we are ready to look at the year 687 B.C. In Figure 2, I have shown (outer ring) the Julian months of the year, and (middle ring) the lunar months, numbered beginning with the month of winter solstice. Hsin mao days are indicated by the small inset diamonds. The kan chih number of January 1st is found from tables.(31) January 1st was a kêng wu day, seventh in the series. The first hsin mao day fell on January 22nd, and then again every 60 days thereafter. There was a hsin mao day in the fourth month, on March 23rd, as Biot found. On the inner ring, perhaps anachronistically, are the 24 solar nodes as used in Han and later times, and in the central circle, the four seasons centered on the equinoxes and solstices, and not as they are given in the Ch'un Ch'iu.

[*!* Image] Table 4. Reconstruction of the Calendar for Year 25 to 28 of Duke Chuang. [Labels: Conjunction; Cycle Day; Chinese Dates: Month Cycle-Day].

Astronomical Year Julian Date Gregorian Equivalent
-719 Jan. 24 Jan. 16
-703 Jan. 28 Jan. 20
-688 Jan. 11 Jan. 4
-685 Jan. 8 Jan. l
-658 Jan. 10 Jan. 3
-626 Jan. 15 Jan. 8
-605 Nov. 25 Nov. 18
-583 Nov. 22 Nov. 16
-556 Nov. 23 Nov. 17
-540 Nov. 25 Nov. 19
-529 Nov. 24 Nov. 18
-526 Nov. 21 Nov. 15
The Beginning of the Year in the Ch'un Ch'iu according to Chalmers
Table 5

Having verified the date March 23rd, 687 B.C., insofar as possible, using modern astronomical calculations, what do we have? Granted that the first night of Passover was celebrated somewhere near the spring equinox, we have a very approximate coincidence in date between a meteor shower seen in China and the heavenly blast said to have been responsible for changing Sennacherib's military plans, the precise nature of which is not specified. Velikovsky assures us that

"In the last two thousand years or so, the Feast of Passover . . . has been observed between the middle of March and the latter part of April."(32) Under the rules now in use and probably dating from the Babylonian exile, Passover begins after the spring equinox, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month Nisan, reckoning from first visibility. In 687 B.C. the fourteenth day would have been April 2nd or 3rd. Velikovsky argues from the Jewish legend of the reversal of the Sun's motion that the agent which caused these phenomena was Mars, passing close to the Earth. For support he cites other similar legends, most of them Chinese in origin. Before taking stock we must examine these sources.


The third reference given by Velikovsky is the most cosmically impressive: ". . . the five planets went out of their courses. In the night, stars fell like rain. The earth shook. The E and Loh became dry."(33) But this report could not possibly refer to the same event. It is found in a work known as the Bamboo Books, which is in the form of annals of successive emperors of the Hsia, Shang, and Chou dynasties (see Fig. 3). This passage is part of the entry for the tenth year of Emperor Kuei, the last ruler of the Hsia dynasty. There is no indication of the time of year in these annals and it should not be assumed that all these events are simultaneous.


According to the chronology presented in the Bamboo Books, Kuei's tenth year would correspond to 1580 B.C. (1809 B.C. according to the standard chronology) about a thousand years too early! Although Legge's translation has the western date at the head of the first year of each emperor, Velikovsky does not inform the reader of it. In view of his theories regarding earlier catastrophes, it is surprising that he did not relate this account to his scenario for Venus and the Exodus, or to some earlier event. The mere fact that we find here again the phrase, "stars fell like rain," is not sufficient reason to consign all 28 Shang emperors, most of whom are attested in the oracle inscriptions, and half of their Chou successors to oblivion.

In Chinese thought, the heavens should have been full of warnings at this time to signalize that the virtue of the Hsia was exhausted: Heaven had withdrawn its mandate. In Kuei's 29th year, "Three suns appeared together".(34) This was not so impressive as the ten suns that had appeared in the eighth year (1615 B.C.) of his predecessor Chin,(35) but outdid Ti-Hsin, the last of the Shang dynasts, who could manage only two, albeit with a "conjunction of the five planets".(36)

Lest we conclude that the region of Earth's orbit at this time was cluttered with debris it should be pointed out that the history of the Chin dynasty records three separate occasions in the fourth century A.D. when three suns appeared together.(37) These suns were certainly parhelia. Gaubil noted that a conjunction of four planets in 1725 went down in the official registers as a general conjunction of seven planets, an omen of good augury for the foundation of a new dynasty which appears in the histories of many.(38) Of course, if the Earth were really in the throes of a great upheaval of nature, it would not be surprising if the grip of one dynasty on the empire were loosened and supplanted by that of another amid the general chaos.

The story of the Duke of Lu-yang, who, at war with the Han, commanded the Sun to return after it had set is cited as another reference to the same cosmic event. Giles has translated the original passage from the Huai Nan-Tse thus: "Once when the Duke of Lu-yang was at war with the Han State, and sunset drew near while a battle was still fiercely raging, the Duke held up his spear, and shook it at the sun, which forthwith went back three zodiacal signs."(40) But the commentary to the Huai Nan-Tse(41)

"remarks that this was a grandson of King P'ing of Ch'u (528-515), called Lu-yang Wen-Tse in the Kuoyü".(42)


In his comments on a previous version of this paper, Lynn E. Rose called my attention to Velikovsky's footnote on page 236:

Moyriac de Mailla (1679-1748), Histoire général de la Chine: Tong-Kien-Kang-Mou (1877), Vol. I, has the Han Dynasty coming to power in the last quarter of the fifth century; Forke, The World Conception of the Chinese, thinks that the war of the Duke of Lu-yang against Han took place in the fifth century. But these calculations are based on an astronomical computation which may be erroneous.

Now, it would be quite peculiar if de Mailla had the Han dynasty coming to power in the fifth century, because this happened in the year 202 B.C., with the defeat and death of the rival claimant to the imperial dignity, Pa-wang, by Liu-pang, who assumed the title Kao tsu. In fact, this is exactly what de Mailla and all other writers say (see Volume II, page 483). However, the feudal state of Han came into existence at the end of the fifth century with the partition of Chin (officially confirmed in 403), as indicated in de Mailla's chronological table preceding the text of Volume I (see Figures 3 and 4). The letters from de Mailla which serve as an introduction to the T'ung Chien

[*!* Image] Figure 4. (After Crump See note 50). [Labels: THE WARRING STATES circa 330 B.C. LIMITS UNCERTAIN; Han-ku; PLACE NAMES; San Ch'uan; REGIONAL NAMES; CH'IN; STATE NAMES]

Kang Mu ("Essential Mirror of Universal History," Sung Dynasty), are full of astronomical calculations, none of which have any bearing on Ch'un Ch'iu chronology, which de Mailla accepted as fixed. They use the risings and culminations of certain stars (the passage was cited earlier) and an eclipse mentioned in the Shu Ching to date the Hsia emperors, Yao and Chung-k'ang, and a general conjunction supposed to have occurred in the reign of the legendary Chuan Hü in the third millennium B.C. (see especially letters one and three).

P'ing of Ch'u is firmly placed by the mention of his death in the Ch'un Ch'iu and the Tso Chuan. (See Legge, Vol. 5, pp. 715 and 717. The Ch'un Ch'iu uses his personal name, Keu. The Tso Chuan uses P'ing, the name used by his descendants when sacrificing to him.) There are entries for 242 consecutive years in the Ch'un Ch'iu. They record wars, diplomatic missions, and above all, the deaths and funerals of emperors and the rulers of all the major states of China, tying their chronologies together indissolubly. The history of no other nation on Earth is known so well at this period. This activity of the chroniclers of Lu was nothing unusual for the time: according to Creel "every household of any aristocratic pretensions had one or more retainers whose duties were chiefly literary or clerical".(43) I have mentioned that two schemes of ancient chronology have been handed down in China. It is only before the year 841 B.C. that they diverge, however. Before this time Ssuma Ch'ien, who wrote the first dynastic history, refrains from giving exact dates.

Two points are worth noting here: First, unlike the thousands of cuneiform tablets recovered from the soil of Mesopotamia, the works of these ancient annalists are intelligible to their descendants today. Secondly, historians in China enjoyed a respect (and bureaucratic entrenchment) which made them to a considerable extent independent of the personal concerns of the rulers who employed them, and they sometimes resisted extreme pressures, dispassionately recording the unpopular deeds committed by them.(44) The Confucian ideal was for the historian to impartially record the good and the bad actions of princes, their praiseworthy or reprehensible utterances, for the instruction of posterity in the art of good government. This is a far cry from the self-serving, bombastic inscriptions chiselled at the command of the Assyrian and Egyptian monarchs.

Lu-yang was a city in Honan. Ssuma Ch'ien, in his Shih Chi, mentions its capture from Han by the forces of Wei in 371 B.C.(45) The war of the Duke of Lu-yang was a local one against the feudal state of Han, not the later dynasty founded by that house. There is no astronomical computation which could make P'ing's grandson contemporaneous with a duke of Lu who ruled 159 years before P'ing's own rule commenced in Ch'u.

Velikovsky then takes up another tradition. "Probably the story of Prince Tau of Yin is another description of the same event in a different part of China. Lu-Heng records that Prince Tau of Yin was an involuntary guest of the king of China when the sun returned to the meridian."(46) But there are several errors here. Lun-hêng, not Lu-Heng, is a book and the author's name is Wang Ch'ung.(47) The hostage was Crown Prince Tan of Yin, not "Tau". His "host" was Cheng, the king of Ch'in state, whose rule, under the title Ch'in Shih Huang-ti, was soon to be extended throughout China. Prince Tan escaped in 232 B.C.(48)

The dramatic story of his attempt to have Cheng assassinated and the tragic consequences of the plot's failure are narrated in Chapter 86 of Ssuma Ch'ien's Shih Chi(49) and in the Chan-Kuo Ts'e.(50) A popular legend sprang up that Cheng had promised to free Prince Tan "when the sun returned to the meridian and Heaven rained grain, when the crows got white heads, and the horses, horns, and when the wooden elephants decorating the kitchen door got legs of flesh".(51) All of these miracles duly took place, and the Prince was released. Ssuma Ch'ien knew better. His father, Ssuma Tan, heard the story of the attempt on Cheng's life from associates of the physician who struck the assassin with his medicine bag, allowing the king to draw his sword.(52) (This incident was famous enough to be the subject of a tomb relief.) Wang Ch'ung ridiculed the legend, but it survives, with many other fantastic embellishments, in the historical romance Yen Tan-tzu(53)

A similar tale attaches to the person of Hsin-yüan P'ing. During the reign of the Han emperor Wên Ti (179-157 B.C.), this man, who claimed to be able to interpret the spiritual emanations in cloud formations, "announced that, according to his observations, the setting sun would stop in its course and ascend again to the center of the sky. After a little while the sun began to move backward until it had returned to the meridian. Thereupon the emperor began to number the years of a new period, and ordered great feasting throughout the empire."(54) Later Hsin-yüan P'ing was denounced as a charlatan and executed.

So what remains? As for the phenomena of Emperor Kuei's tenth year, they may well have happened, but they cannot be adduced as confirmation for Jewish traditions of a time 1,000 years later. The legends of Crown Prince Tan and Hsin-yüan P'ing could not have happened at all, as we know from Seleucid astronomical tablets from the third century B.C., which describe planetary motions as they are today with considerable accuracy. As for the tale of the Duke of Luyang, if the rotation of the Earth were reversed at this time, one wonders why no Greek historian mentioned it. That leaves us with the Ch'un Ch'iu meteor shower and the Jewish traditions, of which we can say only that they occurred at approximately the same time of the same year. There is nothing in the Chinese account to confirm a disturbance in the Earth's rotation, and no mention of Mars or any other planetary body in either source. A great deal more work searching through ancient documents must be done before any firm chronological basis for catastrophism can be established. If the three Chinese legends of the Sun's reversal must be rejected because they are too late, other traditions should not be uncritically accepted merely because they are earlier.(55) Original sources should be investigated wherever possible and interpreted within the context of the literary tradition from which they derive. Confirmation from an independent source should be required before accepting any postulated catastrophic event.


1. Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 4 (Philadelphia, 1913), p. 269, cited in Worlds in Collision (N. Y., 1950), p. 231. Also Midrash Rabbah on Exodus, tr. S. M. Lehrman (London, Soncino Press, 1961), p. 221.
2. At Peshtigo, "Twenty bodies were found without a mark, with death due to asphyxiation." At the Sugar Bush settlements "bodies were found far from trees and buildings, with no evidence of fire on or around them". Vincent H. Gaddis, Mysterious Fires and Lights (N. Y., Dell, 1967), pp. 60-61. "... we have in our possession a copper cent, taken from the body of a dead man in the Peshtigo Sugar Bush . . . This cent has been partially fused . . . and yet the clothing and the body of the man was not even singed." Rev. E. J. Goodspeed, History of the Great Fires in Chicago and the West, (N. Y., 1871), pp. 567-8. More than one of the survivors claimed that the flames had descended from the heavens. "When I heard the roar of the approaching tornado I ran out . . . and saw a great black, balloon shaped object whirling through the air over the tops of the distant trees, approaching my house. When it reached the house it seemed to explode, with a loud noise, belching out fire on every side, and in an instant my house was on fire in every part." Hours before the great conflagration arrived, "the wind . . . seemed . . . to be electrically charged, for as it blew through the tops of the trees, they would sometimes burst into flames". At 8:30, when a distant wall of flames could be seen approaching from the west, Father Pernin began removing precious objects from his combination house-and-church. "Inside the building . . . a cloud of sparks . . . blazed up here and there with a sharp detonating sound like that of powder exploding, and . . . flew from room to room." Mark Boesch, "The Peshtigo Fire," Lithopinion, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1975), pp. 52-58. What possible connection there could be between the Peshtigo fire and the blast that devoured Sennacherib's host I do not know, but it is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right and I hope my readers will pardon this digression.
3. W in C, p.234
4. J-P Abel Rémusat, Catalogue des bolides et des aérolithes observés à la Chine et dans les pays voisins, tiré des ouvrages chinois (Paris, Couricer, 1819); Édouard C. Biot, "Catalogue général des etoiles filantes et des autres météores observés en Chine pendant vingt-quatre siècles, depuis le VIIe siècle avant J. C. jusqu'au milieu du XVlle de notre ère, dressé d'après les documents chinois," (Paris, Imprimerie royale, 1841 and 1846).
5. Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Vol. 3 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1959), Section 20, "Astronomy," p. 433.
6. James Legge, The Chinese Classics, Vol. 5, The Ch'un Ts'ëw with the Tso Chuen (Oxford Univ. Press reprint, 1971), p. 80.
7. Legge gives excerpts from the Tso Chuan and other commentaries below the entry for each year. Kung-yang says that the original entry in the Annals of Lu read: "It rained stars to within a foot of the earth, when they reascended." We would say that the meteors burned up in the atmosphere because of friction, leaving no trace. See also Wang Ch'ung, Lun-hêng (tr. Alfred Forke; N. Y., Paragon reprint, 1962), Vol. 1, p. 274, Vol. 2, p. 270. To add to the confusion, Rémusat translates the passage: "a star fell in the form of rain." (Chinese characters have no plural form.)
8. Discussed by Kiyosi Yabuuti (Kiyoshi Yabuuchi), in "The Calendar Reforms in the Han Dynasties and Ideas in their Background," Archives internationales d'histoire des sciences, Vol. 24 (1974), p. 51; by Needham, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 238; and by Léopold de Saussure, "Le systéme astronomique des Chinois," Part V, "Changements dynastiques et réformes de la doctrine," Archives des sciences physiques et naturelles, 5th series Vol. 1, 577 ff.
9. Pan Ku, History of the Former Han Dynasty, tr. Homer H. Dubs (Baltimore, Waverly Press, 1938), Vol. 2, p. 99.
10. According to Léopold de Saussure, the Chinese did not discover the inequality of the seasons until the eighth century A. D. Op. cit., Part VIII, "Le calendrier," ASPN, 5th ser. Vol. 2 (1920), p. 338.
11. Legge, The Chinese Classics, Vol. 3: The Shoo King, pp. 19-21.
12. Herbert Chatley, " 'The Heavenly Cover,' a Study in Ancient Chinese Astronomy," Observatory, Vol. 61 (1938), p. 12 f.
13. Shigeru Nakayama, "Accuracy of Pre-Modern Determinations of Tropical Year Length," Japanese Studies in the History of Science, Vol. 2 (1963), p. 102.
14. Henri Maspero, "Les instruments astronomiques des Chinois au temps des Han," Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques, Vol. 6 (1939), pp. 225 ff.
15. de Saussure, op. cit, ASPN, Vol. 1, p. 196.
16. On the mechanics of intercalation, see Wu Shih-Ch'ang, article on the Chinese calendar under "Calendar," Encyclopedia Britannica (1972 ed.), pp. 619-20; Ho Peng Yoke, The Astronomical Chapters of the Chin Shu (Paris & the Hague, 1966), pp. 59-60, note e; Derk Bodde, Festivals in Classical China (Princeton Univ. Press, 1975), 26 ff.; and L. de Saussure, op. cit., Part VIII, ASPN, Vol. 2, 333 ff.
17. Léopold de Saussure, "Les voyages du Roi Mou," Journal asiatique, 11th series Vol. 17 (1921), pp. 257 and 260.
18. Needham, loc. cit, note e; Wolfram Eberhard and Rolf Mueller, "Contributions to the Astronomy of the Han Period III: Astronomy of the Later Han Period," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 1 (1936), p. 194.
19. Legge, op. cit, Vol. 3, pp. 215-16.
20. Les mémoires historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien (the Shih Chi), tr. Édouard Chavannes (Paris, Leroux, 1895-1905), Vol. 3, Chapter 26, "Le calendrier," p. 326.
21. As shown by Dubs, in History of the Former Han Dynasty, Vol. 1, Appendix II, "The Han Dynasty's Earlier Calendar," 154 ff.
22. Bodde, op. cit., p. 28.
23. Legge notes (in the Prolegomena to Vol. 5, 97 ff.) that many of the dates in the Ch'un Ch'iu differ from those given in the Tso Chuan by one or two months. The Tso Chuan, attributed to Tso Chiu-ming, a disciple of Confucius, is thought to have drawn upon the annals of several Chinese states other than Lu. According to Henri Maspero "the various regions had different calendars: while the royal domain and the principalities of Lu, Chêng, and Wei followed the royal calendar, in Sung, a special calendar was used which was supposed to be that of the Yin (Shang) dynasty which. . . placed the beginning of the year a month later than the Chou." La Chine antique (Paris, Presses Universitaires, 1965), p. 185. See also Homer H. Dubs, "The Date of the Shang Period," T'oung Pao, Vol. 40, p. 326.
24. Yabuuti, op. cit., 51-52.
25. Liu Ch'ao-yang is quite categorical that: "The so-called Six Ancient Calendars . . . are certainly not genuine. . . Indeed, one of the conclusions reached unanimously by most official astronomers since the Chin Dynasty [not to be confused with Ch'in] is that all these pretentious calendars were definitely only the artificial products of the theorists, probably of the period from the Warring States to the Western [Former] Han. They cannot be regarded as the real representatives of the things their names indicate." "Fundamental Questions about the Yin and the Chou Calendars," Studia Serica, Vol. 4 (1945), p. 1.
26. Theodor von Oppolzer, Canon of Eclipses (Canon der Finsternisse), tr. Owen Gingerich (N. Y., Dover, 1962).
27. Such as Henri Havret, "Conversion des dates cycliques (années et jours) en dates juliennes," T'oung Pao, Vol. 9 (1898), pp. 142-50; or Herbert A. Giles, Chinese-English Dictionary (Taipei, Ch'êng Wen, 1972 reprint), pp. 32-3.
28. Herman H. Goldstine. New and Full Moons from 1001 B. C. to A. D. 1651 (Philadelphia, Amer. Philosophical Society, 1973).
29. de Saussure, "Le système astronomique. . ." ASPN, Vol. 1, 579 ff.
30. Legge, op. cit., Vol. 5, pp. 91, 93 ff. The data in Table 4 are from p. 99 of the Prolegomena to Vol. 3. There is room to speculate that this displacement of the seasons resulted from a disturbance in the orientation of the Earth's axis in some earlier catastrophe, but it could equally well have resulted from the effects of precession, from an arbitrary edict, or from "neglect of the intercalation," as Legge believed.
31. See note 27.
32. W in C, p.234.
33. From the Bamboo Books, also translated by Legge, as part of his Prolegomena to Volume 3 of The Chinese Classics, p. 125. Prediction of planetary positions in Chinese astronomy never went beyond the use of mean motions. This gave the astronomers/astrologers almost unlimited flexibility in deciding when the planets were moving abnormally.
34. Ibid., p. 129.
35. Ibid., p. 124.
36. Ibid., p. 141.
37. Ho, op. cit, pp. 162-3.
38. Antoine Gaubil, "Histoire abregée de l'astronomie chinoise," in Etienne Soudet, ed., Observations mathématiques, astronomiques, geographiques & physiques tirées des anciens livres chinoises ou faites nouvellement aux Indes & à la Chine, par les Pères de la Compagnie de Jésus, Vol. 2 (1732), p. 33. For further examples of falsified omen records, see W. Eberhard, "The Political Function of Astronomy and Astronomers in Han China," in John K. Fairbank, Chinese Thought and Institutions (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 33-70.
39. Compiled around 140 B.C. by a group of Taoist scholars under the patronage of Liu An, Prince of Huai Nan.
40. Or lunar mansions, of which there are 28. Herbert A. Giles, A History of Chinese Literature (Rutland, Vermont, Tuttle, 1973 reprint), p. 74.
41. Presumably that of Kao Yu (fl. 205-212).
42. Wang Ch'ung, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 89, note 6 (Forke's note). 26
43. Herrlee G. Creel, The Birth of China (N. Y., Ungar, 1964), p. 258.
44. De Mailla himself gives an instance of this, from the Tso Chuan: To avenge an insult, the commandant of Ch'i murdered his ruler and installed another member of the royal family on the throne. "The grand historiographer wrote [in his tablets] 'Ts'uy Ch'oo murdered his ruler;' for which Ts'uy-tsze put him to death. Two of his brothers did the same after him, and were also put to death. A third wrote the same, and was let alone. The historiographer in the south, hearing that the grand historiographer and his brothers had died in this way, took his tablets and set out [for the court]; but learning on his way that the record was made, he returned." See Legge, op. cit., Vol. 5, 514 ff; de Mailla, Vol. 1, Preface, iii ff.
45. Les mémories historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien, Vol. 4, p. 384 and Vol. 5, p. 149.
46. W in C, p. 236.
47. See note 7.
48. So Derk Bodde, in Statesman, Patriot, and General in Ancient China: Three Shih Chi Biographies (N. Y., Kraus, 1967), p. 24, note 12; but Forke has 230 B.C. Wang Ch'ung, Vol. 1. p. 115, note. This date is also given in Forke's World Conception of the Chinese, the source cited by Velikovsky, but he does not inform the reader of it.
49. Bodde, op. cit.
50. J. I. Crump, Jr. (tr.), Chan-Kuo Ts'e (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1970), 553 ff.
51. Wang Ch'ung, loc. cit.
52. Bodde, op. cit., p. 37.
53. See p. 44 of Bodde, op. cit., who quotes various excerpts from it. It has been translated as Prince Dan of Yann by Cheng Lin (Shanghai, World Book Co., 1946).
54. Shih Chi Chapter 28, in Burton Watson, Records of the Grand Historian of China, Vol. 2 (N. Y., Columbia Univ. Press, 1968), p. 36. Divination by clouds was a respected tradition in China, and one may find a description of portentous vapors in The Astronomical Chapters of the Chin Shu, 138 ff. It is a fact that Wên Ti renumbered the years of his reign, although we may be sure it was not for the reason given by Ssuma Ch'ien. The practice of beginning a new reign-period on an auspicious day was common (as in 104 B.C.), thereby presumably ensuring the longevity of the emperor. Apparently Hsin-yuan P'ing was executed, not for failing to reverse the Sun's motion, but for having a confederate present a jade cup to the emperor in fulfillment of one of his predictions.
55. Astral miracles seem to have been especially popular in China at all times. Edward Schafer gives many examples, often quite silly, in Pacing the Void: T'ang Approaches to the Stars (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1977).

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