for National Geographic News
Many Chinese will celebrate the celestial event with parties and viewing festivities—but it wasn't always so.
The Chinese have a long, sophisticated history of charting the skies and have recorded eclipses for thousands of years.
The events were once considered ill omens and, if the ancient records are to be believed, dramatic eclipses may have caused more than one unfortunate astrologer to lose his head.
Ciyuan Liu and Liping Ma, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Xueshun Liu, of the University of British Columbia, studied early eclipse records and wrote of the total eclipse's special political position in ancient Chinese culture.
"It was a warning to the Emperor—for the Sun was the symbol of the Emperor according to traditional astrological theories," Liu said in email, quoting his 2003 paper published in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
"When an eclipse occurred, the Emperor would normally eat vegetarian meals, avoid the main palace, perform rituals to rescue the Sun and, sometimes, issue imperial edict to take the blame on himself."
The earliest known recorded solar eclipse in about 2100 B.C. surprised ancient astrologers Xi and He in the court of Emperor Zhong Kang, one story goes.
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