Sky Portents: Asteroids In Early Chinese Literature

  1. Introduction
  2. Asteroids as Omens
    1. The Heavenly Disc in "Zuo Zhuan"
    2. The Celestial Governess in "Shan Hai Jing"
    3. The Yellow Dragon in "Shi Ji"
  3. Asteroids in Astrology
    1. The Four Symbols and the Five Elements
    2. The Nine Stars and the Twenty-Eight Mansions
  4. Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
  6. Conclusion
  7. Additional Resources


Throughout Chinese history, the sky has played a significant role in their culture and mythology. From divination to astrology, the heavens have been observed for signs of good or bad fortune. One of the celestial phenomena that have captured the imagination of early Chinese writers is the appearance of asteroids. In this article, we will explore the portrayal of asteroids in Chinese literature and how they relate to the culture's beliefs and practices.

Asteroids as Omens

A colossal asteroid casts its ominous shadow over Earth, its jagged edges and intricate patterns illuminated by a soft, ethereal glow from within

The Heavenly Disc in "Zuo Zhuan"

In the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), an event that came to be known as the Heavenly Disc was recorded in the chronicle "Zuo Zhuan". It tells of a sudden apparition of a large disc in the sky that lasted for several days. This phenomenon was interpreted as a sign of calamity and upheaval. Scholars have since speculated that the Heavenly Disc might have been a reference to a comet or an asteroid, both of which were seen as portents of misfortune.

The Celestial Governess in "Shan Hai Jing"

In "Shan Hai Jing", a collection of geographic and mythological accounts from the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE), one of the deities overseeing the skies is the Celestial Governess. She is depicted as holding a jade tablet and a mirror, which reflects the movements of celestial bodies. According to some interpretations, the mirror may represent an early attempt at observing the night sky. The text also mentions that the Celestial Governess is responsible for determining the fortunes of mortals based on the positions of the stars and planets.

The Yellow Dragon in "Shi Ji"

The historian Sima Qian wrote in his "Shi Ji" (Records of the Grand Historian) of a legend involving Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who was said to have been visited by a yellow dragon. The dragon was believed to be a deity that presided over the five elements of nature, including metal, which was associated with asteroids. The dragon's appearance reportedly signaled the emperor's imminent death, and it turned out to be true.

Asteroids in Astrology

A stunning photographic depiction of two asteroids closing in on one another, with a illuminated sun casting their paths past each other

The Four Symbols and the Five Elements

The Four Symbols, or Si Xiang, are a set of mythological creatures that represent cardinal directions and seasons. They are the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise of the North. Each of these creatures corresponds to one of the five elements, which are metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. In Chinese astrology, the positions of celestial bodies at the time of a person's birth are believed to affect their personality and fate. Asteroids, as metallic objects, are associated with the metal element and are considered powerful agents of change.

The Nine Stars and the Twenty-Eight Mansions

Another system of Chinese astrology is the Nine Stars and the Twenty-Eight Mansions. The Nine Stars refer to the Big Dipper and the nearby stars, which are believed to govern the fates of individuals and nations. The Twenty-Eight Mansions, on the other hand, are groups of stars used for divination and timing of events. Asteroids are sometimes included in the classification of the Nine Stars and the Twenty-Eight Mansions due to their influence on the overall configuration of the night sky.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

An ancient Chinese scholar pours wisdom from the sky into a deershaped tea bowl, amidst an abstract Chinese landscape with Mount Kilimanjaro reaching towards heaven

Despite the advancement of modern science and technology, some people still find solace and guidance in ancient wisdom and traditions. The Chinese culture's fascination with the sky and its celestial objects serves as a reminder of how our ancestors viewed the world and their place in it. By studying their beliefs and practices, we gain insights into our shared history and the complexity of human experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ancient Chinese sky portent depicted in photorealistic style
  • Did ancient Chinese writers know about asteroids?

    Yes, they may have seen asteroids as shooting stars or comets. They interpreted these phenomena as signs of good or bad fortune based on their prior beliefs and practices.

  • Are asteroids still relevant in Chinese astrology?

    Yes, they are still considered influential in determining a person's fate and personality traits in some interpretations of Chinese astrology.

  • How can studying ancient Chinese literature help us understand asteroids?

    By examining how asteroids were portrayed in ancient Chinese literature, we can gain insights into the cultural significance and symbolism associated with these celestial objects.

  • What is the importance of divination in Chinese culture?

    Divination is an integral part of Chinese culture as it provides a means of seeking guidance and insight into the future. It is believed that the universe sends clues and messages that can be deciphered through various methods such as astrology, numerology, and geomancy.

  • How do asteroids compare to other celestial bodies in Chinese mythology?

    Asteroids share similarities with other celestial bodies in Chinese mythology in terms of their perceived influence on human events. Comets, for example, were also seen as harbingers of disaster or change, while stars and planets were believed to represent deities or forces of nature.


In conclusion, the appearance of asteroids in early Chinese literature reflects the culture's fascination and reverence for the sky. Asteroids were interpreted as omens of good or bad fortune, and their association with the metal element made them powerful agents of change in astrology. The study of Chinese mythology and literature offers a glimpse into how our ancestors perceived the world and their place in it. By learning from their wisdom, we can gain a deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of humanity and the universe.

We hope that this article has provided valuable insights into the cultural significance of asteroids in Chinese literature. We encourage our readers to share their thoughts and opinions in the comments section and to explore other topics related to asteroids on

Additional Resources

A mesmerizing photo of a supernova explosion in a dense asteroid field, bathing the dark expanse in a fiery glow, creating a surreal and ethereal atmosphere

If you want to discover more articles similar to Sky Portents: Asteroids In Early Chinese Literature, you can visit the Asteroid Mythology category.

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