HONG KONG (AFP) — A total eclipse of the sun a week before the Beijing Olympics will spook the superstitious but Chinese authorities have no reason to fear for the Games, astrologers and feng shui experts say.
The phenomenon was once seen by China's emperors as a portent of disaster, and astrologers predict some turbulence this time too, probably on the stock market and maybe even on the streets.
However, any trouble will not be powerful enough, they say, to disrupt the world's largest international sporting event or unduly worry China's rulers.
Mak Ling-ling, one of the most renowned feng shui and astrology experts in Hong Kong and author of many books, said the eclipse might bring small-scale political turbulence and problems to the transport and communication networks in Beijing during the Games.
"Protests and chaos on the street are very likely but they will not do any permanent harm to the Chinese authorities," she told AFP.
China may play down any association between the eclipse and the Olympics to avoid being mocked for being superstitious -- but Mak said it had a long-time practice of consulting feng shui experts when selecting athletes.
"The national teams give me the date and time of birth of the athletes and ask me to calculate and identify the ones with a strong will and a real chance of winning international games," she said.
"No Olympics teams have consulted me about the eclipse but I believe if the authorities are really worried about it, they would seek help and do something discreetly without letting outsiders know."
A total solar eclipse total solar eclipse is caused when the moon blots out the sun by passing directly between it and the earth, and has traditionally been associated with misfortune.
The latest eclipse is set to traverse half the earth over the course of two hours in August 1.
The path of the moon's umbral shadow, some 10,200 kilometres (6,375 miles) long, will begin in Canada and extend across northern Greenland, the Arctic, central Russia and Mongolia, before ending in northern China. But it will not cross Beijing.
It will make its final stop at sunset in Xi'an, capital of China's Shaanxi province and site of the famed terracotta army.
"In ancient times, Chinese people believed that a celestial dragon or dog was devouring the sun during an eclipse," said Peter So, another top feng shui master in Hong Kong.
"The belief gave rise to their practice of banging drums and pots -- their idea of using loud noises to frighten away the animal," added So, who hosts TV shows and has a client list numbering many of the city's rich and famous.
Solar eclipses were regarded as heavenly signs that foretold the future of emperors. Legends have it that two Chinese astrologers were beheaded in 2300 BC for failing to predict one.
In ancient times, western astrologers also believed eclipses had the power to start and stop wars, solve scientific puzzles, and trigger earthquakes and floods.
Nowadays, the natural phenomenon is often associated with a volatile stock market, said So. "It is not surprising. Some people become reluctant to invest in the market after learning about all the theories on solar eclipses."
He predicted big market swings during the Olympics but said China's bourses would recover and remain strong until August 2009.
Raymond Lo, another prominent fortune teller and astrologer in Hong Kong, said the start date for the Olympics -- August 8, 2008 -- on the Chinese lunar calendar had a tendency to trigger water disasters, which could be reinforced by the eclipse.
"It is the year of the Rat, the month of the Monkey, and the day of the Dragon. We had the same combination of animals on the day when the tsunami struck in 2004," he added.
The Chinese zodiac is based on a 12-year cycle, with each year represented by an animal. Fortune tellers base predictions on the relationship between the zodiac animals and the characteristics of each.
But a sceptical Cheng Kai-ming, a physics lecturer at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said any disasters were mere coincidence.
"There are so many natural or man-made disasters every year," he told AFP.
"Any total solar eclipse is bound to occur before, during, or after one of these events."