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Cat Clocks – No Really! February 28, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Cats, it has been a while… Then Beach recently stumbled on this very strange passage in Abbe Huc’s Chinese Empire (1854). Can there be any truth to it? Beach is doubtful but he certainly likes the idea.

One day when we went to pay a visit to some families of Chinese Christian peasants, we met, near a farm, a young lad who was talking a buffalo to graze along our path. We asked him carelessly, as we passed, whether it was yet noon. The child raised his head to look at the sun, but it was hidden behind thick clouds, and he could read no answer there. ‘The sky is so cloudy’, said he, ‘but wait a moment’; and with these words he ran towards the farm, and came back a few minutes afterwards with a cat in his arms. ‘Look here,’ said he, ‘it is not noon yet’; and he showed us the cat’s eyes, but pushing up the lids with his hands. We looked at the child with surprise, but he was evidently in earnest. ‘Very well’, said we, ‘thank you’, and we continued on our way.

Beach can well imagine the party of Europeans, Huc at their head, fleeing from this serial killer in training: ‘from an early age he liked inflicting pain on cats, then he moved on to squirrels and his baby brother.’

But…

As soon as we reached the farm.. we made haste to ask our Christian friends whether they could tell the clock by looking into a cat’s eyes. They seemed surprised at the question; but as there was no danger in confessing to them our ignorance of the properties of a cat’s eyes, we related what had just taken place. That was all that was necessary; our complaisant neophytes immediately gave chase to all the cats in the neighbourhood.

And here the fun really began.

They brought us three or four, and explained in what manner they might be made use of for watches. They pointed out that the pupils of their eyes went on constantly growing narrower until twelve o’clock, when they became like a fine line, as thin as a hair, drawn perpendicularly across the eye, and that after twelve the dilation recommenced.

Beach has visited in this place before Cat Organs (see now Andy the Mad Monk’s recent addition of Pig Organs) but cat clocks? Presumably the eye narrows with the growing sunlight? Are cats used as clocks elsewhere or had our narrator stumbled on a very unusual part of China!? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Special honours for anyone finding this custom in modern or contemporary East Anglia (another very unusual part of the world).

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29/2/12: Invisible writes in: I was wondering if the cat clock had something to do with the same polarisation mechanism as the Viking sun-stones, but I find to my astonishment that the pupil dilation is a well-known phenomenon.  The folk of East Anglia were, apparently, far too busy putting cats up the chimney and concealing them behind walls to tell time by gazing into their eyes. ‘ Then Dennis M: ‘In Japanese ninja lore the cat eye clock is rather well known.  I first saw it in some ninja book years a ago‘.   Thanks Invisible and Dennis!