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Ancient Chinese Astronomy and Astrology
Transcript of Ancient Chinese Astronomy and Astrology
Ancient Chinese Astronomy
The 12 Terrestrial Branches represent the Chinese Zodiac consisting of 12 animals.
Each of these animals is part of a 12 year cycle.
By:Tim Arehart and Francisco Varela
The Ancient Chinese used circumpolar stars in the Norhtern Celestial Hemisphere as a reference point of the Universe.
A circumpolar star is a star that never sets (disappears below the horizon) due to its proximity to one of the celestial poles, in this case it is the north celestial pole.These stars are always in the night sky no matter the time of year.
The Big Dipper (Plough),located in the North Circumpolar Region, was used to determine the season of the year.
The Ancient Chinese determined seasons through the pointing direction of the handle of the Big Dipper (the Plough). In the winter the handle points downward,north at early evening. In spring the handle points east at early evening.
They then divided the horizon into 12 sections and assigned them names linking them to the direction in which the handle points in 12 months. They are known as the 12 Terrestrial/Earthly Branches.
12 Houses of the Yellow Path
Dunhuang Star Chart (North Circumpolar Region)
First Star Chart on Paper: Tang Dynasty(618-907)
The path along which the sun seems to move; ecliptic (an imaginary line through the heavens traced by the Sun)
The 12 Terrestrial/Earthly Branches marking the 12 directions of the Big Dipper were then applied to the 12 Houses of the Yellow Path and arranged in clockwise direction.
Although ancient China was focused on the practical application of star gazing,they did create an extensive zodiacal system to guide the life of people on earth. The 12 Terrestrial Branches correspond with the 12 zodiac sings/animals.
They were able to chart the seasons by using a fixed point in space and correlating the position of the stars with the time of year.
The passage of time was further able to be observed through the observance of the position of the moon in the night sky.
How did the ancient Chinese chart time?
The Chinese determined the passage of time by observing 28 Lunar Mansions (constellations) that make a zodiacal band that is used to track the movement of the moon over the course of a Lunar Month.
A Lunar Month being roughly 28 days, the season/date could be interpreted just by looking at the position of the moon and which of the 28 asterisms it is nearest.
Lunar Mansions (Time)
Structure of the Chinese Sky
Ancient Chinese Astronomers divided the sky into:
Seven Mansions form One Image
The White Tiger
represents West and Autumn
seen as a protector and was thought to guard the armies of the Emperor and guard the spirits of the dead.
The Black Tortoise
represents North and Winter
often pictured with a snake
union of these two was thought to have created earth
The Blue Dragon
represents East and Spring
associated with the Emperor
The Red Bird
represents South and Summer
associated with good fortune
Purple Forbidden Enclosure: group of stars and constellations that lie near the north celestial pole and visible all year from temperate latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere (middle of the sky, circled by all other stars)
Supreme Palace Enclosure:groups of stars and constellations that are visible during Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (Autumn in the Southern)
Heavenly Market Enclosure: group of stars and constellations that are visible during late summer and early autumn in the Norhtern Hemisphere
There are 283 constellations and are split up into 28 segments,mansions, coming together to make the Lunar Zodiac.
Lunar mansions are divided into 4 groups of 7 in relation to the seasons of the year.
The Lunar Mansions are the traditional background for all of Chinese Astrology.
Each mansion was named after a constellation within it.
Seven mansions make a Symbol. Each mansion contains asterisms that join together to make one of the four symbols.
The Middle Region was considered most important because it housed the celestial image of the emperor along with his family, civil and military officials.
The observation of the sky in a scientific sense was initiated as a way of marking time and recording events within a reoccurring pattern in order to create a calendar. A calendar is vital to agriculture because it marks the seasons as well as let the farmers know when to plant and when to harvest.
Kings and Emperors, according to tradition, required a political mandate from Heaven starting with the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. This setting allowed Astronomy to become a major science in Ancient China.
Han Dynasty Silk Comet Atlas
Each of the four symbols contain seven of the twenty-eight mansions. The seven mansions in each quadrant thus make up the constellations of the Tiger, Bird, Tortoise (Snake), and Dragon.
That makes seven constellations per season.
There are 283 Chinese constellations and 1460 stars in the Northern Hemisphere.
In China, it was traditionally believed that events in the sky reflected events on earth.
With the overthrowing of the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou called upon the Mandate of Heaven, or a right to rule according to Heaven.
In order for the Emperor to retain the favor of the Heavens, he had to be able to accurately predict the movements in the sky. If he was unable to do so and unforeseen astronomical events happened, the legitimacy of his rule would be questioned and may spark his political rivals into rebellion.
It was the job of the royal astronomers to produce a calendar that predicts the events in the sky, the calendar was called the almanac.
These almanacs were the source of affirmation needed to solidify the Emperors claim to the Mandate of Heaven.
If (and when) dynasties fell, it was believed that Heaven was intervening in order to give the Mandate to a more worthy line.
Astronomy was fueled by the political game, a game of who can observe the stars the best.
The ancient Chinese used a lunisolar calendar meaning that they drew upon observations of the sun's longitude and the moon's phases.
The Chinese year does not count years in an infinite sequence, they count years in a 60 year cycle.
Each year in the cycle uses two components to delineate itself:
10 Celestial Stems (Shang ten day system)
12 Terrestrial Branches (corresponds with Zodiacs)
Chinese vs. Western Astronomy
The sky according to the ancient Chinese
Divides the year into 24 Solar segments and are defined by the longitudes of the Sun. Names were given to the segments for farmers use pertaining to seasonal conditions.