Chinese constellations(Chinese: 星官, xīngguān) are the groupings used in traditional Chinese culture to organize the stars. They are very different from the modern IAU-recognized constellations based on Greco-Roman astronomy: the only major similarities are clusters similar to the Big Dipper and Orion.
The Babylonian and Egyptian astronomy which formed the basis for the Greek's was based upon heliacal observations, comparing the position of sunrises and sunsets against the stars which appeared before and afterwards. This naturally led to the development of the zodiac: the twelve or thirteen constellations through which the sun appeared to move over the course of the solar year. Against this, ancient Chinese skywatchers focused their attention on the pole star Polaris and divided the stars according to their position relative to it: the Three Enclosures (三垣, Sān Yuán) immediately around the North Celestial Pole whose stars could be seen year-round and Twenty-Eight Mansions (二十八宿, Èrshíbā Xiù) dividing the zodiacal band according to the movement of the moon over a lunar month. These lunar mansions are very similar (although not identical) to the [Indian astronomy|Indian] Nakshatra and debate continues over which system developed first or whether they developed similarly in isolation.
The Three Enclosures are the Purple Forbidden Enclosure (紫微垣, Zǐ Wēi Yuán), the Supreme Palace Enclosure (太微垣, Tài Wēi Yuán) and the Heavenly Market Enclosure (天市垣, Tiān Shì Yuán). The Purple Forbidden Enclosure occupies the northernmost area of the night sky. From the viewpoint of the ancient Chinese, the Purple Forbidden Enclosure lies in the middle of the sky and is circled by all the other stars.
The Supreme Palace Enclosure lies east and north to the Purple Forbidden Enclosure, while the Heavenly Market Enclosure lies west and south. The Three Enclosures are separated by "walls", which are asterisms with their shapes resembling their namesakes.
The Twenty-Eight Mansions
The Twenty-Eight Mansions are grouped into Four Symbols, each associated with a compass direction and containing seven mansions. The names and determinative stars are:
|Number||Name (pinyin)||Translation||Determinative star||Abbreviation|
of the East (東方青龍) Spring
|1||角 (Jiăo)||Horn||Spica||α Vir|
|2||亢 (Kàng)||Neck||Kappa Virginis||κ Vir|
|3||氐 (Dĭ)||Root||Alpha Librae||α Lib|
|4||房 (Fáng)||Room||Pi Scorpii||π Sco|
|5||心 (Xīn)||Heart||Sigma Scorpii||σ Sco|
|6||尾 (Wěi)||Tail||Mu Scorpii||μ Sco|
|7||箕 (Jī)||Winnowing Basket||Gamma Sagittarii||γ Sgr|
of the North (北方玄武) Winter
|8||斗 (Dǒu)||(Southern) Dipper||Phi Sagittarii||φ Sgr|
|9||牛 (Niú)||Ox||Beta Capricorni||β Cap|
|10||女 (Nǚ)||Girl||Epsilon Aquarii||ε Aqr|
|11||虛 (Xū)||Emptiness||Beta Aquarii||β Aqr|
|12||危 (Wēi)||Rooftop||Alpha Aquarii||α Aqr|
|13||室 (Shì)||Encampment||Alpha Pegasi||α Peg|
|14||壁 (Bì)||Wall||Gamma Pegasi||γ Peg|
of the West (西方白虎) Fall
|15||奎 (Kuí)||Legs||Eta Andromedae||η And|
|16||婁 (Lóu)||Bond||Beta Arietis||β Ari|
|17||胃 (Wèi)||Stomach||Epsilon Arietis||35 Ari|
|18||昴 (Mǎo)||Hairy Head||Electra||17 Tau|
|19||畢 (Bì)||Net||Epsilon Tauri||ε Tau|
|20||觜 (Zī)||Turtle Beak||Lambda Orionis||λ Ori|
|21||參 (Shēn)||Three Stars||Zeta Orionis||ζ Ori|
of the South (南方朱雀) Summer
|22||井 (Jǐng)||Well||Mu Geminorum||μ Gem|
|23||鬼 (Guǐ)||Ghost||Theta Cancri||θ Cnc|
|24||柳 (Liǔ)||Willow||Delta Hydrae||δ Hya|
|25||星 (Xīng)||Star||Alphard||α Hya|
|26||張 (Zhāng)||Extended Net||Upsilon1 Hydrae||υ¹ Hya|
|27||翼 (Yì)||Wings||Alpha Crateris||α Crt|
|28||軫 (Zhěn)||Chariot||Gamma Corvi||γ Crv|
The Southern Asterisms (近南極星區)
The sky around the south celestial pole was unknown to ancient Chinese. Therefore, it was not included in the Three Enclosures and Twenty-Eight Mansions system. However, by the end of the Ming Dynasty, Xu Guangqi introduced another 23 asterisms based on the knowledge of western star charts. These asterisms were since incorporated into the traditional Chinese star maps.
The asterisms are :
|English name||Chinese name||Number of stars||Western Constellation|
|Sea and Mountain||海山||6||Carina/Centaurus/Musca/Vela|
|Persia||波斯||11||Indus / Telescopium|
|Snake's Tail||蛇尾||4||Octans / Hydrus|
|Snake's Head||蛇首||2||Hydrus / Reticulum|
|Crane||鶴||12||Grus / Tucana|
|Firebird||火鳥||10||Phoenix / Sculptor|
|Crooked Running Water||水委||3||Eridanus / Phoenix|
|White Patched Nearby||附白||2||Hydrus|
|White Patches Attached||夾白||2||Reticulum / Dorado|
Placement of Western constellations
The list below gives the placement of Western constellations within the Chinese system:
- ^ a b c d Needham, J. "Astronomy in Ancient and Medieval China". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Vol. 276, No. 1257, The Place of Astronomy in the Ancient World (May 2,1974), pp. 67–82. Accessed 9 Oct 2012.
- ^ 二十八宿的形成与演变
- ^ "The Chinese Sky". International Dunhuang Project. Retrieved 2011-06-25.
- ^ Sun, Xiaochun (1997). Helaine Selin. ed. Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Kluwer Academic Publishers. p. 517. ISBN 0-7923-4066-3 (HB). Retrieved 2011-06-25.
- ^ Sun, Xiaochun (1997). Helaine Selin. ed. Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 910. ISBN 0-7923-4066-3 (HB).