Chinese Astronomy Essay

Submitted By cristolen73
Words: 772
Pages: 4

Astronomical studies in ancient China are very important in the formation of civilization. In this brief research paper discussing ancient Chinese astronomy, which I have prepared for Professor Williams’ 2007 World Civilizations class, I will compare text and on-line sources that I have consulted.
Since the ancient Chinese believed the fate of their country and their rulers could be determined by the stars, moon, and the sun, they “paid close attention to the heavenly bodies and their movements.”1 For security reasons, astronomical studies outside of government were even banned.2 Through these observations and records astronomers could predict astronomical events. If their predictions were wrong they were executed.3
Officials for almost every dynasty from the 16th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D. were especially hired to become astronomers. One of the astronomical events that astronomers needed to predict was the eclipse. When an eclipse would occur they would become worried and wondered whether the brightness would not come back one day and end the world.4
“Records of eclipses of the sun and the moon, as well as on the supernova, are found among the Shang oracle bones.”5 “Observation of celestial events and making of

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Ho Peng Yoke, Modern Scholarship of the history of Chinese Astronomy (Australia,
1977), Introduction

calendars both formed part of the important functions of every ruling house of China ever since the time of the Spring and Autumn period (722 B.C. to 480 B.C.).”6
Along with these observations, records over the centuries were compiled containing documented novas, eclipses, constellations, the sun, the moon, etc., making
China known as the “oldest civilization with a continuous astronomical record.”7 Many discoveries and advancements of technology were made with the observations and records over the centuries. Recorded comets from 1600 B.C. to 1600 A.D. helped them discover that comets always traveled with their tails pointing away from the sun.
“Astronomers noted the date, type, constellation in which it was first observed, motion, color, apparent length, and duration in the sky of the comets.”8 Star charts were created around 1100 A.D. during the Song Dynasty. Instruments were created to determine the season and time by simply planting a bamboo pole into the ground and observing the length and direction of its shadow created by the sun.9 This instrument was known as the gnomon. Astronomers also determined the circumference of the Earth with the gnomon.10
Calculations were done with counting-rods and then later used the abacus.11


Ho Peng Yoke, Modern Scholarship of the history of Chinese Astronomy (Australia,
1977), p. 1

Chris Mihos,, p.1


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