All posts by Wang Jiayun

Ancient Chinese astronomy

I went to China for my week 7 project. ‘ So you are going back?’, lots of people did not quite understand why this program was my first prioritised choice. There are in fact a few reasons. I am interested in astronomy and I want to know how the Chinese astronomy evolved from its ancient period to the current status. Also, I want to see China from a different perspective. I am really curious how China and the Chinese culture are viewed by the outside world.

Our trip started on Sep.22. The first city we headed for, Beijing, was one of the most historical cities in China. I am not the sentimental type but Beijing gave me a nostalgic vibe as soon as I got there. Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven… all those names reminded me of the summer I spent there when I was young. But I knew this trip was going to be different from any of the other trips I had before, since I was with people of the smartest minds in the world.

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At Forbidden City, Beijing

We visited the Forbidden city and Temple of Heaven on the second day of our trip. And I was so thrilled to learn about the connection between the ancient Chinese architecture and the Chinese astronomy. For instance, the name of the purple forbidden city, “Zijincheng” in Chinese, is related to the Ziwei enclosure in Chinese constellation, where the emperor of the heaven lived.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest

 To understand more about the ancient Chinese’s belief in Heaven, we also went to visit the Temple of Heaven. In the tradition of ancient China, people believed that the universe or the heaven was of vital importance that it had the power to change the fate of a single person, a family or even a country. The ancient Chinese people took observing the sky as a way to understand the divinity of the heaven. The emperors of ancient China believed that if there were something unusual in the constellation, a great event was sure to occur, either a boon or a catastrophe. So the emperors would hold ceremonies at the temple of Heaven to show respect for the sky. It is very intriguing that in the temple of heaven, the numbers of different objects all enjoy some special meanings. For instance, in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, ‘Qiniandian’ in Chinese, there are 4 immense pillars, symbolising the four seasons. And there are also 12 different sections in the hall, representing the 12 months of the year and the 12 time divisions of the day and night.

image by microfotos
image by microfotos

Also, the triple-eave roof, each covered with blue, yellow, and green glazed tiles, represents the Heaven, Earth and the mortal world. So in the temple of Heaven, everything was intentionally built for some religious purpose, showing a very strong belief in the Heaven. And such belief, resulted from the Taoism, is so deeply rooted that it still can be seen in today’s Chinese culture.