Chinese constellations are the way the ancient Chinese grouped the stars. They are very different from the modern IAU recognized constellations. This is because the IAU was based on Greco-Roman astronomy instead of Chinese astronomy.
Ancient Chinese skywatchers divided their night sky into 31 regions, namely the Three Enclosures (三垣 sān yuán), and Twenty-eight Mansions (二十八宿 èrshíbā xiù) in twelve Ci (十二次). The Three Enclosures occupy the area close to the North Celestial Pole. The stars in the Three Enclosures can be seen all year around.
The Twenty-eight Mansions occupy the zodiacal band. They can be considered as the equivalent to the 12 zodiacal constellations in the Western Astronomy. In contrast to Western astronomy, the Twenty-eight Mansions reflect the movement of the Moon in a lunar month rather than the Sun in a solar year.
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
Mansion (宿) Number Name (pinyin) Translation Determinative star Azure Dragon
of the East
1 角 (Jiăo) Horn α Vir 2 亢 (Kàng) Neck κ Vir 3 氐 (Dĭ) Root α Lib 4 房 (Fáng) Room π Sco 5 心 (Xīn) Heart σ Sco 6 尾 (Wěi) Tail μ Sco 7 箕 (Jī) Winnowing Basket γ Sgr Black Tortoise
of the North
8 斗 (Dǒu) (Southern) Dipper φ Sgr 9 牛 (Niú) Ox β Cap 10 女 (Nǚ) Girl ε Aqr 11 虛 (Xū) Emptiness β Aqr 12 危 (Wēi) Rooftop α Aqr 13 室 (Shì) Encampment α Peg 14 壁 (Bì) Wall γ Peg White Tiger
of the West
15 奎 (Kuí) Legs η And 16 婁 (Lóu) Bond β Ari 17 胃 (Wèi) Stomach 35 Ari 18 昴 (Mǎo) Hairy Head 17 Tau 19 畢 (Bì) Net ε Tau 20 觜 (Zī) Turtle Beak λ Ori 21 參 (Shēn) Three Stars ζ Ori Vermilion Bird
of the South
22 井 (Jǐng) Well μ Gem 23 鬼 (Guǐ) Ghost θ Cnc 24 柳 (Liǔ) Willow δ Hya 25 星 (Xīng) Star α Hya 26 張 (Zhāng) Extended Net υ¹ Hya 27 翼 (Yì) Wings α Crt 28 軫 (Zhěn) Chariot 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 (constellation) Cross 十字架 4 Crux Horse's Tail 馬尾 3 Centaurus Horse's Abdomen 馬腹 3 Centaurus Bee 蜜蜂 4 Musca Triangle 三角形 3 Triangulum Australe Exotic Bird 異雀 9 Apus / Octans Peacock 孔雀 11 Pavo Persia 波斯 11 Indus / Telescopium Snake's Tail 蛇尾 4 Octans / Hydrus Snake's Abdomen 蛇腹 4 Hydrus Snake's Head 蛇首 2 Hydrus / Reticulum Bird's Beak 鳥喙 7 Tucana 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 Goldfish 金魚 5 Dorado Sea Rock 海石 5 Carina Flying Fish 飛魚 6 Volans Southern Boat 南船 5 Carina Little Dipper 小斗 9 Chamaeleon
Chinese Star Designation
Ancient Chinese astronomers designated names to the visible stars systematically, roughly more than one thousand years before Johann Bayer did it in a similar way. Basically, every star is assigned to an asterism. Then a number is given to the individual stars in this asterism. Therefore, a star is designated as "Asterism name" + "Number". The numbering of the stars in an asterism, however, is not based on the apparent magnitude of this star as the Bayer system usually is, but rather its position in the asterism. (The Bayer system does use this Chinese method sometimes, most notably with the stars in the Big Dipper, which are all about the same magnitude.)
For example, Altair is named 河鼓二 in Chinese. 河鼓 is the name of the asterism (literally the Drum at the River). 二 is the number designation (two). Therefore it literally means "the Second Star of the Drum at the River". (Bayer might have called Altair "Beta Tympani Flumine" if he had been cataloguing Chinese constellations.)
Some stars also have traditional names, often related to mythology or astrology. For example, Altair is more commonly known as 牛郎星 or 牵牛星 (the Star of the Cowherd) in Chinese, after the mythological story of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl.
These designations are still used in modern Chinese astronomy. All stars for which the traditional names are used in English are routinely translated by their traditional Chinese designations, rather than translations of their catalogue names.
- Four Symbols (Chinese constellation)
- lunar mansion
- Five elements (Chinese)
- Traditional Chinese star names
- Chinese star maps
- ^ 二十八宿的形成与演变
- ^ "The Chinese Sky". International Dunhuang Project. http://idp.bl.uk/education/astronomy/sky.html. 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. 517. ISBN 0-7923-4066-3 (HB). http://books.google.com/books?id=raKRY3KQspsC&pg=PA517. 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).
- Hong Kong Space Museum: Interactive Star Maps (download)
- Hong Kong Space Museum: English-Chinese Glossary of Chinese Star Regions, Asterisms and Star Name
- Hong Kong Space Museum: Chinese Starlore
- 天丈 Astronomy
- SHOOTING STARS: China's Astronomical Legacy
- Ian Ridpath's Star Tales
Chinese constellations Three enclosures (三垣) Four Symbols (四象) and
Twenty-eight mansions (二十八宿)Center: Yellow Dragon (黃龍): Earth
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