10 April 2014
10 April 2014
Speaker: Xiaochun Sun (Inst. History Natural Science, Beijing)
Title:Sky-Gazing and Season-Granting: Astronomy in Ancient China
The most advanced science in ancient China, and the one which seems to throw the most light on Chinese civilization, is astronomy. The recently discovered Taosi site is perhaps the earliest astronomical observatory in China, dated 4000 years before present. The Chinese had invented many astronomical instruments, culminating with the invention in the eleventh century of the water-powered astronomical clock which combined observation, demonstration of celestial movements, and time-reporting into one automatic system. Calendar-making was one of the top priorities of the Chinese rulers. The Chinese calendar provided numerical methods for predicting celestial events such as eclipses and planetary motions. By the eleventh century the accuracy in prediction of planetary motions in China reached the same level as that in sixteenth century Europe. Portent astrology was of utmost importance to the state because it indicated the ruler's performance in governing. That is why the Chinese had maintained the longest continuous records of celestial phenomena, some of which provide to be unique and invaluable data for modern astronomy. Sky-gazing and season-granting were the two major themes of ancient Chinese astronomy, which constituted an eternal Chinese agenda for bringing Heaven and Man into a harmonious unity. In this talk I will give an overview of ancient Chinese astronomy in three major respects: instruments, calendar-making, and observation of celestial phenomena.