1st Edition

The Foundations of Celestial Reckoning Three Ancient Chinese Astronomical Systems

By Christopher Cullen Copyright 2017
    446 Pages
    by Routledge

    446 Pages
    by Routledge

    The Foundations of Celestial Reckoning gives the reader direct access to the foundational documents of the tradition of calculation created by astronomers of the early Chinese empire between the late second century BCE and the third century CE. The paradigm they established was to shape East Asian thought and practice in the field of mathematical astronomy for centuries to come. It was in many ways radically different from better known traditions of astronomy in other parts of the ancient world. 

    This book includes full English translations of the first three systems of mathematical astronomy adopted for use by imperial astronomical officials, together with introductory material explaining the origin and nature of each system, and a general introduction to the work as a whole. The translations, which are accompanied by the original Chinese text, give a consistent rendering of all technical terms, and include detailed explanatory notes. The text in which the second of the three systems is found also includes a unique collection of documents compiled around 178 CE by two experts in the field, one of whom was the author of the third system translated in this book. Using material transcribed from government archives of the two preceding centuries, these scholars carefully document and review controversies and large-scale official debates on astronomical matters up to their own time. Nothing equivalent in detail and clarity has survived from any other ancient culture. The availability of the totality of this material in English opens new perspectives to all historians of pre-modern astronomy.

    Chapter 1. General Introduction

    A. The world of early imperial China

    B. What was a li 曆, and what did it do?

    C. How did a li work?

    D. Dates

    E. How was a li calculated?

    F. How were the data of a li determined?

    G. A note on translating computational procedures

    H. Arrangement of the text

    I. Works consulted


    Chapter 2. The Triple Concordance astronomical system: San tong li 三統曆

    I. Introduction

    A. An astronomical system and its creator

    B. Structure of the system

    C. Organisation of the text

    D. Text used

    II. Text, translation and comments

    A. Concordance constants

    B. Sequence Constants

    C. The Five Pacers

    D. Concordance Workings

    E. Sequence Workings

    F. Year Workings

    G. [The Twelve Stations]

    H. The 28 Lodges

    I. [The Nine Roads]

    J. [Concordances and Rule Heads]

    K. APPENDIX 1: Intercalations in theory and practice


    Chapter 3. The Han Quarter Remainder system: Han si fen li 漢四分曆

    I. Introduction

    A. The system and its background

    B. Authorship of the text

    C. Structure of the system

    D. Organisation of the text

    E. Methods of calculation

    F. Text used

    II. Text, translation and comments

    A. Methods for [astronomical] systems

    B. Basic solar and lunar constants

    C. [Lunar eclipse constants]

    D. Procedures for sun and moon

    E. Planetary constants

    F. Planetary Procedures

    G. Planetary Motions

    H. [Months, qi and lodges]

    I. [The solar table]

    J. The system origin

    K. Discussion


    Chapter 4. The Uranic Manifestation astronomical system: Qian xiang li乾象曆

    I. Introduction

    A. Liu Hong and his work


    Christopher Cullen is Emeritus Director of the Needham Research Institute, Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College, and Emeritus Honorary Professor of the University of Cambridge. He is editor of the Needham Research Institute Series (Routledge).

    Christopher Cullen's expert translations and commentaries provide long-needed access to three foundational texts of Chinese astronomy, and an opening to a much wider understanding of an ancient scientific tradition comparable in richness and sophistication to that of the Mesopotamians and Greeks.

    - Alexander Jones, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, USA


    "This book stands out as one of the notable landmarks in the progress of researching on Chinese systems. I highly recommend this important and well-written book for historians of science and all who are interested in Chinese mathematical astronomy."

    - Tang Quan, Xianyang Normal University, Journal for the History of Astronomy, August 2017


    "Cullen has provided another excellent contribution toward making Chinese astronomical texts available to a wider audience and giving the history of Chinese mathematical astronomy its well-deserved place within the general history of non-Western and premodern astronomy."

    - Benno van Dalen, Isis journal, March 2018


     "This volume will be a fundamental for the study of the history of ancient astronomy, not only Chinese, but also Arabic and, because of the transmission of Arabic astronomy to Byzantium in the late period Byzantine."

    - Touwaide, Byzantinische Zeitschrift issue 110 (= 2017/4).