China

Star Lore
in ancient China

As far as volume is concerned, Chinese star lore can absolutely compete with the extensive and colorful constellation myths told by the ancient Greek.

There are, however, significant differences in the ways Greek and Chinese astronomers interpreted the night sky. Ian Ridpath describes the differences:

While the Greek astronomers Hipparchus and Ptolemy were cataloguing the stars as seen from the Mediterranean and dividing them into the patterns that we still know today, Chinese astronomers were developing a completely different celestial tradition in the far east.

If China can be said to have an equivalent of Ptolemy and the star catalogue in the Almagest, it would be Chen Zhuo (c. AD 220Ė280) and the list of over 1400 stars that he compiled. Chen himself post-dates Ptolemy by a century, but in his unnamed catalogue he collated observations by Chinese astronomers who worked several centuries before him, earlier even than the Greek Hipparchus.

As in the west, different sets of constellations were invented by different astronomers, although in China the final selection was fixed much earlier. Chenís catalogue was a synthesis of the work of three previous authorities and their respective followers: Shi Shen and Gan De, who both lived around 300 BC; and Wuxian (or Wu Xian), whose dates are completely uncertain and who might even have been fictional. Shi Shen and his school is credited with 93 constellations, Gan De with 118, and Wuxian with 44, giving a total of 255.

Most of these constellations consisted of only a handful of stars, and some were just a single star; very few of the ancient Chinese constellations contained more than a dozen stars. There were no later additions to the Chinese constellation pantheon after Chenís time, although some of the existing ones were modified.

Source: Ian Ridpath



Azure Dragon of the East



Black Tortoise of the North



White Tiger of the West



Vermilion Bird of the South


Due to the huge volume of Chinese star lore, this section has been split into five parts, sorted alphabetically by the Latin alphabet.

This is still a work in progress. More constellations will be added soon.

Click on any section icon or any constellation name, or click here, to start with part one.



Part 1: A-B



Part 2: C-D



Part 3: E-L



Part 4: M-P



Part 5: R-Z

Andromeda

Antlia

Apus

Aquarius

Aquila

Aries

Cancer

Canes Venatici

Canis Major

Canis Minor

Capricornus

Centaurus

Crux

Eridanus

Gemini

Hydra

Leo

Libra

Lyra

Milky Way

Orion

Pisces

Pleiades

Scorpius

Taurus

Ursa Major

Ursa Minor

Virgo

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