**Editor's Note: I found a set of loose papers and scrolls deep within the archives of the Buyan Muse Guild. They were notes written by Urania herself, as she collected information for an unwritten book on the Astronomy of the Kingdoms. Throughout these notes, Urania frequently mentions her search for a book, "Zhou bi suan jing". This book was a treatise on Chinese astronomy and mathematics, including details and descriptions of observational astronomy and the relationship of astronomy to statecraft.
Born on Mount Helicon in the far west, Urania was unfamiliar with the languages and cultures of the Kingdoms. So, she used the celestial references familiar to her. When possible, she notes local names for celestial objects. However, she usually refers to stars and constellations by the names known to her. These are indicated by the word "Western" in deference to her place of origin.
Artisan of Kwi-Sin
The Herdsman & the Weaver
I'd heard many variations of this story during my travels in the east. A herdsman and a divine weaver fell in love. The weaver's father was displeased by her love for a mortal. He turned the river that seperated Heaven - the realm of the gods, and Earth - the realm of the mortals, into the Milky Way. Seperated, the two mourned for each other. Seeing the love between them, the weaver's father allows the two to cross the Milky Way once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. They dwell together for a short summer night, only to part again for another year.
I came across an old shepherd in Japan one evening. He told me the story, as we sat at his campfire. When he finished his tale, he pointed at the sky and said, "There is Tanabata, the Weaver, waiting to cross the Milky Way. I followed his arm & saw the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. I tried to determine if he was referring to the star or the constellation, but I could not understand his answer.
I have discovered the Zodiac of these eastern peoples.According to an official I spoke with, everything in the universe can be explained by the interaction of 5 elements: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water. A single year is represented by one of 12 animals AND one of the five elements. This creates a 60 year cycle. A person's birth year is a combination of element and animal. My sisters and I are Fire Horses!
While the Milky Way is believed to be a river, earthly rivers are also identified within the heavens. The Chinese see the constellation Eridanus and call it with the "Yellow River".
Mars shines brightly in the sky and a careful study of its movement reveals it to be different from other stars. We call such wandering stars "planets". The Chinese call Mars "Ying Huo" or "Huo Hsing". It is no wonder that the planet is associated with fire, due to its deep red color.
Great Feast of Pleasure
Every year, the Chinese hold a Great Feast of Pleasure. The princes fill their carts with gifts for the poor. Without human riders, these carts are easy to pull. The constellation I know as Corvus is the heavenly representation of the cart & is appropriately named the "Celestial Cart". These carts are easy to pull as they lack human cargo, so both the cart & constellation are thought to symbolize the wind.
I am familiar with the leonine shape of the constellation Leo. However, the Chinese have combined all the faint stars with the brighter ones of Leo to create a great dragon.
The constellation of Gemini is the heavenly representation of the twins, Castor & Pollux. These two give their names to the brightest stars in the constellation. However, Japanese skywatchers refer to these stars as "cat eyes." When I visited Japan near the Summer Solstice, I noted that the stars were low on the horizon. I had no difficulty imagining the stars as cat's eyes peering over the horizon, glowing as if reflecting light. This sky cat has one gold eye and one silver eye. They called Castor - "Gin Boshi", meaning Silver Star, and Pollux - "Kin Boshi", meaning Golden Star.
While I know that the Pleiades are seven sisters, each represented by a star, others seem to find only six stars. The Japanese saw a small dipper-shaped pattern, which they call "Subaru".
I wasn't pleased when I was working with the Court Astronomer this evening. I was showing him the constellation of Virgo and told him of its origin. Why he found this funny, I do not know. At least I managed to pry a tiny piece information out of the old man. He wouldn't tell me if those stars were part of a constellation. I did find out that the second-brightest star, Gamma Virginis, represents the Chinese High Minister of State.
I had my laugh at the Court Astronomer today. I had drawn a representation of the constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin during our meeting. I tried to explain about dolphins, but the Court Astronomer seemed excited because he recognized the pattern. Once we had compared the rising and setting of the two constellations, he seemed very happy to find a familar pattern. I learned that instead of a dolphin, this group of stars represents two gourds. One is a good gourd, the other is rotten. I couldn't help but laugh at the image of giant celestial orbs suspended in the night sky.
I met an odd little man near the village of Kyongju (in Korea) today. He claimed to be a seer with knowledge beyond that of his fellow villagers. That he recognized me in my mortal form was unusual, so I took the time to speak with him.
That night, he took me from the village to a small hill. I noted a few crude marks indicating the cardinal directions, as well as the rising and setting points of the sun at the solstices. While answering my questions about its use by local astronomers, a strange change came over him. His voice deepened and his eyes unfocused.
In this state, he told me that an astronomical observatory would be built here and named "Chomsong-dae". In the far future, Chomsong-dae would be regarded by many as the oldest observatory still standing. In the dirt, he carefully drew a tower and indicated that it stood 30 feet high. He remarked that a stone platform rested upon the top, with its sides aligned precisely along the north, south, east & west. Scholars would argue, he said, about the purpose of a stone grid on this platform and if it was used to support instruments to plot the positions of heavenly objects. Some scholars would even question if it was used for more than infrequent celestial occasions, such as the appearance of a comment.
When I asked him about the truth of this yet unbuilt tower, he merely smiled. I knew better than to ask any more as it was the same smile Janus would give my sister Clio when she would ask him about future events.
Lunar New Year
As is found in many other cultures, the Chinese base their calendar on the phases of the Moon. A year has 12 months of 29 or 30 days, for a length of 354 days. Since the seasons are not dictated by the Moon, this calendar does not always match. To fix this, the Chinese add a month or two once in a while to have the calendar match the seasons. The Chinese celebrate the New Year on the second new Moon after the winter solstice. The first month of the year, which begins today, is Li Chun.
The Chinese have a long history of astronomical observation. Their archives are an amazing collection of astronomical information, that I'm sure will be used for a thousand years to come. However, some of their records are somewhat odd. I found records of a solar eclipse that were over 1,500 years old. While they noted the disappearance of the sun, they did not explain how it was obscured by the Moon. Instead, the records told of a giant celestial dragon was that devoured the sun. When I mentioned this record to the Court Astronomer, he told me that his ancestors would try to scare the dragon away whenever an eclipse occurred. Of course, they were always successful.
The Ming Tang
The primary duty of the Han emperor is to maintain the harmony between earth and heaven, so that affairs on earth are in order. One way he does this is through a ceremonial building in his palace, the "Ming Tang" -- the "House of the Calendar", or "Hall of Light". The foundation of ths building was a square platform aligned with the cardinal directions. The roof had the shape of a cone. This square floor represents earth, while the round roof represents heaven. The shape of the building reminded me of a tortoise. When I mentioned this to the Court Astronomer, he laughed and told me this similarity was intentional.
Within the Ming Tang, the cardinal directions are represented by "xiang"; animal images. To the east is the Blue (or Green) Dragon (Chung Ryong, Seiryu); in the South is the Red Bird (Ju Jak, Suzaku), in the West is the White Tiger (Baekho, Byakko), and in the North is the Black Warrior (Hyun-mu, Genbu). The floor of the Ming Tang is divided by two walls in each direction, creating nine square rooms of equal size. This plan refers to the Grand Triad of Heaven, Earth, and Man.
The corner rooms of the Ming Tang have two outside openings and the outer rooms each have one. This equals 12 openings, one for each month of the year. Decrees and proclamations of imperial importance are read to the populace through these openings. Each side of the Ming Tang represents 3 months - a season. At the beginning of every month, the Emperor and his court move to the next opening in the eight outer rooms of the Ming Tang. The Court Astonomer told me that the constellation of the Big Dipper reflects the Emperor's progress through the Ming Tang. When the Emperor is in the Eastern rooms, the handle of the Big Dipper in the evening points towards the East. The Emperor is in the East in the spring, the South in the summer, the West in the fall and the North in winter.
The decorations in each room of the Ming Tang reflect the season in which the room is used. The rooms of Spring are are decorated in blues and green, and dragons are prominent in much of the artwork. The star Antares in the constellation Scorpius is believed to be the heart of Chung Ryong, the Blue Dragon. Antares rises above the eastern horizon after sunset in the Spring, so Chung Ryong is associated with this season. The color of the Emperor's clothes would also indcate the season. Blue-green signifies the new growth of Spring, red represents the heat of summer, white is for the Autumn and black is symbolic of Winter.
Regardless of the room, in all ceremonies the Emperor always faces to the south. This is the direction of the fullest sun. The Court Astronmer told me that the Emperor does this because he represented in the heavens by Polaris, the north pole star. It didn't take me long to puzzle out that if I were to stand on Polaris, no matter which way I faced, I would always look to the south. As Polaris, the Emperor is at the center, with the empire rotating around him like the stars in the sky.
Journal, 1st Sun, Li Chun (New Year); Year of the Dragon
The celebration is immense. Throngs of people are exchanging gifts, dancing about, and celebrating the New Year. There is an abundance of music and merrymaking in the streets; villages are decorated in bright red colors. Today is the start of the Year of the Dragon. The New Year is a time for rebirth, for settling old scores, and for general celebration.
The parallels and stark contrasts in astronomy between East and West are fascinating. The heavens above transcend all recorded time, and the divine constellations each guide our respective cultures on our ways, even through different perceptions. I am sure that someday I will find the Zhou bi suan jing to help unlock the secrets of the stars.