Gridded to the Heavens

Some of the most ancient extant star-maps in the world are those created by the Chinese. The “Suzhou star chart” was commissioned by the Emperor, created by the imperial astronomer Huang Shang, and etched on stone in a stele in central China in the 13th Century. It was  transported to Suzhou in the 13th century.

The ancient Chinese believed  that earth should match heaven, and the emperor was the intermediatry between humankind and the heavens. Some of the world’s most ancient and most accurate star maps have been created in China, where imperial astronomers since the Han Dynasty ( 2 centuries B. C.) have included astronomical maps in the official imperial records. Unusual stellar events like comets or eclipses were believed to herald fortune or misfortune.

Suzhou Inscripted Stone Astronomical Map located in Confucius Temple, Suzhou

The 苏州石刻图,the Suzhou Stone Inscriptions Astronomical Map, records known stars and constellations, and is gridded into 28 ‘lunar mansions’ – a map of the heavens based on the movement of the moon, rather than the solar mapping that forms the basis of the western zodiac. The star map shows the celestial equator, the north celestial pole and the Milky Way, planets and stars such as Antares and Vega.

It was created to instruct the heirs of the Song Dynasty – the emperors were expected to connect with the heavens as they prayed for the country’s prosperity. As invaders from the north spread south, the Song dynasty emperors also fled south to escape, making their new sothern capital at Hangzhou.

The Star Map travelled south at that time also – presumably a long and difficult journey, to come to rest in the Confucius Temple in Suzhou where it still remains.  It’s forbidden to take photos of the steles at a back room of the Confucian Temple, a caretaker shared his  official photos with me.