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Lot number: 35921
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Publisher: [Wang Zhiyuan after Huang Shang]
Title: T'ien wên t'u [A Map of the Stars]
Published: China, c.1890-1910, but engraved in 1247

Size: 72.0 x 39.4 inches.
183.0 x 100.0 cm.
Colouring: Uncoloured.
Condition:  Ink rubbing taken from a stele. A rubbing from ca. 1890/1910 of a thirteenth-century astronomical stele from Wen Miao Temple (Confucian Temple of Literati) Suzhou, Kiangsu, China, prepared for the instruction of a future emperor. The stele survives in the Suzhou Museum of Inscribed Steles.
With the usual worm holes, filled in and recently mounted as a hanging scroll and actually ready to hang.

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The chart was engraved on stone in 1247 by Wang Zhiyuan, but it is based upon an earlier drawing by Huang Shang, made c. 1190-1193 at the beginning of Shaoxi in the Southern Song Dynasty, while he was entrusted by the emperor as his son's tutor.

The caption at the top consists of three old=style ideographs. Beginning at the right they are: t'ien, "heaven"; wên "literary" or "scolarly"; and t'u "map", "chart" or "plan". Herbert A. Giles defies T'ien wên t'u as "A map of the stars".

The stars and lines appear white on a black background. According to Ian Ridpath: "The planisphere depicts the sky from the north celestial pole to 55 degrees south. Radiating lines, like irregular spokes, demarcate the 28 xiu (akin to the Western Zodiac system). These lines extend from the southern horizon (the rim of the chart) to a circle roughly 35 degrees from the north celestial pole, within this circle lie the circumpolar constellations, i.e. those that never set as seen from the latitude of observation.

Two intersecting circles represent the celestial equator and ecliptic, which the Chinese called the Red Road and the Yellow Road respectively. An irregular band running across the chart outlines the Milky Way, called the River of heaven – even the dividing rift through Cygnus can be made out. All 1464 stars from Chen Zhuo's catalogue are supposedly included (an inscription on the planisphere tallies the total as 1565, but this is clearly an ancient Chinese typographical error [and a recent count suggests that the stele depicts a total of 1436 stars]), not all of the stars show up on the rubbing, however."

The planisphere was reproduced and discussed in a rare book entitled The Soochow Astronomical Chart, by W. Carl Rufus and Hsing-Chih Tien, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, 1945. A copy of this book is in the Foundation’s library. In 1945, the stela was still located at Suzhou (‘Soochow’ in the old spelling) and had not yet been moved to Purple Mountain. However, the stela continues to be known as the ‘Suzhou’ planisphere, or astronomical chart. It was Joseph Needham who classified the chart as a ‘planisphere’, since which time that term has been adopted for it. Needham used the older spelling of Suchow, which is however newer than the spelling ‘Soochow’ used by Rufus and Tien. Suzhou is the modern spelling using the Mainland Chinese Pinyin system of transliteration.

Rufus and Tien in their 1945 book published an English translation of the full text inscribed on the stela, together with an extensive astronomical analysis. Joseph Needham’s discussion of the planisphere is to be found in Volume 3 of Science and Civilisation in China (Cambridge University Press, 1959), pages 278-9, 281, and 550. The main discussion is found in the Astronomy section of that volume, and a reproduction of the planisphere itself, but without its accompanying text, appears as Figure 106 on page 280. (Needham took his illustration from a reproduction of the illustration appearing in Rufus and Tien’s book, so it is less clear than theirs.)The text below the chart gives instruction to the new emperor with information on the birth of the cosmos, the size and composition of both the heavens and the earth, the poles, the celestial equator (the Red Road) and the ecliptic (the Yellow Road), the sun, the moon, and the moon's path (the White Road), the fixed stars, the planets, the Milky Way (or the River of heaven), the twelve branches, the twelve positions, and the kingdoms and regions.

The main text on the stela commences in this manner:
‘Before the Great Absolute had unfolded itself the three primal essences, Heaven, Earth, and Man, were involved within it. This was termed original chaos because the intermingled essences had not yet separated. When the Great Absolute unfolded, the light and pure formed Heaven, the heavy and impure formed Earth, and the mingled pure and impure formed Man. The light and pure constitute spirit, the heavy and impure constitute body, and the union of body and spirit constitute man.’
The lengthy and detailed text preserved on the stela is an extraordinary major work of Chinese philosophy and early science.

It is difficult to ascribe a precise date to the rubbing, there were periods in the seventeenth century where rubbing's were popular with the early Jesuits in the Kangxi court, and again in the eighteenth century in the Kangxi through early Qianlong courts, but equally in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during European archaeological explorations of the region.
The last rubbing's were made in the 1990s and the Chinese Government at that time authorized ten rubbings to be made from the carved stone, nine went to Chinese museums and institutions, and one is now in The History of Chinese Science and Culture Foundation.

Whilst several institutions, such as the Suzhou Museum of Inscribed Steles and the national Library of China in Beijing, and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin hold similar early rubbing's, this particular rubbing is very rare on the market, currently one other example is for sale with Daniel Crouch Rare books.


See more about stone rubbing at www.lib.berkeley.edu/EAL/stone/rubbings.html

Reference : Rufus, W.C. and Hsing-Chih Tien, 'The Shoochow Astronomical Chart', Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1945; Ridpath, Ian, 'Charting the Chinese Sky (www.ianridpath.com/startales/chinese.htm)'
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