China’s long affair with the universe: Part 2 of 2

The Milky Way Maid says that the (ancient) Chinese focused more on the constellations, creating one of the earliest star maps ever found.

Chinese astronomers gave distinctive names to familiar Western constellations. For example, the Big Dipper was called The Plow. The North Star was Bei Ji. Another constellation was called the Winnowing Basket.

From the 16th century B.C. to the end of the 19th Century A.D., almost every (Chinese) dynasty appointed officials who were charged with the sole task of observing and recording the changes in the heavens.

However, the Chinese were not alone in mapping the heavens. 

Ancient cultures in the West studied the skies too. The “Nebra Sky Disc”, discovered in Europe, dates to about 1,600 BC. 

National Geographic says the Nebra Sky Disc is the oldest depiction of the night sky in history.  It is a hundred years older than the oldest images found in ancient Egypt.

The Nebra Sky Disc may be the first representation of the universe in human history.

However, in China about 4,000 years ago, the oldest astronomical instrument known to man appeared. It was merely a bamboo pole planted in the ground so that the movement of the sun could be observed from the direction and length of the shadow of the pole. Source: – Astronomy and Mathematics

Historians consider that the Chinese were the most persistent and accurate observers of celestial phenomena.

Return to or start with China’s long affair with the universe: Part 1 or discover Chinese inventions.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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