In the Museum Garden a number of exhibited items can be found. Among these, stones dating from the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 211 AD), finds made during excavations in Nanyang, in Henan Province. Above and Left : the Constellation of the Green Dragon, with above it a moon. The spots on the moon, sea's or marae, are depicted as a rabbit and a toad. The Green Dragon is the constellation of the eastern quarter of the moon-cycle.
The below stone-carved chart of the Heavens was found at the same site in Henan Province. It explains the Han-Chinese theory of how the solar eclipse was caused (read the photographed official description).
During the Han Dynasty much progress was made, both in instruments and in theory of the Universe.
The Observatory Watch Tower as seen from the small Garden. The museum has only a small garden, but its a very quiet and tranquil one. A number of small Trees, some grass and walkways combine to make a modest display.
After buying a ticket (see Beijing Home) one enters a small court-yard. To the Left are the Museum Square and its Halls. The Observatory Garden looms ahead and to the Right are the Stairs leading up to the Platform and the Instruments. This Observatory is a Nationally Recognized Cultural Heritage. A National Observatory since the year 1442 AD of the Ming Dynasty, the Beijing Ancient Observatory has been the Headquarters of the Chinese Astronomical Society (BAO) and predecessors until the mid 1950's. This Chinese Astronomical Society has a long history of exchanged contacts with scientists world-wide and is still doing so. As such, The Society has always been seen by the Chinese Government as being on the forefront of international exchange, including with the West, and has been renowned.
With the Astronomical Society relocating to another site, the available Traditional Halls of the Observatory Complex were turned into what they are today. An extensive museum displaying a wealth of Chinese Astronomical History.
As depicted on the Drawn Map-Plaque : the observatory lies in the north-east corner of the complex. The garden lies in the south-east corner. Most of the space is occupied by the Observatories' Traditional Buildings housing the Museum. Both the Garden, the Square, 2 Halls, East & West Wing are part of the Museum's Display. Here is a short Tour.
Inscription on Gate declaring the Ancient Observatory a Cultural Heritage under Governement protection.
There are also a number of other instruments on display at the Garden, such as an ancient sundial, and some earlier Ming Observation Instruments. The Later Ming and Ching instruments were made after direct contact with the West was established and foreign knowledge started to permeate China. During that time French Jesuits managed to impress Emperor Zheng Tong (reign 1436 - 1450 AD) with their indeed extrordinary skills, and he invited them to stay on at his court and work with Chinese scientist. Since the Jesuits were given control of the Court Observatory, Chinese Astronomy after this date was heavily influenced by European Science. The
instruments from a later date, installed on the
Observatory Platform, were all designed by
and made on instructions from the Jesuits.
As has become clear from the Henan Excavations, the hallmark 4 animal theory of the Lunar Quadrants was already well-developped during the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago.
Back at the Courtyard, the point of entry, one
is once again confronted with the massive Watchtower. Once part of the City Walls, this
point marks the Eastern border of the Ancient
City of Beijing. The Capital to the Emperor and heart of his Empire. The Gate through is massive and gives one a sense of how small one might have felt entering the City on foot during ancient Times.
their gate-passages strongly resemble underground tunnels. The Tian'anMen
ofcourse isn't any less Impressive.
Dating from the Qing (Ching) Dynasty, the Museum Pavilions are built in a classical Chinese style. A classical Chinese Round Gate (Men) gives access to a classical square courtyard , the Courtyard being surrounded by the two main halls and two connecting wings.
Even though newly renovated in 1983, the museum buildings still hold some of Their ancient Ming splendor.
The Courtyard normally serves as Part of the Museum and has some Large Bronze Instruments on Display.
However, as our visit is off-season, the Bronzes have been moved indoors to protect them from the bad elements during Beijing's harsh winter.
All that is left to see is their peddestals and an empty courtyard vaguely reminiscent of the Ming Tombs in ChangPing District north west of Beijing proper.
To learn more about China's Astronomical history and achievements we have no choice
but must move inside one of the Museums' Halls for a look.
Inside the Museum we find a closer description of the rich history of the Chinese Observation of the Heavens. In text, photo and object we are taken through a 1000's years old timeline of thought, observation and philosophy. Starting with the Ancient Chin-Dynasty ( 1115 AD -1234 AD )(Jin), the visitor is taken through a complete Chinese Astronomical Timeline. The Yuan- and Ming-Dynasty years are highlighted and the museums' story ends shortly after the fall of the Qing (Ching) Dynasty.
As is explained in the exhibition, early Chinese Astronomers made a number of succesful observations and deductions, some of them holding considerable value even today. The Imperial Observatories have made a large contribution to this History.
With the JianguoMen Observatory being the Main One, more than one Imperial Observatory existed, with 6 of them set up in the City of Beijing. Another important Imperial Observatory remained located at Purple Hills Observatory, in Nanjing , South-Eastern China.
During Chinese Astronomical History the first observation and record of Halley's Comet were made. It was in July of the the year 613 BC (Tang Dynasty) that a bright star was seen suddenly seen shining near the Big Dipper. It was visible even during daytime.
The mentioning of "The Book of Spring and Autumn" refers to the Imperial Archives of all astronomical observations made. As the might of the Emperor , his "Heavenly mandate", was traditionally believed directly derived from the Great Heavens, the seasons and astronomical observations were in integral part of Court Life.
The stars, the moon and other heavenly signs were of vital symbolic and ritual value to all Chinese, including the Emperor.
During the Dynastic Years it was common practice for the Imperial Administration to summarise volumes of knowledge and occurences. These books were then stored in the extensive Imperial Archives, kept mainly at the Gugong or Imperial Palace.
The "Book of Spring and Autumn" contains all Chinese Astronomical Observations made between at least 613 BC and the year 1911 AD when the Last Qing Emperor Xuan Tong (Suen Tung) , better known as Pu Yi, abdicated and the 1st Republic of China was born under leadership of Dr. Sun Yat Sen.
Halley and other Comets. Ancient chinese drawings depict what they once looked like appearing in the Sky.
Above: photos and objects from excavation sites around China. It is unclear whether these are burial mounds or simply old disused eroded Observation Sites that are now excavated.
A Special place at the exhibition has been reserved for early Yuan Dynasty Astronomer Wang Xun. A founding father of the early Yuan Dynasty Observatory just North of here he was a designer of early observational instruments. The instruments that were designed by him and a colleague, Guo Shoujin, for the Imperial Observatory were in use for over 500 years.
During this Time they were instrumental in founding a 500 year Observational Tradition.
Only at a much later Time, during the 15th and 16th century new Chinese Instruments were added, such as the waterclock and the GuiBao.
After the arrival of the European Jesuits the whole Observatory was overhauled and a completely new set of European-influences Instruments were added ( to be exact - the Jesuit Scientist regarded the chinese instruments as totally obsolete and many were destroyed as junk. New Jesuit european design instruments were designed,produced and installed by the Jesuits, who where by then Masters of the Imperial Observatory but remained somewhat at odds with the Emperor & Court. Much later the opium troubles would mean trouble for the Jesuits and the arriving missionaries (Read - History Ming Dynasty ) ).
As we have seen in the Garden, during Han Dynasty Days much progress on both observation and theory of the Universe was made. With its astronomical experience of 100's of years the Han scientist managed to create new theories and forge ahead in designing new instruments and predicting the Heavens.
During this Time the (apperently) outstanding Astromomer Zhang Heng was twice the director of the ( Imperial ) astronomical bureau and also directed work at the Lindai Observatory at Nanjing. Unfortunatly the exhibition does not mention his greatest achievements among which his Famous Water-driven seismograph.
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As mentioned, during the 17th Century European Jesuit-scientists had managed to establish firm contact with China and the Court of its Ming Emperor. For this reason all later Chinese Astronomy was influenced heavily by European Science and Knowledge.
Around the year 1660 AD the Jesuits, among which a brilliant young Belgian Priest named Father Verbient, were given control of the Observatory and expanded their work with Chinese Scientists. During this Time, between the years 1662 and 1722 AD (Kangxi Reign), Verbiest was put in charge of introducing european systems of astronomical measurements and instrumentation to the Imperial Astronomical Bureau. He then designed a number of 6 new Astronomical Instruments for the Qing Court. The instruments constructed in the period between 1669 and 1673 under his guidance were mounted on the Observatory Platform, where they (copies) can be found today. Later, in 1715 AD and in 1744 AD, two more Ming Instruments were added.
In the period following the Boxer Uprising in 1900 AD a Number of the Verbient Instruments were looted by French and German Invaders. After the 18 September incident of 1932, when the Japanese started their full-scale aggresion against China, more instruments were removed to Nanjing for safekeeping as important cultural relics. However, all of them have been returned into Chinese Hands today.
The Museums Exhibition continues at the Observatory Platform.
- the Museum and Garden -
The Museums' Ground Floor exhibitions end with a collection of Late Qing and Ming Dynasty astronomical instruments. Among these are beautifully crafted bronzes with sometimes interesting detail , designed and crafted by Chinese Scientists.
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"Ancient Chinese Inventions"
( no longer available )
Above: A map and photos of the other Imperial Observatories located in Beijing during the Ming and mainly Qing Dynasties. In the lower row of photos one can easily recognise the
Altogether the Main Exhibitions entitled "Notes of Astronomical Phenomena" at Ziwei Hall summarize the superior and early knowledge of Astronomy in China by displaying the earliest recorded Comets, Super novea,
Sun Maculae, solar eclipses, new stars and meteors on a variety of star maps and listed in Astronomical Records. Among the treasures of the Museum - the official court registry for all Heavenly Occurences, as well as a copy of the first monography on astronomy, know as the "Divination of 5 Planets". The Eastern Hall of the Museum carries on the exhibitions with a complete history and evolution of the Court Observatory of Beijing. Last but not least, the West Room offers a grand collection of Chinese Calendars with explanations.
Above: the Bronze Bust of Wang Xun at the Observatory Museum.