Essentials on Astronomy, Written in Rhymed Prose


Tian wen jing yi fu (Essentials on astronomy, written in rhymed prose) is attributed to Yue Xizai, a late-Yuan dynasty manager at the Astrological Commission. The date of its publication is unknown. At the front is a handwritten inscription by Li Wentian (1834‒95), dated 1874, which points out that Si ku quan shu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) listed the title in four juan, but this copy has five juan. This is a Yuan edition, as its title contains the term guan gou (manager), which was an official title during the Yuan dynasty. The work contains discussions on the sun, the moon, and seven heavenly bodies and stars, and it ends with partial and total eclipses. The compilation format is similar to that of a compendium; entries open with a heading, and the explanation follows in the next indented paragraph. For example, juan 1 begins with a quotation, as a heading, from Song shi yi wen zhi (Monograph on literature and art of the history of the Song dynasty), followed by a lengthy explanation in the following paragraph. Juan 1 contains references to historical figures, such as Han historian Liu Xiang (circa 77‒6 BC), and works, such as Jiyuan li (Jiyuan calendar) and Tang shu li zhi (Calendar chapter in Tang history). Juan 2 discusses Jupiter (which represents spring and benevolence, one of the five virtues), Mars (attends to summer and propriety), Saturn (represents later summer and faithfulness), Venus (autumn and righteousness), and the Morning Star (winter and wisdom). Juan 3 discusses the three enclosures: Purple Forbidden, Supreme Palace, and Heavenly Market, as well as the 28 mansions: Horn, Neck, Root, Room, Heart, Tail, Winnowing Basket, Dipper, the Ox, the Girl, Emptiness, Rooftop, Encampment, Wall, Legs, Bond, Stomach, Hairy Head, Net, Turtle Beak, Three Stars, Well, Ghost, Willow, Star, Extended Net, Wings, and the Chariot. Also included are the auxiliary stars, such as Lock, Changing Room, and Resting Palace. The work includes references to historical figures and works, such as Li Xun of the Eastern Han dynasty, Yuan ming bao (The primary mandate included in the spring and autumn annals), Chun qiu wei (The interpretation of the spring and autumn annals), Hou Han zhi (Book of the late Han), and Sui shu tian wen zhi (Chapter on astronomy in the Book of Sui). Juan 4 discusses the Eastern, Northern, Western, and Southern systems, each associated with a compass direction, into which the 28 mansions are grouped. Juan 5 discusses distance measurement of qi and astrological projections. It includes discussions on the divinatory techniques to predict the future. It is written in rhymed prose. This copy, one of the National Central Library treasures, is a facsimile edition of a Ming handwritten copy. Its pages have narrow black lines separating the columns. On the first page there are two seal impressions in red. They are the rectangular “Seal of the documents and records collected by the Sino-British Boxer Indemnity Management Board” and the square-shaped “Book collection of the National Central Library.” The complete text is presented here, but this edition does not have the prefaces or table of contents.

Last updated: November 9, 2017