Book on the Division of Geographical Boundaries by Reference to the Stars


Ancient Chinese astronomy was used to make prognostications about human affairs by pairing celestial bodies with states, counties, prefectures, and people. Predictions could thereby be made about favorable developments or disasters that might befall a particular locality or person based on movements of the sun, the moon, or stars. This methodology was called fen ye (division of geographical boundaries by reference to the stars). The methodology and the theory on which it was based existed since the Han dynasty (circa 206 BC–220 AD), and over the centuries the system became more complicated and the division of astronomical and geographical boundaries more complex. During the Tang dynasty (618–907), the system was revised, and it was adopted and used in later centuries. Da Ming qing lei tian wen fen ye zhi shu (Book on the division of geographical boundaries with reference to the stars) is a rare book, written early in the Ming dynasty by Liu Ji, and presented to the first Ming emperor, Hongwu, in the 17th year of his reign (1384). The arrangement of the compilation is unique, as it attempts to demarcate geographical divisions with reference to the 12 stars in relation to counties and prefectures designated by the Ming Bureau of Astronomy. Its contents are similar to that of an earlier work, Tang shu tian wen zhi (Astronomical treatises in the records of the Tang dynasty). Based on the astronomical treatises in Tang shu (The book of Tang) of circa 941 and Jin shu (The book of Jin) of 648, the author introduces each of the administrative divisions in relation to the positions of the 12 stars. The meaning and origin of these star positions were based on the 28 lunar mansions, and they were named after great personages, historical nations, and bird totems. Because Hongwu had established his capital in Nanjing, Jiangsu, in southeast China, the author began with the star position Douniu Wuyue (Fighting bull of Wu and Yue states) and the corresponding geographical area of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Some local histories were even written using this system, which explains why this particular title was included in Xu xiu Si ku quan shu (Supplement to the catalogue of the Siku Collection) as a geographical work under the history section. The work is of great historical value, as it provides information on the evolution of the administrative divisions during the late Yuan and the early Ming dynasties.  It has 24 juan, in ten volumes.

Last updated: January 3, 2018