Huang Shang, Wang Chih-Yuan


T'ien wên t'u, La mappa delle stelle di Suchow, Cina 1193-1247






Huang Shang

Wang Chih-Yuan



T'ien wên t'u, La mappa delle stelle di Suchow, Cina 1193-1247



Il planisfero celeste che presento in questa pagina è una rara copia di una stampa per "rabbing" su carta realizzata in Cina tra il 1890 ed il 1910 che riproduce la volta stellata incisa sulla pietra originale nel 1247 da  Wang Chih-Yuan ma preparata, compreso il testo esplicativo, dal geografo e tutore imperiale Huang Shang nel 1193.


La tavola su carta, cm 183 per 100, è attualmente messa in vendita da

Paulus Swaen Old Maps che la presenta con una pagina che di seguito riproduco:


Description :

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.




Cerchio delle costellazioni circumpolari a 35° di declinazione. Il luogo di osservazione che genera la mappa è pertanto a 55° di latitudine Nord


Si riconosce il Grande Carro nell'Orsa Maggiore


da Ian Ridpath, Charting the Chinese sky:

Le 28 mansioni lunari confinate da raggi che

partendo dal cerchio esterno di declinazione posto a - 55° raggiungono

il cerchio delle costellazioni circumpolari


La mansione numero 1, Jiao, le altre si susseguono in senso orario


Eclittica ed equatore si incontrano all'equinozio autunnale e primaverile  nei nodi omega e gamma

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

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



Celestial charts and globes 


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.



La Tavola




Note Bibliografiche

Il planisfero di Suchow è stato fatto oggetto di studio nel  saggio  di W. Carl Rufus e Hsing-Chih Tien, The Soochow Astronomical Chart, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, 1945 che può essere letto alla  pagina che indico per cortesia di Hathi Trust Digital Library:


Informazioni sul planisfero e sulla rappresentazione del cielo nella cultura antica cinese possono essere lette in questi siti 

dedicati alla cartografia celeste:

Ian Ridpath, Charting the Chinese sky



a cura di IDP, International Dunhuang Project

History of Astronomy in China



La stessa carta celeste, con pochissime differenze,  è rappresentata in

Yunyou Sanren 雲遊散人 e Huang Shang 黃裳

Huntian yitong xingxiang quantu 渾天壹統星象全圖 [Complete Celestial Chart] , China 1822


La zona del Grande Carro nell'Orsa Maggiore nelle due mappe 


La tavola viene esaminata anche nel monumentale lavoro di

Joserph Needham, Scienza e civiltà in Cina, Volume 3*, La matematica e le scienze del cielo e della Terra, I. Matematica e astronomia, pag. 340 ss, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino 1985


Puoi leggere anche il seguente articolo dedicato alla prima mappa celeste cinese:

J. M. Bonnet-Bidaud, F. Praderie, S. Whitfield 

The Dunhuang Chinese Sky, VII Sec. d. C., Cina

  (Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 12:39-59,2009)



Claudio Filippo Grimaldi, Min Mingwo Dexian

Fang-sing-tou-kiai: Explication de les Tables de toutes les étoiles, Pechino 1711

















Carta celeste e del  Sistema Solare, Cina 1723 circa



Gustav Schlegel

Uranographie Chinoise, Atlas Céleste Chinois et Grec d’après le Tien-Youen Li-Li, La Haye e Leyde 1875





Jean-François Foucquet

 Pro confirmatione systematis temporum propheticorum, hoc planispherium est in duplici, nempe in recto et in verso situ contemplandum. Hémisphère céleste boréal avec légende en chinois et annotations manuscrites en latin, Francia 1722 circa




Nota conclusiva:

Per apprezzare lo spostamento delle stelle a seguito del fenomeno della precessione degli equinozi confronta la parte centrale della tavola cinese ( che di seguito ho opportunamente ruotata affinché il  coluro equinoziale appaia esattamente da sinistra a destra) con una carta celeste del 1820: .

Tra le date di produzione delle due carte c'è una differenza di 630 anni, pari al 2,45% del ciclo completo di precessione degli equinozi di 25.720 anni, che equivale allo spostamento di 8,82° di tutte le stelle intorno al polo eclittico.

Lascio al lettore l'esercizio di identificare nelle due tavole la posizione del polo eclittico e di tracciare il cerchio intorno ad esso avente come raggio la distanza dal polo equatoriale (il centro delle due tavole). Il cerchio così prodotto è quello sul quale si sposta la proiezione del polo celeste equatoriale a causa del fenomeno della precessione degli equinozi. Identificare su tale cerchio della tavola celeste cinese la stella più vicina alla proiezione del polo equatoriale, identificare quindi, sempre sul perimetro delle stesso cerchio, la posizione della nostra Alfa Ursa Minoris   e verificare se la distanza tra le due stelle sottende un angolo di 8,82°.  









Sull'astronomia cinese, le costellazioni e la rappresentazione del cielo confrontati con il sistema occidentale puoi leggere:




Chrétien-Louis Joseph De Guignes


Planisphère céleste chinois. Partie Septentrionale. Paris 1785

Planisphère céleste chinois. Partie Meridionale, Paris 1785


Mèmoires de Mathematique et de Physique, Présentés a l'Académie Royal des Sciences, Par Divers Savans (Etrangers), Vol 10, Paris 1785