Astronomy emerged quite early in ancient China. On some relics from the Neolithic period there were astronomical signs and symbols. Sima Qian (c. 145 0r 135 BC-?), the great historian of the Western Han Dynasty, writes in his Shi ji (Historical Records): The Yellow Emperor made observations of stars and worked out a calendar. He established the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth, and understood their correlations, and he solved the problems of leap months and leap days in the calendar. He divided all things on earth under the heaven and the God into five groups, and brought about their orderly operations, free from disturbances and confusion. Therefore the people believed in his rule. and the God praised his wisdom. He showed high respect to the people and the God, though they were quite different. As a result the people had the blessing of the heaven, and enjoyed an affluent life.
This sowed the seed of the great concept of "integration of nature and man and formed the ideological basis for astronomical undertakings. Soon after Yellow Emperor, a post of Huozheng was established by imperial court to take charge of astronomical and calendrical affairs, who was
to make close observations of the Mars, so as to direct farming activities according to the positions of the planet. The duties of ancient officials in charge of astronomical affairs were to observe the movements of the sun, the moon and stars, forecast solar and lunar eclipses, determine the times of the solar terms, and work out calendars. With diligence, wisdom and perseverance, they made great contributions to astronomical observations and formulation of calendars in ancient China.
What is most valuable is that Shi Shen provided values of the coordinates of the 120 standard stars in 120 groups of stars, including their equatorial coordinates. The coordinates of the twenty-eight lunar constellations were expressed in the ascensional differences of their representative stars as arranged along the equator from west to east, and the angle between the fixed star and the celestial pole. As for other fixed stars in the constellations, their coordinates were the ascensional differences between them and the representative star, and the angles between them and the celestial pole. This shows Shi Shen's star catalogue adopted the equatorial coordinate system, or the right ascension and the declination to show the position of any celestial body on the celestial sphere. Shi Shen's star catalogue was completely expressed in numerals. The adoption of the equatorial coordinate system was a unique contribution by ancient Chinese to world astronomy, as ancient astronomers in the West all used the ecliptic coordinate system to mark the positions of fixed stars.
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