3,500-year-old Wonders of the World
Nanjing; Zhongshan; Purple Mountain (Zijinshan Observatory)
The Purple Mountain Observatory contains astronomical instruments dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The modern observatory began operating in 1934 and is still actively involved in research today.
For most, a visit to the observatory will compliment a hike or ride up or down Purple Mountain. The cable-car ride up the mountain is one of the longest in the world - about 30 minutes - and is thoroughly enjoyable. Once you have arrived, it only takes about 30-45 minutes to observe the instruments and enjoy the view from the observatory.
These wonders of the world are some of the oldest and most accurate astronomical observatory instruments in existence. They are especially noteworthy because many of them were created more than 3,500 years ago when the Western Countries had little or no knowledge of such things.
When the Western Forces invaded China at the end of the opium era in the late 1800s and early 1900, they had never seen such things as these. And, as the Europeans were fond of doing, they destroyed and plundered the temples in Beijing and Nanjing and took all these instruments back to Europe with them. They were returned to China after the First World War as part of the Treaties.
Here below is a brief description of some of these instruments and their functions, as well as some photos.
This instrument was used to measure the horizontal coordinates of celestial bodies. A duplicate copy was made by the Qing Government in the early 20th Century.
Several Chinese from around 25 A.D. to 400 A.D. built this kind of instrument. It was used to identify the positions of stars and constellations and to demonstrate the daily motions of celestial bodies.
In 1900, the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded Beijing and all the astronomical instruments and data kept in the ancient observatory were plundered. This globe was duplicated by the Qing Dynasty Government in 1903.
It is three Qing chi (0.96m) in diameter and there are 1449 stars on it. The names of the stars and the divisions of the constellations have followed the ancient Chinese methods. The constellations inside the Southern Polar Circle were introduced from the West.
A principal instrument for determining the positions of celestial bodies in ancient China. It was originally made by Luo XiaHong around 104 B.C.
This instrument was cast in 1437 during the Ming Dynasty, and consisted of three sets of rings, from which the equatorial ecliptic and horizontal coordinates of celestial bodies could be measured. On those rings, scales of 365, 25 and 100 divisions were graduated. These scale systems possess distinguishing features of the ancient astronomy of China.
This instrument was plundered by German troops and taken to Berlin, when the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded Beijing in 1900, and it was returned to China in 1920.
The Gnomon is the most ancient astronomical instrument here. It had already been in use at the turn of the Yin-Zhou Dynasties more than 3000 years ago.
The horizontal plate lying along the North-South axis is named 'Gui', while the vertical straight pole standing to the South is named 'Biao'. At noon, Biao would project its shadow on the central line of Gui. The length of the shadow would be greatest on the Winter Solstice and shortest on the Summer Solstice. Therefore one could determine the solstice and the twenty-four Chinese solar terms from the length of the shadows.
In addition, according to the variation period of the shadow's length, the number of days in a tropical year was also obtained (365.25 days). This instrument was cast in 1437 during the Ming Dynasty and renovated during the Qing Dynasty in 1644 A.D.
This instrument was simplified and improved by Guo Shou Jing (1231-1316), on the basis of the Armillary Sphere. It was used to measure both the euatorial and horizontal coordinates of celestial objects without interference from each other. A sundial was added later.
This piece was made in 1437, and was taken away to France when the Allied Forces invaded Beijing. It was returned in 1905.
Return to Index|