Poem by Zhang Ji 張繼


"Anchored at Night by Maple Bridge"

As the moon sets the crows cry, and frosty mist fills the sky,
The riverside maples and fires of fishermen reflect in travel weary eyes.
From the Cold Mountain temple outside the walls of Gusu,
The sounds of late night bells reach the ferries.

Zhang Ji 張繼 (8th century)

Poem by Tao Qian 陶潛


"Drinking Wine"

I built my hut in the worldly realm,
yet there are no noisy carriages.
I ask you, how could this be so?
When the mind is faraway, where you are becomes remote.
Under the eastern hedge picking chrysanthemums,
At ease I see the southern mountain.
The mountain mists are elegant in the evening,
and the birds flying above return together.
In this is the true meaning.
If I were to explain it,
I would have already forgotten the words.

Tao Qian 陶潛 (365–427)

Indian Astronomers at the Tang Court

In a Buddhist astrological text translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra 不空 in 759 (the Xiuyao Jing 宿曜經) there is the following remark added in the running commentary written in 764 by his disciple Yang Jingfeng 楊景風. It highlights the presence and influence of Indian astronomers in China during the middle of the imperial Tang dynasty (619-907). It reads as follows:

Yang Jingfeng states, “Those wanting to know the positions of the five planets can predict what constellation they will be in based on the Indian calenderical methods. Now there are the three houses of Indian calendar experts including the Kāśyapa, Gautama and Kumāra, who are all employed at the Bureau of Astronomy [in the Chinese capital]. However, as to what is now in use, it is mostly the Gautama calendar and their 'Great Art' which are together used for state purposes.”

Interestingly, the bibliography of the Sui dynasty (581-618) chronicle, the Sui Shu 隋書, also lists three works on "Brahmin astronomy", which were probably in circulation around 600:

There are also "Brahmin" works on mathematics and medicine cited.

Xiao Ji on Lunar Luminosity and Meteorites

Xiao Ji 蕭吉 in the Sui Dynasty (581-618) wrote his Great Meaning of the Five Elements 五行大義, which is a manual on natural phenomena and classical Chinese metaphysics. It is an important text as it provides in great detail how Chinese civilization generally viewed both the physical world and cosmos in this period. The text incidentally was lost in China, but fortunately preserved in Japan. This is actually the case for a good many other Classical Chinese texts as well.

Xiao Ji relies heavily on citations from numerous classical texts and offers a balanced perspective in that he provides differing views. It is written in a technical style, lacking a literary polish. In my reading of the chapter on astronomy (chapter 16) I found two noteworthy things. The first is that Xiao Ji recognizes that the luminosity of the moon is a result of sunlight:

The moon is of yin essence. Its form itself is without light. It shines by means of sunlight illuminating it, just as a retainer is without power. His power is achieved through the influence of his lord.

Xiao Ji, like his predecessors, readily perceives a hierarchy in nature and frequently draws similes with court culture. Here the moon is accurately identified as lacking its own luminosity. Another accurate statement relates to the physical quality of astral bodies:

The five stars [i.e., the five visible planets of the solar system] – the Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 states the stars are the essence of myriad phenomena. Some say the sun is divided into stars, hence its character [in Chinese] consists of the ideograph “birth” under the sun radical. The Shiji 史記 states stars are the dispersal of the essence of the metal element. It is stone when a star falls. This is the metal element. The Spring and Autumn Annals 春秋 states that a stony meteorite fell in the state of Song. It was a falling star. It is also said that a star is the essence of yin. The metal element is also yin.

The inference here is that since observed meteorites are of stone and the metal element, it follows that stars, specifically the five visible planets of the solar system, should also be comprised as such.

Such observations are noteworthy as it illustrates Chinese civilization in this period had a degree of accurate astronomical knowledge, much of it traceable to at least the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). Xiao Ji of course is mistaken about other things – for example, that the sun is 1000 li in diameter and 3000 li in circumference, but nevertheless his observations and conclusions are often based on observations and reasonable inferences rather than mere revelation. This differs from the Buddhist approach to astral science which was based on the revelation of scriptures. For details on this see my post here.