Some Notes On The Chinese System

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We have already mentioned the profound differences which exist between the ancient Chinese system of unequal siu, and the equal Mansions whose significations were given in the preceding chapter. The Chinese system merits our attention.

The name Zodiac cannot really be applied to it, since the Zodiac is the zone of the ecliptic, while the Chinese based their system on the equator, and not on the ecliptic like our Chaldean-Greek-Arab tradition, So in speaking of the "Lunar Zodiac" in the Far-East, we must never forget that it represents the equatorial band and not the true Zodiac.

The inequality of these siu undoubtedly corresponds to variations observed in the planetary influence rather than to astronomical causes. The astrological basis of these divisions leaves every astronomer perplexed.

"It is very surprising," said Idelerl, "that the intervals of the twen-ty-eight Chinese divisions show such great inequalities; some of them less than 2° 42* in equatorial width, very near to others with more than 30°, even in ancient times ... I was never fortunate enough to discover the principle which determined the choice of these stars'1 (which mark the limits of the siu).

Biot thinks that twenty of the siu are the equatorial stars corresponding to the great circumpolar ones; and the other eight were the pointer stars to the cardinal positions in the twenty-fourth and twelfth centuries B.C. No argument could be raised against this opinion since it is supported by extensive evidence; but it still does not explain the purpose or the cause for this division. No one would invent a very complicated system solely for the pleasure of transposing circumpolar stars to the equator, if this transposition did not have more profound reasons, such as the variation of planetary influences.

Besides, even where they bear the names of the stars and constel lations (as do ccrtain Occidental and Arab Mansions) the siu occasionally show very visible deviations of 2° t 3° , 4° and even more from the great circuvnpolar stars.

Lastly, numerous texts confirm that the reasons for the divisions are based on Astrology. For example the Sixteenth Mansion, siu is considered the 'heart1 of the Lunar Zodiac, just as the sign Leo is the 'heart' of the Solar Zodiac. It remains to be seen if the affliction of a vital point of the horoscope in this siu (4° 50'-9° 30* Libra) always has something to do with cardiac illnesses. In a horoscope in my collection, the native, who suffered from a chronic disease of the heart, had his Ascendant exactly in that part of the heavens. A coincidence?

This system of unequal siu also seems to be much less stable. Some documents combine two siu (Se-Ma Ts'ien for instance, counts Tsan and Tse as only one division), so that we get an equatorial "Zodiac" of twenty-seven signs, just as the Arabs, the Berbers, and others have.

On the other hand, the Chinese system can be considered a sidereal Zodiac, depending more on fixed stars than on cardinal points; the displacement of the pole explains the change through the ages in the size of certain siu based on latitudinal stars. When, in 1683 by the order of Emperor K'ang-hi, the Jesuits constructed the table of co-ordinates of the determining stars, Pi Gambil says, "They should have put Tsan before Tse. It was not done, so that the order of the ancient catalogue would be retained."2

Judging from the value of the longitudes, the natural order would in fact be: Pi, Tsanf Tse, Tsing, etc. Already by 1280, under the Yuen, Koch-king, measuring the length of the siu Tse found only 0°5\ because the two stars Tse (Lambda Orionis) and Tsan (delta Orionis) which mark the boundaries of this Mansion, cross the meridian almost simultaneously. These two stars play a unique role in Chinese Astrology,

This system may be summarized by the following table:

Constel» Approx.

Chinese Name_lations Length_Remarks _

1. Mao Pleiades 9° 39' According to Whitney, the siu Mao begins with eta Tauri The Mao-Pi division was marked hy x-Librae.

2. Pi the Snare Taurus 18° 6' According to Whitney, this Mansion was con nected with Aldebaran in all the ancient systems.

3. Tse Head of 2° 19' The constellation Orion gives birth to two siu

Orion Tse and Tsan

Chinese Name


Approx. Length


4. Tsan the Warrior




8. Hsing


11. Chin —Servitude

15. Kang-ofthe Dragon Ch en

15. Fang the Chamber

17 . Wei Tail of the Dragon




Heart of Scorpio


2° 48' The reference star for TVan varied in different centuries and was successively, alpha, gairvnxa, deltaj zeta, epsilon, kappa, and beta Ononis. We should note that among the Arabs, this Mansion was always marked by stars in the constellation Gemini,

26D 28' The reference stars varied throughout different eras, but always belonged to the constellation Gemini.

8° According to L, de Saussure, already under the Han, astrologers could not differentiate between systems from different eras, which ex plains all the gaps in this table.

22° 40' Note that Liu also has the sense of halt or J top, and immediately after the summer solstice which this siu ends with, the Sun changes direction; the etymology of this division underscores the Sun's halt in its rise in the heavens.

In the primitive system the eighth siu began with alpha Hydra (Alphard), while the Ninth was designated by the stars kappa, lambda, tow and other stars of the same constellation in succession

According to Whitney, this siu began with alpha, beta, craieris, etc. in succession.

Whitney thinks that the constellation Corvus is at the beginning of this Mansion.

These siu were respectively marked by /¡returns (Ta Chio) and Spica (Kang), We should mention that Chio is often called Pri'mum ver, since the star with that name served as a refer-

90 ence for Li-Ch'ouen (expression designating a

Celestial demi-palace) before the equinox.

14° 30' Whitney thinks that, in all traditions, this Mansion rose from the Pincers of Scorpio.

4° 50' According to Schlegel, the equidistance between 77 and Fang was marked by A. 766 Tauri.

4° 40' Fang and Hsin were often combined under the name of Ha.

17° 49* This system shows an assymmetry between opposing siu. According to Biot, the assymmetry between the second and seventeenth amounts to 9'; between the third and eighteenth. 261; between the sixth and the twentieth, 47'; between the tenth and the twenty-fourth, 16' and between the eleventh and the twenty fifth Mansion. J 0 1'.

150 20'

Chinese Name

Constel- Approx. lations Length


18. Chi-the Basket

23. I-oei the Precipice

24, Che-the Building rather, the Western WaJI of the building

25. Py or Tung-Pi

26. Kei the Stride

52. Wei-the Belly


Aquila Aquarius

Androm eda


Pegasus 16° 41

Whitney attributes the origin of this Mansion to the constellation Sagittarius.

Whitney assumes that this Mansion derives from the constellation Caprieorn, although the Hindus associated their corresponding Mansion with the constellation Lyra.

According to Whitney, this siu was marked in different eras successively by alpha aquarii and by theta and epsilon Pegasi.

According to L. de Saussure, the size of Py is 18°6'. We notice that Che and Py, in China as in India, are two halves of Pegasus. Chinese Astrology represents this floor by a ritual building.

According to Whitney, the boundary of this Mansion was marked primitively by zeta An-dromedae.

E. Chavaunes translates Lu as 'Harvest Basket." The ideograph of this st'u is a woman bearing a basket of grass on her head

This table, which is far from complete and probably contains some error since every sinologist gives a different version, can give an idea of the profoundly original Chinese system. On the other hand, in spite of the well-known traditionalism and conservatism of the Chinese, this system has undergone many transformations. In the course of the centuries we find a whole series of reforms which generally coincide with changes in dynasty, but which manage to completely subvert the established conceptions and doctrines. And since all life in China was "ruled" by the heavens, these reforms had their repercussions on rites and customs. We know, for example, that the place of honor in different epochs was sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right. So everything would lead us to believe that this is just a consequence of the fluctuations in the doctrine of the Lunar Zodiac which accepted Mao sometimes, and Lu Wei other times as the equinoctial

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