ARCANA > Bibliographies > Research Source For Astrology
prev | contents | next

Research Sources For Astrology

Astrology In China And East Asia

Although I have been living in China since 1997, I know rather less about Chinese astrology than about the Greco-Chaldaean tradition. I can say that what foreigners think of as "Chinese astrology," the cycle of twelve animals, is not a parallel to the Western zodiac. Rather, they are the Chinese hours. They are also used to compose cycles of twelve days and twelve years. Called the twelve Heavenly Stems, they are combined with another cycle, the ten Earthly Branches and with the five Chinese elements to create a cycle of 60 hours, days and years. The cycle of 60 years is particularly important. Nearly every Chinese calendar gives both the international Gregorian year and the year in the 60 year cycle. Combination calendars, giving the date and year in the international Gregorian calendar and traditional almanac information on lucky days are very common.

However, as interesting as the stems and branches are, they have little to do with the stars. The Stems are identified with twelve constellations through one of which the planet Jupiter moves each year. However, that is far from their most important use.

Chinese civilization did pay attention to the sky from earliest times and a sophisticated astronomy with records still useful to modern astronomers grew up. The Imperial Observatory in Beijing may be visited easily today. (It even has its own subway station). The purposes were two: regulate the lunar calendar and counter bad omens. Chinese emperors claimed to rule at the pleasure of a supreme deity called Tian or Heaven [Sky], with the Mandate of Heaven. Heaven signaled displeasure with omens, particularly eclipses. New dynasties often demonstrated their submission to Heaven by reforming the calendar, which meant new research in astronomy. Interesting examples of political and military predictions based upon observations of the sun, moon, and planets are found both in historical works and in works of popular literature, such as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. When Buddhist literature first came to China from India, it included "Western" astrological lore . But after a first enthusiasm, it rarely competed with the native tradition, although it does still exist. Some foreign influence may also have come from Manicheism, once strong in Xinjiang, and which had an subterranean influence on Chinese apocalyptic literature and secret societies, and also via Chinese Muslims. Astrology certainly was common in Tibet but appears to be closely related to Indian astrology, with some Chinese additions.

At the end of the twentieth century, and the beginning of the twenty-first, the Western zodiac has a certain fad appeal in China and is sometimes seen as decoration on objects such as purses for adolescent girls. Serious Western astrology does not seem to be well-known. College students are aware of it from WWW sites but it does not appear to have the cultural authority that I Ching does, for example. All attempts to combine the Western and Chinese traditions that I know are by westerners . Indiana University-Bloomington includes a sizeable number of astrological documents in the Tibetan and Mongolian special collections of its library, providing much material for further study!

There is a interest in archaeo-astronomy in academic circles. The recent Fourth International Conference on Oriental Astronomy, held in August, 2001, in Nanyang, Henan Province, PR China, concentrated on the subject. Astronomers can deduce useful information from paintings of recognizable stars and constellations. Such paintings of the sky are common in ancient tombs throughout East Asia, particularly at the time of the early Tang Dynasty. Unfortunately, I am not in touch with Chinese archaeologists and cannot say how interested in archaeo-astronomy they are. I suspect, however, that salvaging sites from the many development projects is their highest priority ca. 2002. In any case, there is much room for future research!

Armstrong, Robin Armstrong, et al., Eastern Systems for Western Astrologers: An Anthology. (Samuel Weiser, 1997) {Collection of essays written by eight astrologers: "Astrology and the Chakras" by Ray Grasse, "The Degrees of the Zodiac & the I Ching" by Robin Armstrong, "Chinese Element [Tzu P'ing] Astrology" by Bill Watson, "Tibetan Astrology" by Michael Erlewine, "The Humanism of Vedic Astrology" by Hart deFouw, "The Night Sky & the Eastern Moon" by Dennis Flaherty, "Prediction East" by James Braha, and "Life & Death East and West" by Richard Houck. This a typical work of Western syncretism}

Bezold, Carl, "Sze-ma Ts'ien und die babylonische Astrologie," Ostasiatische Zeitschrift 8 (1919) {I have not read this, but Bezold was a good scholar, not a hyper-diffusionist. Nor does it date to the heyday of Pan-Babylonism. Sze-ma Ts'ien, otherwise spelled Sima Qian, was the first great historian of Imperial China and undoubtedly interested in omens and their political implications.}

Campion, Nicolas and Steve Eddy, The New Astrology: The Art and Science of the Stars. (Trafalgar Square, 1999) {A more serious attempt at synthesis by a westerner scholar. Presents parallels among world views, from the creation myths of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians to the most modern speculations of astronomers and physicists.}

Carus, Paul, Chinese Astrology (Peru, IL: Open Court Publ. Co., 1974, 1989) {originally published late 19th century as a section in Paul Carus' well-respected book on Chinese Religion. Carus, in turn, was the first US academic to have a serious interest in Chinese philosophy, and founded Open Court Press to publish his own writings on the subject. This work does not in fact deal with the stars very much, but outlines the traditional cosmology and calendar of lucky and unlucky days.}

Collected astrological and prognosticatory texts from Bhutan (Thimphu : Kunsang Topgyal, 1981) [Tibetan] {Useful for primary Tibetan sources}.

De Groot J. J. M., The Religious System of China {a thorough work including divination, etc., as religion by a well-informed 19th century missionary with extensive quotes of sources; particularly good on southern China.}

Henderson, John B., The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology (NY: Columbia U. Pr., 1984) {Presents a useful introductory study on the subject.}

Ho Peng Yoke, "A long lost astrological work: the Dunhuang ms of the Zhan yunqi shu," Journal of Asian History, 19 no 1 (1985):1-7. {A good study of this primary source for Chinese astrology. Ho is perhaps Needham's most notable successor as a scholar writing on the history of Chinese astronomy in English}

Lau, Theodora, The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, calligraphy by Kenneth Lau. (3rd ed., New York : HarperCollins, 1995; 4th ed., New York: HarperPerennial, 2000) {an elementary attempt to combine the Western Greco-Chaldaean tradition with that of China; more important to the West than China.}

Li, Chung. Ancient Wisdom for the New Age: Chinese Astrology. (New Holland Publishers, 1997) {If you think this is about Chinese astrology, you're wrong. This is a very meager introduction at best. The Twelve moons are explained in about two lines each!}

Lu Sixian and Li Di, Notes on Astronomically Considered Relics and Monuments of China [Tian Wen Kao GuoTong Lu] (Beijing: Forbidden City Publishing House, 2000) {This is a volume publishing research in archaeo-astronomy}

Luo Guazhong, Three Kingdoms; A Historical Novel Attributed to Luo Guazhong, tr. with after word and notes by Moss Roberts (Beijing/Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: Foreign Languages Press/University of California Press, 1991) {An influential work of popular literature which mentions astrological predictions.}

Maspero, H., "Les instruments astronomiques des chinois au temps es han," in Melanges chinoises et bouddhistes. (Brussels, 1939), VI, 183. {These instruments would have been used for both astronomy and astrology, which were not sharply divided.}

Needham, Joseph, et al., Science and Civilization in China, 7 Vol's (Cambridge: 1954 -) {Pingree, 1982, n.34; Vol. 2, 353-4: suggests a possible Mesopotamian influence on Chinese astrology; cf. Bezold 1919; a large multi-volume pioneering discussion of Chinese science and technology; includes astrology among much else.}

Needham, Joseph, et al., Shorter Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge: 1986) {a condensed version of the above}

Ong Hean-Tatt, Chinese Animal Symbols (Kelana Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, 1993, 1997) {not about astrology per se, but a good introduction to the Chinese constellations, particularly the 28 lunar mansions; also contains a useful introduction to Chinese cosmology}

Palmer, Martin, with Mak Hin Chung, Kwok Man Ho and Angela Smith. T'ung shu, the Ancient Chinese Almanac. (Boston: Shambhala, 1986) {In the past the almanac was compiled by the Imperial staff at the Ancient Observatory in Beijing, and presented to the Son of Heaven before being distributed around the country. The observations were made by Jesuit astronomers in later centuries, but they seem to have had no influence on the system of interpretation; cf. Smith.}

Pankenier, David William, Early Chinese Astronomy and Cosmology: the 'Mandate of Heaven' as Epiphany. (Stanford University, 1983), pp: 358 {A doctoral dissertation on astrology in Zhou dynasty China, related to the idea of the "Mandate of Heaven".}

Schafer, Edward H., Pacing the Void; T'ang Approaches the Stars. (Berkeley, CA: U of CA Pr., 1977) {Sections on astrology & astral religion are quite good; includes an account of a painted tomb with a western zodiac on its ceiling.}

Smith, Richard J., Fortune-tellers and Philosophers; Divination in Traditional Chinese Society (Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1991) {Fairbank, China, 1992; broad survey with extensive sources and bibliography}

Smith, Richard J., Chinese Almanacs. Hong Kong; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) {This is a modern explanation of the traditional almanac, along with excellent illustrations by a western scholar; cf. Palmer.}

Sun Xiaochun, "Crossing the Boundaries Between Heaven and Man: Astronomy in Ancient China," in Astronomy Across Cultures, ed. Helaine Selin and adv. ed. Sun Xiaochun (Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000) {This is the best short intro. which I have read to Chinese astronomy, the calendar, and chinese omen astrology.}

Tai, Sherman, Principles of Feng Shui: An Illustrated Guide to Chinese Geomancy, ill. by Loke Siew Hong, transl. by Clara Snow {Not about astrology per se but gives a good explanation of the traditional Chinese cosmology in which Chinese beliefs about the powers of the stars were included. This is a type of book which is common in China but not in the US, a sort of comic book but on a serious non-fictional topic. It is interesting to note that the cover blurb tells us that the author was a successful engineer before turning to his first love, feng shui, to earn a living}

Tibetan Astronomy and Astrology: A Brief Introduction (Dharamsala, India: Astro. Department, Tibetan Medical and Astro. Institute, 1995) {distributed by Men See-Kang Exports, 13 Jaipur Estate, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi, 110013, India; This anthology is produced by the traditional academic establishment associated with the Dalai Lama in India. Astrology in Tibet seems to be primarily Indian astrology with Chinese elements added. For example, the _ba guo_, or 8 hexagrams best known from I Ching, are believed to rotate through the zodiac as well. The titles of the chapters are: "An Introduction to Tibetan Astro. Science," by Prof. Jampa G. Dagthon; "Traditional Community Role of the Astro-Practitioner," Jhampa Kalsang, Lecturer; "The Importance of Astro. Science in Medicine," Prof. Jampa G. Dagthon; "Outline of the Tibetan Horoscope," Mrs. Tsering Choezem, Astrologer; "A Brief Introduction to rSipa-Ho," Jhampa Kalsang, Lecturer; "Commonly Asked Questions about Tibetan Astro. Science," Mrs. Tzering Choezem}

White, Suzanne, Chinese Astrology Plain and Simple. (Eden Grove Editions, 1999) {In addition to learning how to determine and analyse personal horoscopes, this book aims to provide insights into friends, lovers and their self as they gain a deeper understanding of the forces governing interactions. Typical syncretism, the twelve animals are assumed to be an alternative zodiac}

Xu Zhentao, Pankenier, David W., and Jiang Yaotiao, East Asian Archeoastronomy, Historical records of Astronomical Observations of China, Japan and Korea (Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 2000) {ISBN: 90-5699-302-X; ISBN: 1026-2660; I have not inspected this work personally, but it is recommended by members of HASTRO-L; it is not directly astrological, but records ominous events among others; cf. Pankenier's diss, 1983}

Yabuuti, K., "Astrology of Western Origin in Ancient Japan," Scientia 101: 353-8. {Really study of Chinese origins of Japanese astrology, rather than the "west" of Eurasia.}