Changes and Vanishing of the Astrological Field Allocation Knowledge in Chinese Local Gazetteers

Changes and Vanishing of the Astrological Field Allocation Knowledge in Chinese Local Gazetteers since Eastwards Spread of Western Learning

The spread of Western knowledge into China during modern times has been referred to as the “eastwards spread of Western learning.” This process can be roughly divided into two stages. The first stage started with the trip of the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci to China in the late Ming dynasty. It ended with the ban of the Qing government against Catholicism caused by the conflicts between Christianity and the Chinese culture in the eighteenth century. The second stage started with the visit of the Protestant missionary Robert Morrison to China in the late Qing dynasty. It peaked in the early twentieth century, exerting considerable impacts until today. The process of the spread of Western learning imposed significant impacts on the traditional knowledge, culture, and beliefs of the Chinese people. Among the most significantly influenced areas is China’s theory of astrological field allocation.

Originally derived from traditional Chinese astrology, field allocation was a theoretical system utilized by ancient people to understand the corresponding relationship between the earth and heaven. It served as a theoretical foundation not only for traditional Chinese astrology but also for ancient geography. The field allocation theory originated in the Warring States period and is commonly seen in astronomical, divinatory, and geographic literature. Because of a large multitude of precedent research on astronomical and divinatory literature, this research mainly focuses on geographic research, especially the data of Chinese local gazetteers that scholarly studies have largely overlooked.

The trend of compiling local gazetteers started in the Song dynasty, which gradually became important literature about the history, mountains and rivers, places of interest, products, population of a region, and so on. During this time, field allocation started to be incorporated into local gazetteers as an independent chapter. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the compilation of local gazetteers thrived, and most of them contained field allocation content.

With the spread of Western astronomy, geography, and topography into China since the late Ming dynasty, new astronomical and geographic surveying instruments have also been introduced into China. Under the siege of new theories, technologies, and instruments, coupled with continuous findings and summarization of drawbacks with field allocation theory, the field allocation content in Chinese local gazetteers also started to change. This research focuses on these changes in Chinese local gazetteers from the late Ming dynasty to the Republic of China. Specifically, the following questions will be examined:

  • From the late Ming dynasty to the Republic of China, what were the most important and fundamental changes in the field allocation content in Chinese local gazetteers?
  • What were the critical factors influencing the field allocation content changes in Chinese local gazetteers?
  • On the temporal dimension, did changes in the astronomic field allocation content in Chinese local gazetteers occur abruptly or incrementally? Were there any significant stages?
  • On the geographic dimension, what regions had the local gazetteers’ field allocation content changed? Why did such a distribution occur? Was there any direct connection between such geographic distribution and the spread of Western learning?
  • Is there any regularity to follow in terms of the changes in the field allocation content of local gazetteers?

As can be known from previous research, the Qinding Rehe Zhi  欽定熱河志 ((Imperially endorsed) Local gazetteer of Rehe) discarded the astrological field allocation that had been carried forward for a long time and replaced it with the category of the “Degrees of Sundial” (guidu 晷度), which represented a major change. In this regard, there are still many questions needing to be answered. For example:

  • How many local gazetteers had changed their astrological field allocation into the Degrees of Sundial?
  • Which regions had the astrological field allocation of their local gazetteers changed to the Degrees of Sundial?
  • After the change, what sources were the data of the Degrees of Sundial from? Were the data of the Degrees of Sundial from observations at the time or directly copied from precedent data or inferred based on precedent data?
  • Apart from the change from astrological field allocation to Degrees of Sundial, were there any other categories changed?