“Cosmic board” from a Western-Han tomb excavated in Yizheng, Jiangsu

“Cosmic board” from a Western-Han tomb excavated in Yizheng, Jiangsu.

Project (2023)

The “Cosmic Board” and the Visuality of Early and Medieval Chinese Cosmology

By focusing on reinterpreting the astronomical and divinatory device often known as the “cosmic board” or shi pan, this project aims to shed new light on the materiality and visuality that underlay Chinese cosmological ideas. The cosmic board was a widely used instrument with a richly documented tradition. The emergence of excavated specimens and related manuscript images since the 1970s has stimulated a large body of research. As the study of the curious object has grown increasingly technical and complex, I propose to go back to some of the more basic questions, such as how the board was visually constructed and what cosmic vision was on display, by highlighting previously neglected features in the design that are in contrast with other astral images. I also take note that many textual cosmological statements only make full sense when read against the setting on the cosmic board. By reconstructing the alignment of the textual and the visual, I investigate how material representations of heaven oriented early and medieval Chinese cosmological discourse.