Project (2022-2023)

Empire of the Night Sky: The Politics of Astrological Knowledge in Qing China

From the Eastern Zhou (770–256 BCE) period onward, twenty-eight astral constellations were correlated with territorial political jurisdictions of the early Chinese states. Following the consolidation of the early empire, these twenty-eight constellations became ascribed to imperial provinces and remained invoked through the last dynasty, the Qing (1644–1911 CE). The Qing posed an unprecedented challenge to this astrological system: with the empire eventually extending to Xinjiang, Tibet, and into Southeast Asia, how could a system devised in early history and based largely on the territories around the Yellow River in North China be applied to these new frontier territories, particularly in Western China? This study challenges the notion that the correlative astrological system fell into imperial disrepute following the arrival of the Jesuits. To the contrary, the frontier-based Han elites responsible for compiling local gazetteers drew on and updated astrological correlations so as to extend them into these newly incorporated territories. In the cases of Xinjiang and Tibet, these extensions occurred just as the Qing’s territorial sovereignty became threatened by the advent of regional rebellions and Western imperialism.