Talk celebrates China's heavenly heritage

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-07 09:52
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An illustration of Chinese constellations. CHINA DAILY

In years gone by, astronomers held positions of great responsibility, as their ability to read the heavens and make predictions contributed to the power and authority of emperors.

The way that the heavens are still significant in Chinese culture for dates, such as the Lunar New Year, and choosing auspicious days for events like weddings, Marques said, showed that there was still a cultural affinity to the lights of the night sky.

Although the observatory has done shows in Mandarin and Cantonese as part of a separate community program, the upcoming Chinese show will be delivered in English, for maximum possible appeal.

"It's for everyone who is interested in learning about astronomy from different cultures and angles, so we hope we can continue to grow it for more and more people," she explained.

Anna Gammon-Ross is a senior planetarium astronomer at Greenwich and presents the Chinese astronomy show. She told China Daily that even after years of studying the stars, she was still learning new things from the Chinese shows that she helps put together.

"What is most fascinating is how much more complex the Chinese approach is than the Western approach we use today," she said. "The sheer number of asterisms, how they work together — everything has a meaning, makes you think about the sky in a different way.

"The contemporary Western view is that we see the stars in 88 constellations, but the Chinese have hundreds, some of which are absolutely tiny, then within that, they group asterisms together to make bigger groups.

"The amount of detail they've gone into to group stars together is so much more than we do now, so when I'm preparing for another talk, after I've done one of the Chinese shows, I know I have so many more things that I can talk about, which makes the other shows richer.

"We focus on those ancient constellations, and the way that they still influence the timing of festivals today, but it's great to have the modern context too — we talk about the current missions to the moon, where China has become the first country to land on the far side, and also the Mars mission plans."

Gammon-Ross admitted that the show has sometimes been "tricky to market", but said all the audience feedback has always been very positive.

"The biggest conversation I had after the last show was with a non-Chinese family who had come along because they were interested in the ancient culture and in hearing about space in a different way," she said, stressing that the most important message to get across was that the show was for anyone with an open mind and a sense of wonder.

"The planetarium show isn't hardcore science — you don't need to know the physics, you can look at nice things and learn something," she said. "The vast majority of people who come along definitely aren't experts, but it's a subject that draws people in. You would really struggle to find someone who wasn't interested in space at all."

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