This impressive and innovative book offers a detailed topical treatment of how the heavens have played a key role in shaping the culture and civilization of China in ancient and historical periods. The author David Pankenier is Professor of Chinese at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania and he has applied his specialist expertise in Sinology and long-term interests in cultural astronomy and archaeoastronomy to offer both broad sweeps and fine brush-strokes in an illuminating series of case studies of specific events and concepts.
His writing combines scholarly authority with a clear style accessible to general readers, though naturally aimed primarily at those with more serious interests in this area. The material is based on thirty years of ongoing research, extending some information appearing previously in journal articles and adding many new insights.
It follows an academic format, with copious footnotes and a helpful list of References, an Index and a Glossary of Chinese characters, as well as a wealth of illustrations, including sky charts, ground maps, photographs and drawings. The Introduction gives brief outlines on general and Chinese archaeoastronomy and for the fourteen chapters, while the Appendix offers a valuable new annotated translation of the major astronomical-astrological text known as the `Treatise on the Celestial Offices' (written in c.100 BCE by China's most famous historian Sima Qian and his father).
Among the key themes discussed are: much earlier dating for the origins of traditional correlative cosmology and astrology than the general scholarly consensus; the significance of multiple planet groupings in political and military affairs, including a detailed comparison between European and Chinese interpretations of such an event in AD 1524; a study of astronomical observation at the third millennium BCE site at Taosi; calendrical and cultural functions of the Milky Way and the asterism known as the Cerulean Dragon; the importance of polar and cardinal alignments and suggested ancient methods to establish them; and links between skywatching and the evolution of the Chinese script.
Creative, exciting hypotheses are supported throughout by detailed analysis of textual, epigraphic, archaeological and astronomical evidence as well as relevant theoretical models. Although comparative approaches are not the book's chief aim, points of similarity and difference with other ancient civilizations are mentioned in relevant instances, along with discussions of the views of other writers in the field.
This is a well-bound volume, printed on high quality paper. Its compact size makes it a pleasure to handle, for browsing and detailed study. The standard of editing and proof reading is high, as befits a major academic publisher, with commendably few typographical errors and lapses, especially given the large quantity of technical vocabulary.
In short, like the rich brocade adorning the cover, this valuable book contains a treasure trove of interwoven data and ideas threading through the wide-ranging chapters in recurrent motifs, and it looks set to serve as a fruitful reference source for years to come.
As the reviews point out, the author has gathered piles of information and most interestingly recent archaeological evidence pertaining to the subject. He goes into the description of these at length - sizes, shapes, numbers, dates etc. It is clear however, the symbolic meaning and correspondences the artefacts refer to weren't the author's area of expertise. At best he gives them passing mentions. At times the interpretations aren't altogether inaccurate. Hopefully those problems would be addressed in the future editions of this book, because the subject is truly fascinating and deserving of better understanding and a more encompassing treatment.