Research Project


Recoding Astrology: The Accommodation of Foreign Astrology in Late Imperial China

Dr. Chang Che-chia

Chinese natal astrology has been greatly influenced by the Ptolemaic model. First, Buddhist monks introduced the system in the Indian-style, while later Islamic astronomers and Jesuits brought in Arabic and European astrology respectively. Translation is the essential activity in transmitting foreign astrology, however, translation is more sophisticated than mechanically transliterating a text’s literal meaning from one language to another. After examining the process of astrological translation, we identified that, even though some translators intended to be loyal to the original and avoid the translation becoming confused with local cultural ideas, the Chinese recipient would push the translator to adapt the contents of the astrology to suit the local needs. The famous Sutra of Lodges and Planets (xiuyao jing) is the most representative example. In light of the Chinese users’ complaints, Master Amoghavajra (705-774) asked a student to revise his earlier translation of the Indian texts into a new edition, in order to adapt the astrology to the Chinese calendar and cosmology of twenty-eight lunar lodges. Even for those translators who did not adjust themselves, the later generations of Chinese readers would make efforts to integrate the foreign ideas in the domestic system into a Sinicized system. The emergence of the Five-Planets astrology in the late Medieval Ages and the Qing astrologers’ adoption of the Jesuit methods exemplify this tendency. Thus Chinese users could benefit from the merits of the foreign methods, and the techniques bred in exotic cultures were also modified in order to meet the needs of the local clients. As such, the development of the history of Chinese astrology is a continuous display with foreign cultures. The case of Chinese astrology could serve as a miniature of the Chinese pattern of the flexible as well as critical acceptance of the foreign things.

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