Traditional Chinese star names

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Traditional Chinese star names (Chinese: , xīng míng) are the names of stars used in ancient Chinese astronomy and astrology, whence they influenced Chinese religion, mythology, folklore, and the geomantic practice of feng shui. The names appear extensively in Chinese culture, including literature, historiography, and opera. These traditional names sometimes differ from modern names influenced by the official designations of the International Astronomical Union. For those stars whose catalog designation employ English names, Chinese astronomers use traditional Chinese names.


Chinese astronomy was advanced in classical times and, being located further south, had noted five times as many stars as were described by Ptolemy.[citation needed] In 1875, Gustav Schlegel made a complete survey of the star names which appeared in ancient works. His Uranographie Chinoise correlated 760 star names with those used in western astronomy.[1]

Star names and their constellations[edit]

Ancient Chinese astronomers designated names to the visible stars systematically, roughly more than a thousand years[citation needed] before Johann Bayer did it in a similar way. Basically, every star is assigned to an asterism. Then a number is given to the individual stars in this asterism. Therefore, a star is designated as "Asterism name" + "Number". The numbering of the stars is not based on the apparent magnitude of this star, but rather its position in the asterism and this numbering sometimes changed over the course of Chinese history.

For example, Altair is named 河鼓 (Hégǔ Èr) in Chinese. 河鼓He Gu is the name of the asterism (lit. "Drum at the River"). 二 is the number designation ("two"). Therefore, it literally means "the second star in the Drum at the River". (Bayer might have called Altair "Beta Tympani Flumine" if he had been cataloguing Chinese constellations.)

Some stars also have traditional names, often related to mythology. For example, Altair is more commonly known in China as 牛郎 (Niúlángxīng) or 牵牛 (Qiānniúxīng) after Niulang, the cowherd who fell in love with the daughter of the Jade Emperor. The one night a year they can be together, the Night of Sevens, was thought to exhibit a dimming of the Milky Way, removing the barrier between Altair and Vega.

If the same name has been used multiple times for unrelated objects, a red question mark ? is appended to the name until the ambiguity can be resolved.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Romanization Translation Western name Comments
Biē Yī Softshell Turtle I α Telescopii Link 1, 2
飛魚 飞鱼 Fēiyú Yī Flying Fish I α Volantis Link
飛魚 飞鱼 Fēiyú Èr Flying Fish II γ² Volantis
飛魚 飞鱼 Fēiyú Sān Flying Fish III β Volantis
飛魚 飞鱼 Fēiyú Sì Flying Fish IV κ¹ Volantis
飛魚 飞鱼 Fēiyú Wǔ Flying Fish V δ Volantis
飛魚 飞鱼 Fēiyú Liù Flying Fish VI ζ Volantis
鉤鈐 钩钤 Gōuqián Yī ω¹ Scorpii Also known as the West Gouqian Star (鉤鈐西, Gōuqián Xī Xīng), Link
鉤鈐 钩钤 Gōuqián Èr ω² Scorpii
Hè Wǔ Crane V γ Tucanae
六甲 Liù Jiǎ Liù Six Jias VI κ Pictoris?
婁宿 娄宿 Lóusù Zēng Liù α Trianguli Also known as Tianhunxinanxing (天溷西南, Tiānhùn Xīnán Xīng)
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Yī Inner Steps I ο Ursae Majoris Link
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Èr Inner Steps II 16 Ursae Majoris
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Sān Inner Steps III 6 Ursae Majoris
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Sì Inner Steps IV 23 Ursae Majoris
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Wǔ Inner Steps V 5 Ursae Majoris
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Liù Inner Steps VI 17 Ursae Majoris
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Zēng Qī π² Ursae Majoris
內階 内阶 Nèi Jiē Zēng Jiǔ π Ursae Majoris
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Yī Beak I α Tucanae
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Èr Beak II δ Tucanae
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Sān Beak III HD 224361
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Sì Beak IV β Tucanae
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Wǔ Beak V ρ Tucanae
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Liù Beak VI ζ Tucanae
鳥喙 鸟喙 Niǎohuì Qī Beak VII ε Tucanae
Qí Zēng Wǔ α Vulpeculae
三角形 Sānjiǎoxíng Yī Triangle I γ Trianguli Australis
三角形 Sānjiǎoxíng Èr Triangle II β Trianguli Australis
三角形? Sānjiǎoxíng Sān? Triangle III α Trianguli Australis Also known as Shaofu (少辅,? Shǎofǔ)
天弁 Tiān Biàn Yī α Scuti Link 1, 2
天弁 Tiān Biàn Èr δ Scuti
天弁 Tiān Biàn Sān ε Scuti
天弁 Tiān Biàn Sì β Scuti
天弁 Tiān Biàn Wǔ η Scuti
大將軍 大将军 Tiān Dàjiāngjūn Jiǔ Celestial General IX β Trianguli Also known as the Great Southern Star (大将军大星, Tiān Dàjiāngjūn Nán Dàxīng) and Fuzhizhongbeixing (鈇鑕中北星, Fūzhìzhōngběixīng)
大將軍 大将军 Tiān Dàjiāngjūn Shí Celestial General X γ Trianguli
大將軍十一 大将军十一 Tiān Dàjiāngjūn Shíyī Celestial General XI δ Trianguli
天牢 Tiān Láo Yī Celestial Prison I ω Ursae Majoris? Link
天牢 Tiān Láo Èr Celestial Prison II 57 Ursae Majoris
天牢 Tiān Láo Sān Celestial Prison III 47 Ursae Majoris
天牢 Tiān Láo Sì Celestial Prison IV 58 Ursae Majoris
天牢 Tiān Láo Wǔ Celestial Prison V 49 Ursae Majoris
天牢 Tiān Láo Liù Celestial Prison VI 56 Ursae Majoris
天相 Tiān Xiàng Yī 17 Sextantis Link 1, 2
天相 Tiān Xiàng Sān ε Sextantis
尾宿 Wěi Sù Yī Tail I μ¹ Scorpii Also known as the West Tail #2 Star (尾宿西第二, Wěisù Xi Dì'er Xīng) and the Weisujuxing (尾宿, Wěisù Jù Xīng); possibly also the Waterwheel Star (s , t 水車, Shuǐchē Xīng) and Ta-che-xing (s , t , Tàchēxīng); Link 1, 2
尾宿 Wěi Sù Èr Tail II ε Scorpii Also known as the West Tail #1 Star (尾宿西第—, Wěisù Xi Dìyī Xīng)
尾宿 Wěi Sù Sān Tail III ζ¹,² Scorpii
尾宿 Wěi Sù Sì Tail IV η Scorpii
尾宿 Wěi Sù Wǔ Tail V θ Scorpii Also known as Tail #5 Star (尾宿第五, Wěisù Dìwǔ Xīng)
尾宿 Wěi Sù Liù Tail VI ι¹ Scorpii
尾宿 Wěi Sù Qī Tail VII κ Scorpii Also called Tail #7 Star (尾宿第七, Wěisù Dìqī Xīng) and San Shi (, Sān Shī)
尾宿 Wěi Sù Bā Tail VIII λ Scorpii Also called Tail #9 Star (尾宿第九, Wěisù Dìjiǔ Xīng)
尾宿 Wěi Sù Jiǔ Tail IX υ Scorpii Also called Tail #8 Star (尾宿第八, Wěisù Dìbā Xīng) and the Great Xuanyuan Star (轩辕, Xuānyuán Dàxīng)?

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Xiaochun Sun; Jacob Kistemaker (1997), The Chinese sky during the Han, p. 8, ISBN 978-90-04-10737-3 

External links[edit]