Ancient Chinese Eclipses and Dragons

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon photo by Elena Cordery
In honor of the August 21, 2017 eclipse, this post will highlight an ancient Chinese manuscript that covers astronomical magic and magical creatures like dragons. An art blog recently discussed an ancient Chinese book that includes beautiful images of Chinese dragons.

It is a finely illustrated manuscript entitled “Yu zhi tian yuan yu li xiang yi fu” which translates as “Essay on the Astronomical & Meteorological Presages by Emperor Renzong of Ming Dynasty”. It has 878 illustrations in 10 volumes. It includes astronomical events, natural disasters and dragons.

Unfortunately you need to have $75,000 to purchase this one of a kind book, but we can still admire the artistry of it.

From the bookseller (

This splendidly illustrated manuscript depicts 878 astronomical and meteorological observations, each with astrological prognostications. It was prepared for the Emperor Ming Renzong (or Chu Kao Chih or Zhu Gaochi) (1378-1425), for circulation amongst high officials. In spite of his short reign of only nine months, Ming Renzong was known as an innovator whose enlightened reforms and generosity to the poor made lasting improvements.

The preface and index for all the volumes is found at the beginning of Vol. I and is dated 1425. It is followed in the ten volumes by 878 finely painted images of landscapes; shapes of clouds; turbulent oceans; thunder storms; hail; earthquakes; symbols mysteriously appearing in the sky; flames coming out of the earth; rains of various intensities and qualities; moving mountains; mud slides; blood rain; pieces of meat falling from the sky; characters appearing in the sun; dragons in the sky; many comets and extraordinary astronomical events; coins raining down; prolonged extreme weather (cold, hot, or rain); skies portending good fortune; fish rain; extreme wind; the sun and moon having different appearances; eclipses; concentric haloes (“mock suns” or parhelia); the planets including Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; the movements of the planets and their appearances in different seasons; red sky; the appearance of insects; the Big Dipper; the North star; constellations of stars; rainbows; battle scenes; soldiers marching and fighting; etc., etc. At the end, there is a discussion of the art of prognostication with examples.

Each painting is accompanied by a manuscript prediction made by Zhu Xi (Zhu Wengong) (1130-1200) and other Confucian scholars. Zhu Xi’s synthesis of all fundamental Confucian concepts formed the basis of Chinese bureaucracy and government for over 700 years. He has been called the second most influential thinker in Chinese history, after Confucius himself.

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