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Cultures > China

:: 2200 BC - PRESENT

Cultural Background | Surviving | Living in Community | Finding Meaning in the Cosmos

Living in Community

Urban Organization
The Chinese rulers believed that they were represented by stars in the sky. To maintain harmony with the heavens, they also built their communities in relation to the sky.

One example is the city of Louyang, which was built with careful attention to the four cardinal directions, north, south, east and west. This information was necessary because Chinese cities were always square, with the town's highest ruler living in a palace in the exact center of the city. According to one report, the builder began the palace after observing the constellation Pegasus (which is found in the northern hemisphere) directly overhead, at its zenith.

If he observed this constellation at sunrise, the date would correspond to the June solstice (one of the two days of the year when the Sun is farthest from the equator). The shadow of a gnomon, or sundial, cast by the sun as it rose would lie to the extreme south. By recoding the location of the shadow at both sunrise and sunset and then diving that distance in half, builders could determine the true north-south direction.

Similar methods were used to build the emperor's palace in Beijing. The palace is also directly aligned with the four directions. In fact, the palace was divided into quarters that represented the four seasons. During each season, the Emperor would perform duties in that quarter of the house. For example, at every spring equinox the emperor would go to the eastern quarter of his palace to start the new year. The next season, he would travel to a different quarter.

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