Compasses, Astronomical and navigational instruments

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Geomantic compass


Object connections:

Collection Compasses, Astronomical and navigational instruments
ExhibitionsTraders: The East India Company and Asia
User collections Tea: breaking into the tea trade by NMMExhibitions
Gallery locationTraders Gallery (Floor plans)

Object details:

Object ID NAV0249
Description A Chinese compass consisting of a wide thin disk of wood. At the centre is a small shallow bowl containing a short, thin dry-pivot needle that points south. There is a line in the bowl indicating the north-south direction. Surrounding the bowl are seven concentric rings, each divided into segments and marked with either symbols or Chinese characters painted in gold and red. The first row is divided into eight sections, each with one of the eight trigrams. The trigrams on this particular compass are arranged in the everted form of the Fu Hsi. Fu Hsi is one type of formulation of the eight trigrams. It has been argued that the everted form of the Fu Hsi trigram circle appeared on compasses used for Feng Shui, in other words this would identify this compass as a geomancer's compass. The second row is segmented into 24 parts indicating the traditional azimuthal directions in 15 degree increments. Each segment contains one Chinese character which together consist of the 20 cyclical characters and four gua (trigrams). These characters are arranged in the Zheng Zhen ('correct needle') position (i.e. the north-south direction). Beginning with the character in the South position and moving clockwise the characters are: Wu, Ding, Wei, Kun, Shen, Geng, You, Xin, Xu, Qian, Hai, Ren, Zi, Gui, Chou, Gen, Yin, Jia, Mao, Yi, Chen, Xun, Si and Bing. Although the characters do refer to directions, the characters in the North, South, East and West directions are not the characters or the literal translations for these directions, but are traditional characters from the geomancer's compass. The characters in this row alternate black and red. The red and black characters in this row represent the pure ying and pure yang. Although on all other examples of geomantic compasses, the characters designated as either black or red are different than the pattern found on this particular compass. This compass is also unique in that it has the four characters for the cardinal directions painted in the bottom of the needle pool. This is the only specimen found to have both the cardinal directions and the geomantic row of 24 characters. The character for East on this compass is the an character that stopped being used in 1949.
Date made circa 1760

Artist/Maker Unknown
Place made China
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials ivory; wood; steel; glass
Measurements Overall: 20 x 86 mm
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