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Applied Field Allocation (fenye) Astrology in Zhou China: Characteristics and Applications

David W. Pankenier (Lehigh University)

This paper offers an account of the ancient Chinese system of judicial astrology known as "field allocation" (fenye) astrology. This form of astrological prognostication, which is premised on archaic cosmological conceptions about correspondences between the celestial and terrestrial realms, is best known in the highly systematized and regular form preserved in Warring States and Han Dynasty sources. The field allocation system of astrological correspondences achieved its mature form through a long process of evolution and systematization. It is the object of this study first to provide a brief account of this developmental process and then to illustrate how the principles involved came to be applied in epochal military and political contexts. The discussion begins with a description of the field allocation system in its mature form, then by isolating the historical nucleus of this system, traces the crucial cardinal correlations between temporal and celestial locations back to their early Bronze Age origins. By analyzing datable historical events and by comparing terrestrial events with the actual circumstances in the skies in two cases -- the Zhou Conquest of Shang at the Battle of Muye (1046 BCE) and the Jin defeat of Chu at the Battle of Chengpu (632 BCE) -- the paper attempts to show how field allocation astrology may have played a significant role in political and military decision-making in early Zhou.

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