After this related question, I now want to ask about the heliocentric model. Did any Chinese scholars propose a heliocentric model of the universe? The time period I'm interested is any time before the colonial European influences, circa 1600.

Wikipedia has a Heliocentrism Article with absolutely no mention of China, but it does mention India and Arabia many times over the years. I think these ideas must have spread to China before 1600, but not necessarily adopted. Did any Chinese astronomers at least mention it?

I also saw this quora question, but no sources were cited and little detail was given.

I understand that the Chinese mainstream astronomic model was a spherical heaven and a flat square Earth, but what I'm asking about is if a few others thought differently. After all, from my previous question, there were some Chinese who considered that a spherical Earth was possible. It just wasn't the mainstream model.

  • What specific evidence are you interested in to verify the question? Sailing from China proper to the western hemisphere before 1600? Another way to view the inquiry would be to ask whom outside of Europe proposed that the idea that heliocentrism was not a physical fact? Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 3:46

1 Answer 1


Although it doesn't state whether a heliocentric model was proposed, I'd imagine some Chinese scholars entertained the possibility. Foremost, they had to overcome the accepted beliefs of their time, such as whether the Earth was flat and there could be spherical celestial bodies in the heavens. Yu Xi seems to be one of the closest astronomers of Ancient China to observe a celestial phenomenon that can be attributed to heliocentrism.

According to Yu Xi's Wiki:

In 336 AD Yu Xi wrote the An Tian Lun (安天論; Discussion of Whether the Heavens Are At Rest or Disquisition on the Conformation of the Heavens). In it he described the precession of the equinoxes (i.e. axial precession). He observed that the position of the sun during the winter solstice had drifted roughly one degree over the course of fifty years relative to the position of the stars. This was the same discovery made earlier by the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus* (c. 190-120 BC), who found that the measurements for either the sun's path around the ecliptic to the vernal equinox or the sun's relative position to the stars were not equal in length.

Furthermore, he states, like Zhang Heng before him, that the heavens were infinite and "motionless" (in this regard motionless in relation to the Earth). It's possible other astronomers also entertained this idea, but much of Imperial courts were heavily influenced on Confucian beliefs, which were based on the observable universe.

Yu Xi wrote a critical analysis of the huntian (渾天) theory of the celestial sphere, arguing that the heavens surrounding the earth were infinite and motionless. He advanced the idea that the shape of the earth was either square or round, but that it had to correspond to the shape of the heavens enveloping it. The huntian theory, as mentioned by Luoxia Hong (fl. 140-104 BC) and fully described by the Eastern-Han scholar-official Zhang Heng (78-139 AD), insisted that the heavens were spherical and that the earth was like an egg yolk at its center.[6] Yu Xi's ideas about the infinity of outer space seem to echo Zhang's ideas of endless space even beyond the celestial sphere. Although mainstream Chinese science before European influence in the 17th century surmised that the Earth was flat and square-shaped, some scholars, such as Yuan-era mathematician Li Ye (1192-1279 AD), proposed the idea that it was spherical like the heavens.

*The fact that Xu Yi made the same observation as Hipparchus is significant by the fact that Hipparchus is considered the first to propose the Heliocentric model (yet abandoned this work as the calculated orbits weren't perfectly cylindrical, the criteria at the time). We can speculate that this may also have influenced Xu Yi and other ancient astronomers' pursuits to not continue studying heliocentrism further.

Hipparchus is thought to be the first to calculate a heliocentric system,[6] but he abandoned his work because the calculations showed the orbits were not perfectly circular as believed to be mandatory by the science of the time. As an astronomer of antiquity, his influence, supported by ideas from Aristotle, held sway for nearly 2000 years, until the heliocentric model of Copernicus.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.