Mariner's compass

A Chinese compass with one row of characters. The compass consists of a red lacquered bowl covered with glass containing a dry-pivot needle. The needle points south. The north-south direction is indicated by a piece of metal over the glass. Around the rim there are 24 Chinese characters indicating the traditional azimuthal directions in 15 degree increments. These characters come from a row found on all Chinese geomantic compasses. It is believed that the Chinese mariner's compass developed from the geomantic one. Together the characters 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 the traditional characters from the geomancer's compass. The character indicating the direction 'South' is red, while all other characters are black. The rim with Chinese characters is made out of ivory.

Object Details

ID: NAV0240
Collection: Astronomical and navigational instruments
Type: Mariner's compass
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Unknown
Date made: c. 1760
Exhibition: Traders: The East India Company and Asia
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Overall: 104 x 113 mm

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