The Chinese compass and the birth of navigation

By Sichuan Museum

The compass is the result of the ancient discovery of  magnetic properties of objects. One of ancient China's great inventions, it has played an inestimable role in the development of human science, technology and civilization. 

Luopan in Qing dynastySichuan Museum

In ancient China, the compass was first used for worship, fortune-telling and geomancy - the art of aligning buildings.

In the late 11th or early 12th century, Chinese sailors adopted the compass for astronomical and terrestrial navigation, heralding a new era in the history of navigation.

The first compasses had a central pool of water surrounded by concentric circles.

Others had a thimble, magnetic needle, submarine line, outer box, and a glass cover fixed across the inner disk.

This one has an outer plate inlaid with wood with several concentric circles.

It is painted with black lacquer, and each concentric circle shows diagrams, constellations, patterns, and words related to the heavens.

Luopan in Modern TimesSichuan Museum

This compass is made of yellow wood with ten concentric circles outside the central 'Tianchi pool'.

Each circle represents different aspects of the ancient Chinese understanding of nature.

Observations about the heavens, the world and the universe illustrate the surface.

Luopan (1949)Sichuan Museum

This wooden compass is painted black paint with words in red lacquer.

LuopanSichuan Museum

This dish is made of wood, black paint on the outside and the words is writted with yellow lacquer.

Credits: Story

Sichuan Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps