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Documentary explores the history of astronomy in China

16 Aug 2017 James Dacey

By James Dacey

A new documentary explores the development of astronomy in China, taking viewers from the protoscience of ancient China through to the nation’s ambitious space exploration programmes of today. Directed by Beijing-based filmmaker René Seegers, the film has recently been broadcast on Shanghai Television along with screenings at a range of academic institutions, cultural and scholarly societies and embassies throughout China. Now, you can watch the film on the Physics World YouTube channel (with English subtitles).

“The Ancient Chinese believed that Heaven was a power, or a deity, which judged humans. Heaven was responsible for weather and for natural disasters. It was not a realm accessible to humans,” explains Ying Da, the documentary’s presenter. Ying is a media personality who shot to fame in China for directing the family sitcom I Love My Family (1993–1994).

Of course, in recent times Chinese scientists and engineers have taken a much more proactive approach to understanding the cosmos. Since the People’s Republic of China launched its first satellite in 1970 (Dong Fang Hong I), the nation has been ramping up its space programmes. The documentary takes viewers to observatories and the final construction phase of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the largest single-dish radio telescope on Earth. It also joins Chinese scientists in Antarctica and explores the leading role China is playing in the construction and operation of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.

Seegers produced the film with financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The project was commissioned by Ziping Zhang
from Beijing Planetarium and Richard de Grijs of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University. De Grijs explains more about the film’s conception and production process in this article, written shortly after the film’s premiere in November 2016.

Details of China’s ambitious space programme are also featured in Physics World’s latest special report on China. That free-to-access report includes articles about how China is planning to become a global leader in lunar exploration, as well as establish a permanent space station by 2022. Let us know your thoughts on the documentary by posting a comment on this article or on our YouTube channel.

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