First of all, what exactly does Nine
The concept the sky includes nine
components origins from traditional Chinese cosmology, and there are two
opinions about what type of components are. One assumption
suggests the sky includes nine positional parts as the chessboard consists of numerous
squares, while the other hypothesis proposes that the sky should include nine
layers with Matryoshka doll pattern. According to Lüshi Chunqiu, an
encyclopedic text compiled around 239 BC, the sky consists of nine districts in
the form of chessboard model, and each district has its specific name. However,
scholars of astronomy and philosophy support the nine layers hypothesis, which
is somewhat similar to Ptolemaic system. The nine layers
hypothesis finally defeats the former chessboard assumption, and Nine Heavens (九天, or equally
九霄) becomes Nine Layers of Heavens (九重天). When Ptolemaic system spread to Asia around the Age of Exploration, Chinese
astronomer indigenized Ptolemy’s work and the nine layers got their
names. If someone declares the nine layers are Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars,
Jupiter, Saturn, 28 Mansions and the Ancestral layer, remember that these names
are immigrant rather than local.
The second question, why novel authors tend
to use the concept of Nine Heavens?
To be short, the reason is that they are
familiar with this concept. As it is known to all, the novel one wrote would inevitably
be corresponding to the books he has read and to the things he has experienced.
These authors essentially absorbed nutrients from plenty of Chinese masterpieces,
i.e., “the sky includes nine heavens (圜则九重)… at
the boundary of the nine heavens (九天之际)” by Qu Yuan, a famous
poet, “is it the milky way descending from the nine heavens? (疑是银河落九天) ” by
Li Bai, another well-known poet, “the general who is skilled in attack flashes
forth from the topmost heights of nine heavens (善攻者动于九天之上)” by Sun
Wu, a military tactician, and “it is possible to grasp the moon from nine
heavens (可上九天揽月)” by Mao Zedong, a powerful statesman. It is no doubt that the
authors would be inspired as these written works refer to the concept over and over again.
And next, why nine? Why not eight, five or
Generally, nine is the best number.
As we know, the number 13 is thought
unlucky in some cultures, and it is easy to understand the fact that different
numbers have specific meanings and hints. In Chinese culture, ten is usually thought to be perfect. However, in
a famous myth, once there were ten suns upon the sky causing the earth scorch.
People suffering from blazing atmosphere were saved by Houyi, the heroic
archer, who shot down nine suns of the ten. It is suggested that ten is a
number too perfect to be used even by the formidable immortals as suns. Instead
of ten, nine becomes the largest number people use to convey the meaning of many
accordingly, showing their humbleness to the ultimate truth. For example, a paramount
mathematical book is named The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art, and a splendid
poem collection is named The Nine Songs.
Based on the duality from Daoism, 1, 3, 5,
7, 9, these odd numbers are classified as Yang (strong, warm, active, bright, and
creative), while the even numbers 2, 4, 6, 8 are sorted as Yin (yielding, cool,
passive, dark, and implicative). It is no doubt that nine gets much attention and favor as the largest Yang number. The powerful
minister who seeks to usurp to the throne, will force the king to award him
with the nine bestowments before the so called voluntary abdication. Here the nine
bestowments stand for the ceremony of the highest rank.
An additional aspect is about the
correspondence. Chinese people believe that there are some corresponding
relationships between the sky and the earth, and between the sky and the human
beings. In ancient times, the well-field system with chessboard pattern was carried on in the Chinese civilization.
As the agricultural land divided into nine parts, usually within a village or a
town, people started to enlarge this model to the province, to the nation, and
even to the entire cosmos correspondingly. The nine components pattern was
conducted, forming the nine provinces system of the nation, the nine nations hypothesis
of the continent, and of course the nine heavens of the sky. Yu the Great’s casting
bronze into nine ritual caldrons to symbolize the nine provinces, is one of the
examples of correspondence. Moreover, “the sovereign of nine and five”, which
means the king of the nine provinces and five elements, is the alias of the Chinese
emperor. In such a way, the factors of the sky, the earth and the human beings
are linked together.
To sum up, nine is the largest number with
humbleness, the noblest number, and the magic number indicating the correspondence
of the sky, the earth, the human, and the ultimate truth.