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This is an instrument for celestial observation. It tells the time through observations of the sun, moon and other stars. It is in effect a version of the armillary sphere. Of the four rings supported by the pillars, the Meridian circle (ziwu quan), the largest vertical one, is fixed. The outer circle of the level double-rings is fixed, as well, while the inner one can rotate right and left within the same level. The smallest one in the center spins freely around its central axis.
This instrument is supported by seven pillars standing on a cross-shaped base designed into water channels that can be filled to check the levelness of the instrument. A compass is installed on one of the animal decorations for north-south orientation. The outer edge of the Meridian circle is incised with a mark reading "Made in the bingyin year  of the Qianlong reign of the Great Qing" (Da Qing Qianlong bingyinnian zhi). An instrument of the same design is illustrated in the astronomy section of the eighteenth-century compendium Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Qing Dynasty (Huangchao liqi tushi).