A sphere unto itself: the death and medieval framing of the history of Chinese cosmology

Abstract : The history of cosmology in China is something of a dead topic, our interest in “cosmology” having shifted in recent years to divination, political prophecy, and the metaphysics of correlative thought. This paper attempts to reopen the topic to examine how it was closed. What we know about the history of cosmology in first-millennium China derives from three sources: Shen Yue and Li Chunfeng’s respective “heavenly patterns” monographs (5th & 7th cent.) and Gautama Siddhārtha’s Kaiyuan zhanjing (729), all of which present that history as a contest of “three schools, one winner” that was settled by the second century. Evidencing a greater plurality of “schools,” I examine how and why each author perpetuated this single reductionist narrative, focusing in particular on the question of why the latter—an Indian-origin expert—is silent on Indian-origin ideas. If the history of “heaven’s form” cosmology is a dead topic, I argue, it is the medieval historian who wanted it so, albeit to end a debate that was very much still alive in his day. As to why the modern historian is content to let it lie, I suggest that it is for much the same reason.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 1:01:16 PM
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Daniel Patrick Morgan. A sphere unto itself: the death and medieval framing of the history of Chinese cosmology . 2016. ⟨halshs-01374811⟩

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