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Numbers with Histories: Li Chunfeng on Harmonics and Astronomy

Abstract : Focusing on Li Chunfeng’s 李淳風 (602–670) Sui shu 隋書 ‘Lü-li zhi’ 律曆志 (Treatise on Harmono-metrology and Mathematical Astronomy) and its predecessor in the Han shu 漢書, this chapter questions the universality of the marriage between these fields in Chinese thought, arguing instead that it is the product of specific compilers’ grappling with generic conventions and the messy course of history. The joint treatise appears first in the Han shu, a natural consequence of its reliance on Liu Xin’s 劉歆 (c.50 BCE–23 CE) synthetic writings, and culminates in Li Chunfeng’s treatises, after which subsequent histories abandon the model. Whatever the initial strength of this marriage, we argue, the common impulse to accuracy and empirical testing began to drive the two fields apart from both one another and from the promise of an elegant universal order as early as the Eastern Han. Framing his presentation on Liu Xin’s, and drawing heavily from his and others’ work, we attempt to show how Li Chunfeng’s editorial hand acts to address the unravelling of this order by imposing a telos upon the history of harmono-metrology and shifting the basis of the two fields from Book of Changes number symbolism to Nine Chapters number ratios, freeing number from the realm of timeless, petrified truth to allow it its own history in the face of progress.
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Submitted on : Thursday, December 29, 2016 - 2:03:40 PM
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Daniel Patrick Morgan, Howard L. Goodman. Numbers with Histories: Li Chunfeng on Harmonics and Astronomy. Monographs in Tang Official Historiography: Perspectives from the Technical Treatises of the History of Sui (Sui shu), 2019. ⟨halshs-01423329⟩

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