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Title: Cosmographical discussions in China from early times up to the T'ang Dynasty
Author: Cullen, Christopher
ISNI:       0000 0001 3400 0031
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 1977
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Cosmography is the study of the shape, size, disposition and other properties of the large-scale components of the physical universe. The following survey assembles and discusses available Chinese material on this subject from early times up to the rise of the T'ang dynasty in A.D. 618, after which Chinese interest in the topic seems to have diminished. Part I discusses evidence from texts dating before 250 B.C. A cosmography involving a number of mythical elements is thus reconstituted; heaven is a solid vault over a flat square earth. Geographical speculations about the existence of several continents are discussed. Part II describes the Kai t'ien theory according to the Chou pei, a book possibly compiled in the first century B.C.; an umbrella-like heaven rotates over a similarly shaped earth. The dimensions of this universe are linked to astronomical observations made with a gnomon. Parts III, IV and V follow the general discussion of cosmography from 250 B.C. to the close of the survey. The Kai t'ien theory was repeatedly criticised on empirical grounds, and by about 100 A.D. had been replaced by the Hun t'ien theory, which involved a spherical heaven rotating about an inclined axis and enclosing a flat earth. Within the context of this scheme there was much discussion of points of detail, including the cause of the luminosity of the heavenly bodies and the mechanism of eclipses. Considerable efforts were made to establish the dimensions of the Hun t'ien universe, but were vitiated by lack of an adequate geometry. A number of other original but less important theories were proposed. It appears that the ancient Chinese never conceived of the earth as spherical; implications of this are discussed in the Introduction.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral