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The Chinese ‘Cyclic’ View Of History Vs. Japanese ‘Progress’

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Chapter Summary

History repeats itself. When the ancients identified cyclic movements in the heavens, they naturally must have been struck with the idea that terrestrial events conform to the celestial cycles, and that everything under the heavens repeats itself. The notion of periodical cataclysmic destructions and recreations of the physical world existed in ancient Chinese civilization, as among the Indians and Greeks. The Chinese were too committed to their cyclic view of nature to move in either of these directions. Astronomers were the first to postulate progress over time. Even as early as the time of Ptolemy, Chinese astronomers must have been aware that angle measurements of celestial positions were increasing in precision. The Chinese experienced slow continuous progress over time in one geographical location, as evidenced most clearly in the increase of astronomical precision. Japanese intellectuals could thus flexibly accept change originating inside or outside their national boundaries.

Keywords: celestial cycles; Chinese astronomers; Chinese civilization; Japanese intellectuals



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