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6 The Huainanzi’s “Heavenly Patterns” and the Shiji’s “Treatise on the Celestial Offices”: What’s the Difference?

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Chapter Summary

Donald Harper has described this chapter as a synopsis of astro-calendrical knowledge derived from the more technical literature now restored to us; the Huainanzi seems to assume the Han reader's knowledge of the technical literature, without which it would have been difficult to follow the astrological essay. The précis of Huainanzi's "Heavenly Patterns" chapter explains how it achieves the lofty ambition expressed in "An Overview of the Essentials". Marc Kalinowski has explored the latter and their associated schema using excavated manuscripts from late Warring States and Han times. The prevailing practice among Liu An's specialists was clearly to rely virtually exclusively on schemata and devices like the mantic-astrolabe to make astromantic and hemerological predictions, rather than on direct visual observation. Even when the discussion of a topic in the "Heavenly Patterns" appears to match a topic in the Shiji's "Treatise", the resemblance is largely superficial.

Keywords: "Heavenly Patterns"; Donald Harper; Huainanzi; Liu An; Marc Kalinowski; Shiji's treatise; technical literature



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