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Zhang Heng's Huntian yi zhu Revisited

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The Huntian yi zhu is one of the earliest surviving works on astronomy in ancient China. It is traditionally attributed to Zhang Heng (78-139) of the Eastern Han. Modern scholars have studied the text for the past seven decades and there seems to be agreement on its interpretation, especially on its mathematical contents. This article identifies one major flaw in the assumptions among the modern studies of the piece: the term shao ban, incorrectly taken to mean “one quarter,” should mean “one third.” The mathematical interpretation of the Huntian yi zhu by scholars including Christopher Cullen and Chen Meidong has to be reworked. A new reading is presented here, which demonstrates Zhang Heng's meticulousness on the one hand and our adherence to the philological principle of lectio difficilior potior (the more difficult reading is the stronger) on the other.

Affiliations: 1: (University of Washington)


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