Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought

Chapters Three, Four, and Five of the Huainanzi

By John S. Major

Subjects: Taoism
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791415863, 408 pages, August 1993
Hardcover : 9780791415856, 408 pages, August 1993

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Table of contents



1. Preliminary Considerations

2. A General Introduction to Early Han Cosmology

3. Huainanzi Chapter 3: Tianwenxun


The Treatise on the Patterns of Heaven
Translation and Commentary


4. Huainanzi Chapter 4: Dixingxun


The Treatise on Topography
Translation and Commentary


5. Huainanzi Chapter 5: Shicixun


The Treatise on the Seasonal Rules
Translation and Commentary


Appendix A. "A Chinese Eratosthenes of the Flat Earth: A Study of a Fragment of Cosmology in Huainanzi" by Christopher Cullen

Appendix B. The Heavenly Stems, the Earthly Branches and the Sexagenary Cycle

Technical and Textual Notes

Reference Notes




The Huainanzi has in recent years been recognized by scholars as one of the seminal works of Chinese thought at the beginning of the imperial era, a summary of the full flowering of early Taoist philosophy. This book presents a study of three key chapters of the Huainanzi, "The Treatise on the Patterns of Heaven," "The Treatise on Topography," and "The Treatise on the Seasonal Rules," which collectively comprise the most comprehensive extant statement of cosmological thinking in the early Han period.

Major presents, for the first time, full English translations of these treatises. He supplements the translations with detailed commentaries that clarify the sometimes arcane language of the text and presents a fascinating picture of the ancient Chinese view of how the world was formed and sustained, and of the role of humans in the cosmos.

John S. Major is Senior Editor of the Book-of-the-Month Club, Inc. , formerly taught Chinese and Japanese history at Dartmouth College, and was the Director of the China Council of the Asia Society from 1984 to 1986. He is coauthor with Joseph Needham, et al. of The Hall of Heavenly Records and author of The Land and People of China.


"It presents a careful, accurate, thoroughly annotated translation of a major section of one of the most important texts in the intellectual history of early imperial China, a translation which copes admirably with both the sinological difficulties and the astronomical technicalities of the text. " — Mark Edward Lewis, University of Cambridge

"Major's book is an outstanding contribution to the field of Chinese studies; while generously acknowledging his debt to many predecessors, Major's work will supersede many books and articles on the same subject. It is written with accuracy, insight, and elegance. " — Charles Le Blanc, University of Montreal