Astronomy and mathematics in ancient China
The 'Zhou Bi Suan Jing'
By Christopher Cullen
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1996
Online Publication Date:October 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511563720.005
Most previous discussions of the Zhou bi have at some point attacked the apparently obvious question of the date of the work. A recent study cites the opinions of fourteen scholars before coming to its own conclusion that ‘Therefore, the date of composition of the work must be in the early Western Han (c. 200 BC).’ We may note that the opinions cited give dates ranging from the traditional attribution to the Duke of Zhou in the eleventh century BC to the conclusions of a modern scholar that the book can be precisely bracketed into the period AD 9 to AD 84.
I do not intend to provide such a review of the work of all previous scholars on this topic before beginning my own discussion. My reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, and fairly trivially, a critical review of fourteen different opinions (each it must be said written with little or no reference to the others) is probably not the best way to help the reader towards clarity of mind on this question. More importantly, I believe that previous writers on this topic have largely misdirected their efforts in trying to find some epoch when the book as a whole could reasonably have been composed.
I suggest that two unspoken assumptions behind these efforts have lead to largely illusory results being obtained. Firstly, it is assumed that the Zhou bi is more or less a single entity which must therefore have some particular date of composition. I believe that on the contrary the different sections of the Zhou bi have extremely varied degrees of interrelation.