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  • Response to Michael Saso's Review of In and Outside the Square:The Sky and the Power of Belief in Ancient China and the World, c. 4500 b.c.-a.d. 200, 3 Volumes, Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 192, in China Review International vol. 16, no. 4 (2009)
  • John C. Didier (bio)

At the outset of this response to Professor Michael Saso's review of my work, I wish to state that I very much appreciate his kind, polite review of my three volumes of Sino-Platonic Papers 192, viz., In and Outside the Square: The Sky and the Power of Belief in Ancient China and the World, c. 4500 b.c.-a.d. 200, that in 2010 he prepared for and published in the periodical China Review International (16:4, 2009, pp. 491-493).

With such sincere appreciation, it thus pains me to indicate that, from most of Professor Saso's comments, it is apparent that he had not actually read the full three volumes of my work under review but only skimmed hurriedly perhaps my synoptic overview of all three volumes found in the front material of the first volume and then also glanced over perhaps the first ten pages or so of each of my three volumes. Further, in his analysis and critique he seems to have interpolated his understanding of very distinct later periods of Chinese culture, religion, ritual practices, and philosophy to the content of my work that covers earlier periods, including the Neolithic, Bronze, Zhou, and early-imperial periods. Below I respond to his comments that rather thoroughly misrepresent my work.

First, Professor Saso misrepresents my thesis regarding the stellar quadrilateral that populated the northern celestial pole between circa 4500 and 800 b.c.e. He quotes my language from a passing comment that I offered in volume 2, chapter 1 (which he mistakenly attributes to volume 3, chapter 6) that indicates my very tentative hypothesis that the possibility that the dualism perhaps apparent in the two sets of stars that comprised the two bracketing ends of the contemporary polar stellar quadrilateral, that is, the two sets of the stars of Mizar & Alioth and Pherkad & Kochab, constituted a dualism that might have affected later Chinese dualistic thought (e.g., Chinese yin/yang or "off-on," binary, thinking), to suggest that this minor, adjunct proposal of possible early Chinese dualistic observation and thinking that I offered only in passing was a central tenet of my overall three-volume thesis. In fact, it was [End Page 41] not at all central to my thesis, and Professor Saso's serious misrepresentation of my thesis causes my work thus to appear rather fanciful.

To wit, Professor Saso quotes the following passage from the midst of chapter 1 of volume 2 of Sino-Platonic Papers (SPP) 192 that I merely added as a passing thought with regard to the polar quadrilateral to suggest a possible origin of much later dualistic or binary thinking that indeed surfaced in the classical Chinese tradition. Professor Saso quotes me,

The point here is that the dualism of the two sets of circumpolar stars Mizar & Alioth and Pherkad & Kochab may have been recognized, since their geometry surrounding the meridian of the heavens and polar center might have been mimicked on earth in the form of the early symbol of 中, a design that from Shang times and on has meant, very significantly, center (and, specifically, political center that in turn necessarily relied on a sacred center).

(volume 3, chapter 6, pp. 6-10 in text, pp. 9-14 in the PDF page enumeration)

Professor Saso then proceeds to interpolate into this passage his mistaken belief that my argument and thrust that an ancient Chinese quadrilaterally conceived center of the heavens was based on this aside, a thoroughly informally offered postulation, regarding the possible origins of classical Chinese philosophical binarism in actual stellar components of the contemporary (fifth to second millennia b.c.e.) northern celestial pole. This was a postulation only, intended as thoroughly unverified food for thought for my contemporary colleagues. That Professor Saso adopted this passage as his foundation for his understanding of my thesis is not only thoroughly inaccurate but also sadly...