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by Elisabeth Hellenbroich
|This article is reprinted from the Fall 1996 issue of FIDELIO Magazine.
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G.W. Leibniz and the Ecumenical Alliance of All Eurasia
by Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The strategic vision of LaRouche is, historically, a further development of the strategic plan which the great philosopher and statesman Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz proposed more than three hundred years ago. This brilliant thinker, who sparked the advancement of the sciences and laid the groundwork for a scientific physical-economy after the Thirty Years War had ravaged Europe, saw the key for the development of a unified Europe in Eurasia in the development of Russia as the mediation between China and Europe.
It was Leibnizs vision that Europe, Russia, and China would form an alliance, based on the infrastructural exploration of these countries, in particular Russias Siberia; on the founding of scientific academies; and on a common effort to engage in scientific, historical, and comparative language studieswhich subjects were all to serve as the strategic and scientific guidelines for the work of the scientific academies of Europe.
Leibniz so highly esteemed the strategic importance of his Eurasian project, that in the general instruction of the Berlin Society of Science (1700) and other academy drafts, he cited the idea of the scientific mission in China and Russia as the essential aim of the academys work. Especially propitious for Leibniz, was the fact that he kept up a close personal relationship to the Russian Czar Peter I (the Great), and was at his disposal as adviser on questions of infrastructure.
In a 1716 memorandum directed to the Czar, entitled On the Arts and Sciences and Crafts in the Russian Empire, Leibniz provided an outline of how to create a scientific renaissance. The main points he emphasized were: (1) Create the necessary instruments for education; (2) Educate people in science; and (3) Discover new knowledge.
In this outline, Leibniz proposed that print shops, book shops, and libraries be established, in which manuscripts would be found which are unknown in Europe, manuscripts from Greece, Turkey, Persia. ... They should also collect books in many different languages, Slavonic, Dutch, Latin, Welsh, Spanish, also in Greek, in literary and vulgar Hebrew, Arabic, Syrian, Chaldean, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, and Chinese. But the largest part must be in Latin. ... Such a library should be established in such a way, that there would be pooled information from histories, countries, languages, sciences, foodin other words, that one would find there the whole treasury of human science, as much as there has been written about it.
For Leibniz, the key precondition for such a renaissance lay in the transmission, or rather, the replication of the method of ars inveniendi, the art of invention. And therefore, he wrote in this memorandum, that it was crucial to rediscover the best knowledge of mankind, starting with the earliest possible date of human civilization. We should order this knowledge in such a way ... that we can see origines inventionumthe origins of inventionhow, by what method, did man come to specific discoveries in the past, and how can he make new ones; because, by rediscovering the discoveries, we would have a method at hand which would improve the sciences, and a pathway for making new discoveries.
Hence, in addition to the library, he called in his memorandum for a cabinet displaying all optical, nautical, mechanical, and other inventions. ... This includes instruments which an architect and an engineer [mechanicus astronomus] needs. There also should be a theatris artis, Leibniz says, including models, such as those of newly invented machines for waterworks, mining, etc.
Leibniz, who from very early on had investigated the question of a grammar of thoughtan alphabet of human thinking, as called in his characteristica universalis, was addressing with the notion of origines inventionum, a question that is the underlying metaphor in many works of LaRouche, including his 1993 essay History As Science.*
It addresses the question of isochronicity in the history of mankindnamely, what is the connection between idea revolutions of the past, the present, and the future? And what is the underlying continuity principle in mankinds history, which is the precondition for guaranteeing the durable survival of mankind?
The capacity for durable survival of our species is measured by what LaRouche terms potential relative population-density (which collapsed whenever mankind was at a standstill, and which grew during times of technological and cultural advancement). LaRouche connects this measurement with three other necessary axioms: natural law, the idea of the sovereign individual, and the idea of the sovereign nation-state. It is the same question with which Plato introduces his famous dialogue, Timaeus.
At the beginning of this dialogue, Critias tells the story of the wise man Solon, who once visited the priests of the Temple of Amon in Egypt. These people had told Solon: You Greeks think you understand something about history, but you are like children. You have forgotten that once, many, many centuries ago, you had a civilization which collapsed because of natural catastrophes, and this happened to many cultures, without the question being asked: why did this happen? This story acts as a prelude to the dialogue, in which the astronomer Timaeus presents a series of hypotheses about the creation of the universe. Plato is saying here, that only when sovereign man explores the laws of nature, does he become not the victim of fate, but instead directs the course of history willfully.
Leibniz placed special importance on the exploration of the physical geography of the Eurasian lands; he spoke very often of the necessity of magnetic, i.e., cartographic surveying of Russia and China, especially Siberia. Only then could one think constructively about the promotion of agriculture, mining, and handicrafts, of the construction of canals, the draining of swampy areas, and, above all, of an opening up of Eurasia through industrial-transport technologieswherein he understood the construction of roads from Russia to China and Persia, the dredging of streams and canals, and so forth. Only through the mediation of Russia, would it be possible in the future to tie Europe with China, which would bring both sides, not only political-economic but also spiritual-cultural, mutual benefits. As he wrote in the instruction drafting the Berlin Society of Science: By this means, Chinese products and news from China would come to Europe, and on the other hand the Christian faith would spread to China and indeed spread through Moscow as the means of communication.
In the general instruction, the importance of the czar, Peter the Great, was especially stressed, as architect of the new European peace and economic order conceived in Leibnizs eyes: Because now the selfsame, owing to his great power and most extensive lands, can contribute a greatness to the establishing of our generally beneficial goal aimed at through the society, thus we want to consider, how with this monarch on this occasion trade be made customary and useful preparation be made, that from the boundaries of our lands as far as China, useful observationsastronomical, geographic, as well as national, linguistic and cultural things unknown to us, artificial and natural, and such-likebe made and sent to the society.
Leibniz and China
Leibniz was the first European scholar who, in a truly systematic way, transmitted to Europe a deeper knowledge about Chinas Confucian tradition. The only thing known at that time in Europe about Chinaand then, only among a very small circle of people, were the reports written by the Franciscan monks Montecorvino and Rubruch at the beginning of the Thirteenth century. These reports were known to the Vatican, and perhaps to the small circle around Christopher Columbus. Except for a few books here and there, there was no comprehensive map of China. (And, certainly, no one in Europe knew that, at the beginning of the Fifteenth century, the great Chinese Admiral Cheng had made five major maritime expeditions to the east coast of Africa, utilizing ships far in advance of the best in Europe; expeditions which were, unfortunately, suddenly halted and never resumed.)
Participating in this were the fathers Adam Schall von Bell, the Flemish Ferdinand Verbiest, the Italian Grimaldi, the French fathers Joachim Bouvet, Jean François Gerbillon, and Antoine Verjus, to name a fewall of whom were either directly in charge of the emperors Astronomical Station and Mathematical Tribunal, were consulted as engineers in the various hydraulic works being undertaken, or served as diplomats. In some of the letters Leibniz wrote to Father Grimaldi, as well as to the Polish Father Kochanski, he inquired, for example, whether there are not some traces of geometry by proofs in the old writings of the Chinese, and some traces of metaphysics; and whether they knew the theorem of Pythagoras?... Whether there are some natural scientific works by the Chinese, translated into Latin. ... Whether they have some interesting machines, which could be replicated in Europe; ... what kind of artificial means they use in agriculture; ... what about their iron production and mineral mines, how do they produce salt and sodium?
Lastly, he wanted to be informed concerning a Clavis Sinica, that is, a grammar of the Chinese language. Again and again, Leibniz emphasized the importance of comparative language studies: he wanted studies using the Lords Prayer to be carried out, in particular for those languages in the region between Russia and China, as a means to discover something about the origin of mankind and of human thought. And, by comparing the basic principles of Confucian philosophy with the principles of Platonic-Christian philosophy, he came to the conclusion that, in the ancient Chinese culture, the same universal questions concerning a Supreme Being, the laws of the universe, and man, were asked, as they were asked by Plato and answered by the Christians.
That is, Leibniz found that the human mind, no matter in which part of the world, follows the same pathway of reasoning. This proves the universal quality of the creative mind. One example was Chinese astronomy, which was ancient, and which Leibniz studied. Lyndon LaRouche has noted that the oldest extant poetry, the Vedic hymns of India, tell the story of how human civilization began to develop on the basis of observing the planets and developing a solar astronomical calendar; and, thus, how the laws of the universe were explored and civilization born.
In one of the many letters written to Grimaldi, Leibniz refers to the correspondence between the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler and Father Terrentius, who in 1630 worked as astronomer at the court of the Chinese emperor. He reported that Kepler was very interested and helped to bring to China his Rudolphine Tables, and also corrected a few mistakes that had crept into Chinese astronomy owing to poor handling of the texts.
The individual who played a central role in the spirited exchange between the Jesuit fathers and China, as brought out in the Novissima Sinica, was the Chinese Emperor Kang Hsi, a descendant of the Manchu Dynasty. His thirst for knowledge was nearly unbelievable, reported Leibniz, for he occupied himself together with Father Verbiest in the seclusion of an inner chamber three or four hours daily on mathematical instruments and books, as a student with his teacher. And he made such great progress, that he comprehended Euclidean proofs, understood trigonometric calculations, and, thus, was in a position to express astronomical phenomena numerically.
Under Kang Hsis reign, the first important Chinese-Russian border treaty was concluded, and great infrastructure projects initiated: dam building, to master flooding, as well as the building of a very extensive network of canals.
Kang Hsi corresponded to the Platonic-Leibnizian ideal of a philosopher king, which was also a central concept of Confucian philosophy, found in the philosophical writings of Mencius and of the great, Twelfth-century neo-Confucian, Chu Hsi. Unlike the viewpoint of the Chinese Legalists, Sophists, and Taoists, Confucian philosophy states that man is by nature good, and that the highest goal in the life of man, is to be able to govern himself, to do bona opera (good works), and to contribute in the best possible way to the well-being of all. This principle says, that those who rule should do so according to the idea of the good, of justice, love, and reason. They should fulfill the Mandate of Heavenand if they violate it, they should not rule.
Leibnizs News from China
In the year 1697, Leibniz synthesized his programmatic ideas for China in a kind of leitmotif, in the little book Novissima Sinica. I consider it a singular plan of the Fates that human cultivation and refinement should today be concentrated, as it were, in the two extremes of our continent, in Europe and in China, which adorns the Orient as Europe does the opposite edge of the Earth. Perhaps Supreme Providence has ordained such an arrangement, so that, as the most cultivated and distant peoples stretch out their arms to each other, those in between may gradually be brought to a better way of life. And I think it is likewise not accidental for the Russians, who through their huge empire connect China with Europe, and who rule over the far north of the uncivilized area along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, that with the help and the engagement of their present ruler, they will follow on the pathway of our discoveries.
Among the most important China plans expressed in the Novissima Sinica, were the founding of a world Academy of Science, which would be engaged jointly in Western and Chinese science; the future role of Russia as mediator between China and Europe; the exploration of Siberia; and not least, the founding of comparative philology, which would yield information about the assumed common origin of all peoples.
In the 1689 letter to Father Grimaldi cited above, which is reproduced in the Novissima Sinica, Leibniz inquires in detail about this, and other things:
15. Whether there are traces of geometric proofs in the old writings of the Chinese, and any traces of metaphysics, and whether that one theorem was already known which seemed to be worth Pythagoras hecatomb?Comparing China to Europe, Leibniz was deeply touched by the ethical conduct of the Chinese, and their respect for the individual. He therefore suggested that, given the moral decay in Europe, the Chinese should send missionaries to Europe, in order to teach them their practical philosophy. On the other hand, while Leibniz saw Chinese manufacturing and machine buildingi.e., the technological level equal to Europeshe nonetheless emphasized that the Chinese lacked the first eye which the Europeans had developed: exact mathematics. [W]e also have a second eye which they dont know too well, which I call the first philosophy, wrote Leibniz. But the scientific study of the stars and the planets (as Father Verbiest said in his Latin and Chinese studies), the Muse Urania which seems to influence the Chinese emperor, has opened up a situation in which our sacred and truly heavenly teachings (Christian theology) are finding an open field.
Leibniz, in full admiration for this great country of the Orient, was of the opinion that perhaps not since the Apostles, had a greater cultural endeavor been initiated, from the standpoint of Christian thought, than in China.
In the same year that Novissima Sinica appeared, Leibniz wrote a letter to Duke Rudolph August of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, entitled The Secret of Creation. Added to the letter was a coin which Leibniz had designed, in which he represented the binary number system, which he had been able to rediscover, as he says, on the basis of a study of the 3,000-year-old texts of the Chinese Fuh Hi. Imago creationis and ex nihil ducendis Sufficit Unum were the leitmotifs for the coin. Leibniz explains why: The world has been created out of nothing, by the almightiness of God. And this could not be better represented, he says, than by the origin of number (which for Leibniz was a metaphysical idea, a Platonic thought-object), and the development of number out of One and Zero. The secret of Creation was that God not only created all out of nothing, but that He created it well, and that all that He created was good. Therefore, he said, He would have conceived of an image showing light and darkness, because in the beginning the earth was without form, and void, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. The empty void, the terrible darkness belongs to Zero and Nothing, but Gods spirit with His light is the One, Leibniz explained. And he printed underneath, on the coin, the binary number system, the predecessor to todays digital computer systems.
Leibnizs Philosophical Method
Leibniz was a devout Platonist. Contrary to the empiricists, naturalists, and Taoists, Leibniz showed with his scientific method that man, on the basis of a universal quality of his mind, a natural light, can, out of himself, create new ideas. And man does it in such a way that, in a sense, everything that he thinks, exists virtually in his mind from the beginning, because the mind always expresses his future thoughts. And, Leibniz says, man thinks in a somewhat confused way today, that which he will one day think out as a clear thought-object: Nothing could be taught to us (as Platos dialogue Meno, on the discovery of irrational numbers, shows), if the idea were not inborn in our mindwhich is like the matter out of which new thought-objects are formed.
Leibniz saw the excellence of the Platonic method of thinking, demonstrated by the fact that he [Plato] defines the mind as a self-moving substance, which out of its own, freely determines its actions, and therefore Plato correctly conceives the mind as the principle of action contrary to matter ... [and] that all real knowledge is concerned with eternal truth, and that universal, eternal ideas have more reality than ephemeral ideas, which come and go and participate in matter.
This means that, for Leibniz:
In the course of his intensive studies of Chinese language and astronomy, as well as of Confucian philosophy, Leibniz came to the conclusion, that there existed in the old Chinese culture a methodical mental stance, which came to the same representations concerning the Most High, Absolute, God, the laws of the universe, and humanity, as had Plato and the Christian philosophers.
Shortly before his death in 1716, Leibniz wrote a philosphical essay, which he unfortunately could not complete, called The Natural Theology of the Chinese. This essay contains a harsh criticism of a reductionist approach in the interpretation of Confucian philosophy. Leibnizs criticism was prompted by the work of the two Jesuits, the Italian Niccolo Longobardi and the Frenchman St. Marie, who in Leibnizs opinion had reduced Confucianism to a materialistic, naturalistic, or pantheistic philosophy. China is a great empire, no less in area than cultivated Europe, Leibniz wrote, and indeed surpasses it in population and orderly government. Moreover, there is in China in certain regards, an admirable public morality conjoined to a philosophical doctrine, or rather doctrine of natural theology, venerable by its antiquity, established and authorized for about three thousand years, long before the philosophy of the Greeks, whose works nevertheless are the earliest which the rest of the world possesses, except for our sacred writings. For both of these reasons, it would be highly foolish and presumptuous on our part, having newly arrived, compared to them, and scarcely out of barbarism, to want to condemn such an ancient doctrine because it does not appear to agree at first glance with our ordinary scholastic notions. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that one could destroy this doctrine without great upheaval. Thus, it is reasonable to inquire whether we could give it a proper meaning. I only wish that we had more complete accounts and greater quantities of extracts of Chinese classics, more accurately translated.
Leibniz, studying the original texts of Confucius and Chu Hsi, made out of this dialogue a fascinating synthesis between the basic principles of Confucianism, and Christian philosophy. With the kind of love that we know from Lyndon LaRouches approach to people, always taking the best from everyone, and from the standpoint of reason, Leibniz concluded that the three main principles of Confucianism all come very near to what the Christians conceive as God.
One should above all consider their Li, which is the prime mover and ground of all things, Leibniz says, and he quotes: The first principle of the Chinese is called Li, that is, reason, or the foundation of all nature, the most universal reason and substance; there is nothing greater nor better than Li. From Li qua Li emanate five virtues: piety, justice, religion, prudence, and faith. For the Chinese, just as Li is Being par excellence, so it also possesses truth and Goodness par excellence. ... Should one after all not say that the Chinese came very close to that absolute substance which we pray to under the name of God?
Li is not the material cause of things, as Father Longobardi had assumed, nor a world soul in the sense of Spinoza or Averroes. (Spinoza reduced everything to a single substance, of which all things were only modifications.) But Jovis omnia plenaGod fills all, that is, He is in all things and all things are in Him. The second principle, Chi, corresponds to matter, just as it corresponds to the instrument of the first principle which moves matter. In consequence of this production of prime matter by the primary principle, or primitive form, by pure activity, by the operation of God, Chinese philosophy more closely approaches Christian theology than the philosophy of the ancient Greeks. ... Admittedly, it appears that the Chinese believed that the Li first and always produced its Chi, and therefore one is as eternal as the other. But there should be nothing surprising about this, since they were apparently ignorant of the one Revelation which can explain to us the beginning of the universe. St. Thomas Aquinas and other great doctors have claimed that the dogma could not be demonstrated by reason alone. ... And there are those who believe that because the beginning of the Chinese empire occurred during the time of the Patriarchs, they could have learned about the creation of the world from the Patriarchs.
The third principle, Shangdi, and Li are the same thing, Leibniz says. One has every reason to give to God the name of Shangdi. What we call the light of reason in man, Confucius calls the commandment and law of Heaven: To offend Heaven is to act against reason, to ask pardon of Heaven is to reform oneself and to make a sincere return in word and deed in the submission one owes to this very law of reason. For me, I find this quite excellent and quite in accord with natural theology. Far from finding any distorted understanding here, I believe that it is only by wrong interpretations and by interpolations that one could find anything to criticize on this point. It is pure Christianity, insofar as it renews the natural law inscribed in our heartsexcept for what revelation and grace add to it to improve our nature.
Leibniz, the Solon of Russia
From the beginning, Leibniz was clear that a rapprochement between China and Europe was only possible, if at the same time Russia, which he viewed as a country with immense, though unexploited possibilities, were developed. In October 1711, the first personal discussion occurred between Leibniz and the czar, Peter I (the Great), in Torgau.
Other than the written documents of engagement which Leibniz himself later wrote, there exist no notes on record of this historic meeting. However, it is clear from the various memoranda and letters, which Leibniz directed to the czar or to ambassadors and ministers of his, such as War Minister von Huyssen, the ambassador von Urbich, and Lord High Chancellor Golovkin, which projects he placed in the center of his Russian plan. Thus, the establishment of a magnetic observatory, with whose help the vast land might be cartographically surveyed and infrastructurally developed, appeared very essential to him. At the same time, Leibniz submitted to Peter the Great a project for the investigation of the languages of Asian peoples and the origin of languages, and stressed the importance of these philological inquiries to the Christianization of Asia and Russia.
Among additional projects which he proposed, were the exploration of Siberia, the dredging of Russian river systems, the draining of swampy areas, the exploitation of undeveloped Russian mineral resources, the building of Russian road networks to China and Persia, the establishment of observatories and, not last, his greatest concern, the establishment of scientific academies and schools for the spread of the best and most progressive knowledge.
In his essay The Education of a Prince, he raised the aim of the Russian education plans to a concept. Learning is a question of the necessary, the useful, and the agreeable. It is decisive, that one be a good man, a man of heart, a man of judgment and generally a cultured man. The good person strongly and actively cherishes feelings of piety, righteousness, and love of man, and makes every effort to do his duty. The man of heart cannot easily be shaken and proves, in all of lifes circumstances, his freedom and presence of mind. The man of judgment thinks and judges rightly overall, without letting himself be dazzled by the light. And the cultured man knows at all times to maintain decency and to avoid all that is improper ... .
Leibnizs vision, to bring about a union between China and Europe by way of Russia, runs like a thread through his memoranda and letters. It was like his earlier legal proposal to Frances Louis XIV, a Consilium Aegyptiacum, a strategic flanking maneuver against the power politics of France, Holland, and Sweden, which at that time threatened to split Europe into many opposing interests and powers.
In a letter of Jan. 16, 1712, Leibniz wrote to Peter the Great: Have moreover also wanted to enclose an extract from Chinese or Cathay letters, from which to see, how also there one considers scientific advancement and how therein Your Majesty could attach China and Europe with one another ... . P.S.: It appears, it is Gods Providence that science should transform the circle of the Earth and henceforth also come to Scythia and that Your Majesty could be the instrument thereof, since he could take the best, on the one side from Europe, on the other side from China, and could improve what both did through good institutions. Leibniz was deeply saddened over the small resonance his projects found with the German territorial princes, and also in the rest of Europe. In a letter to Chancellor Golovkin of Jan. 16, 1712, he wrote that he would rather that his vision win a ruler like the czar of Russia or the emperor of China, whose decisions could contribute to the well-being of millions of men, than to suffocate in the mediocrity and smallness of territorial princes:
Since my youth, it has been my goal, to work for the glory of God for the growth of the sciences ..., in which I have in part succeeded through Godly grace, in that I made new discoveries in the Republic of Sciences ..., I am constantly ready, to direct my thoughts to the great goal. And I have only sought a prince who has the same goal. And therein I make no differentiation, neither in regard to the nation nor the party. ... I would rather see, if these sciences bloom strongly with Russians, than work only in a mediocre fashion in Germany.
The land where this will flourish best, will be the most beloved to me, since the whole of humanity will ever profit from it, and its true treasures will have been increased. For, the true treasures of humanity are the arts and sciences. That is what most distinguishes humans from animals, and the civilized from barbarians.
The Memorandum to Czar Peter
In his first Memorandum for the Czar Peter on a Society of Sciences in Russia, Leibniz summarized his conceptions thus:
It appears to be Gods providence, that the two most powerful rulers of the earth, the czar and the emperor of China, take pains with great eagerness to introduce in their lands the knowledge of European sciences and their applications. The czar has personally familiarized himself with this knowledge with us, and it would be most unfortunate if such an opportunity, which was given to us by God, remained unused and the utmost were not put in place to make use of this for the benefit of Christendom. If there is something which should hinder the completion of these plans, then it is the unhappy condition in which Europe finds itself at this time. Fear prevails with the Protestants concerning the oppression of their religion.
The idea of Europe, China, and Russia working together, led Leibniz, in the disastrous period after the Thirty Years War, to create the foundation of modern Europe. He saw the key to this in the infrastructural opening and development of Eurasiaabove all of Russia and China, based upon a scientific renaissance. However, Leibniz knew that such a renaissance were only possible, if the art of invention ars inveniendi were to be replicated in the thought of every individual.
If we transfer Leibnizs design to our current time, and hold it before our eyes, we see clearly the enhanced vision of Lyndon LaRouche for the Twenty-first century.
Leibniz conceived his idea of an ecumenical alliance between Confucian and Christian thinking, from the standpoint of bona opera, that is, a method to generate, transmit, and assimilate new discoveries through good works. It is not conceivable to develop the gigantic potentials of Asia, and to guarantee the provision of all humanity with vital necessities, unless we apply ourselves to the development of these most populated lands of the earth. Just as for Leibniz, so for us, there must be no distinction between any nation or party, and that country in which the sciences will best flourish, will be the most loved ..., because all mankind will profit from it.
This is Leibnizs legacy, as we today confront the greatest crisis human civilization has ever seen.
For further reading: Previous issues of Fidelio have featured the following in-depth studies of China and the West by Michael O. Billington: Toward the Ecumenical Unity of East and West, Summer 1993 (Vol. II, No. 2), pp. 4-35; The Taoist Perversion of Twentieth-Century Science, Fall 1994 (Vol. III, No. 3), pp. 76-96; and The Enlightenment and the Middle Kingdom, Summer 1995 (Vol. IV, No. 2), pp. 34-62.
The Rudolphine Tables were a systematic mapping of the motion of the planets, calculated by Kepler and named by him after Emperor Rudolph II. Kepler used the data that he and Tycho Brahe developed at Tychos observatory, the best observatory in the world to that date, for this purpose. For the impact of Keplers astronomy on China, see Michael O. Billington, Kepler and Renaissance Science in China, 21st Century Science & Technology, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1996, pp. 51-64.
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