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Aspects of cyclic myth in Chinese and Western literature Chen, Robert Shan-Mu

Abstract

This thesis is a comparative study of the history and literary form of the cyclic myth in Chinese and Western European culture. The cyclic myth is seen as a complex of discrete myths and rituals which tend to identify man with the periodic regeneration of nature and celestial bodies in order to ensure personal duration against the flux of time. By comparing the origins and transformations of the cyclic myth in both cultures the essential distinctions between Chinese and Western literature will be revealed as both cosmological and ontological. In order to bring the Chinese cyclic myth into a coherent perspective, efforts are devoted to the reconstruction and analysis of fifteen Chinese myths which concern temporal consciousness. The original cyclic myth is then traced through increasing levels of abstraction: ritual, natural religion, and finally philosophical speculation, for each has been incorporated within the cyclic mentality of the homogeneous Chinese culture. With the abstraction of the cyclic myth broadly defined, the paper turns to a historical study of the presentation and function of archetypal cyclic images and patterns in Chinese literature, relating these insights to the Chinese world-view. A subsequent survey of the survival of the cyclic myth in Western literature, despite the dominant eschatology of Christianity, serves as the focus of comparison between East and West. By a general delineation of the cyclic myth's transmutation in Judaeo-Christian culture, the paper proposes a better discernment of the cyclic schema as an informing structure of literary works or an index of culture, and a further understanding of the cyclic myth as a whole.

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