Dream Pool Essays
“ Because I had only my writing brush and ink slab to converse with, I call it Brush Talks. ”
1 History 2 Recent translations 3 Quotes
3.1 Geological theory
4 Book chapters 5 See also 6 Notes 7 References
7.1 Citations 7.2 Bibliography
8 Further reading 9 External links
As the historian Chen Dengyuan points out, much of Shen Kuo's written
work was probably purged under the leadership of minister Cai Jing
(1046-1126). For example, only six of Shen's books remain, and four
of these have been significantly altered since the time they were
penned by the author. The
Dream Pool Essays
English: Brush Talks from Dream Brook (two volumes) is the first
complete translation of Meng Xi Bi Tan (《梦溪笔谈》) by Wang
Hong and Zhao Zheng, published in 2008 by Sichuan People’s
Publishing House, China.
Modern Vernacular Chinese: Zhang Jiaju's biographical work Shen Kuo
(1962) contains selected translations of the
Dream Pool Essays
Quotes Geological theory With Shen's writings on fossils, geomorphology, and shifting geographical climates, he states in the following passages:
In the Zhi-ping reign period [1064–67 AD] a man of Zezhou was
digging a well in his garden, and unearthed something shaped like a
squirming serpent, or dragon. He was so frightened by it that he dared
not touch it, but after some time, seeing that it did not move, he
examined it and found it to be stone. The ignorant country people
smashed it, but Zheng Boshun, who was magistrate of
In recent years [cca. 1080] there was a landslide on the bank of a
large river in Yong-ning Guan near Yanzhou. The bank collapsed,
opening a space of several dozens of feet, and under the ground a
forest of bamboo shoots was thus revealed. It contained several
hundred bamboo with their roots and trunks all complete, and all
turned to stone...Now bamboos do not grow in Yanzhou. These were
several dozens of feet below the present surface of the ground, and we
do not know in what dynasty they could possibly have grown. Perhaps in
very ancient times the climate was different so that the place was
low, damp, gloomy, and suitable for bamboos. On the Jin-hua Shan in
When the Director of the Astronomical
If they were like balls they would surely obstruct each other when they met. I replied that these celestial bodies were certainly like balls. How do we know this? By the waxing and waning of the moon. The moon itself gives forth no light, but is like a ball of silver; the light is the light of the sun (reflected). When the brightness is first seen, the sun(-light passes almost) alongside, so the side only is illuminated and looks like a crescent. When the sun gradually gets further away, the light shines slanting, and the moon is full, round like a bullet. If half of a sphere is covered with (white) powder and looked at from the side, the covered part will look like a crescent; if looked at from the front, it will appear round. Thus we know that the celestial bodies are spherical.
I answered that the ecliptic and the moon's path are like two rings, lying one over the other, but distant by a small amount. (If this obliquity did not exist), the sun would be eclipsed whenever the two bodies were in conjunction, and the moon would be eclipsed whenever they were exactly in position. But (in fact) though they may occupy the same degree, the two paths are not (always) near (each other), and so naturally the bodies do not (intrude) upon one another.
On the use of the sighting tube to fix the position of the pole star,
Before Han times it was believed that the pole star was in the center of the sky, so it was called Jixing (Summit star). Zu Geng(-zhi) found out with the help of the sighting tube that the point in the sky which really does not move was a little more than 1 degree away from the summit star. In the Xining reign-period (1068-1077) I accepted the order of the emperor to take charge of the Bureau of the Calendar. I then tried to find the true pole by means of the tube. On the very first night I noticed that the star which could be seen through the tube moved after a while outside the field of view. I realized, therefore, that the tube was too small, so I increased the size of the tube by stages. After three months' trials I adjusted it so that the star would go round and round within the field of view without disappearing. In this way I found that the pole star was distant from the true pole somewhat more than 3 degrees. We used to make the diagrams of the field, plotting the positions of the star from the time when it entered the field of view, observing after nightfall, at midnight, and early in the morning before dawn. Two hundred of such diagrams showed that the 'pole star' was really a circumpolar star. And this I stated in my detailed report to the emperor.
[Bi Sheng] took sticky clay and cut in it characters as thin as the edge of a coin. Each character formed, as it were, a single type. He baked them in the fire to make them hard. He had previously prepared an iron plate and he had covered his plate with a mixture of pine resin, wax, and paper ashes. When he wished to print, he took an iron frame and set it on the iron plate. In this he placed the types, set close together. When the frame was full, the whole made one solid block of type. He then placed it near the fire to warm it. When the paste [at the back] was slightly melted, he took a smooth board and pressed it over the surface, so that the block of type became as even as a whetstone. If one were to print only two or three copies, this method would be neither simple nor easy. But for printing hundreds or thousands of copies, it was marvelously quick. As a rule he kept two forms going. While the impression was being made from the one form, the type was being put in place on the other. When the printing of the one form was finished, the other was then ready. In this way the two forms alternated and the printing was done with great rapidity.
Those in the world who speak of the regularities underlying the phenomena, it seems, manage to apprehend their crude traces. But these regularities have their very subtle aspect, which those who rely on mathematical astronomy cannot know of. Still even these are nothing more than traces. As for the spiritual processes described in the [Book of Changes] that "when they are stimulated, penetrate every situation in the realm," mere traces have nothing to do with them. This spiritual state by which foreknowledge is attained can hardly be sought through changes, of which in any case only the cruder sort are attainable. What I have called the subtlest aspect of these traces, those who discuss the celestial bodies attempt to know by depending on mathematical astronomy; but astronomy is nothing more than the outcome of conjecture.
Dissertation on the Timberwork Manual
Below are two passages from Shen's book outlining the basics contained
in Yu Hao's Timberwork Manual.
Yu Hao was a Chinese architect of the
earlier 10th, and Kuo was one to praise his work. In the first quote,
When Mr. Qian (Wei-yan) was Governor of the two
In this next quote,
Methods of building construction are described in the Timberwork Manual, which, some say, was written by Yu Hao. (According to that book), buildings have three basic units of proportion, what is above the cross-beams follows the Upperwork Unit, what is above the ground floor follows the Middlework Unit, and everything below that (platforms, foundations, paving, etc.) follows the Lowerwork Unit. The length of the cross-beams will naturally govern the lengths of the uppermost cross-beams as well as the rafters, etc. Thus for a (main) cross-beam of (8 ft) length, an uppermost cross-beam of (3.5 ft) length will be needed. (The proportions are maintained) in larger and smaller halls. This (2/28) is the Upperwork Unit. Similarly, the dimensions of the foundations must match the dimensions of the columns to be used, as also those of the (side-) rafters, etc. For example, a column (11 ft) high will need a platform (4.5 ft) high. So also for all the other components, corbelled brackets, projecting rafters, other rafters, all have their fixed proportions. All these follow the Middlework Unit (2/24). Now below of ramps (and steps) there are three kinds, steep, easy-going, and intermediate. In places these gradients are based upon a unit derived from the imperial litters. Steep ramps are ramps for ascending which the leading and trailing bearers have to extend their arms fully down and up respectively (ratio 3/35). Easy-going ramps are those for which the leaders use elbow length and the trailers shoulder height (ratio 1/38); intermediate ones are negotiated by the leaders with downstretched arms and trailers at shoulder height (ratio 2/18). These are the Lowerwork Units. The book (of Yu Hao) had three chapters. But builders in recent years have become much more precise and skillful (yen shan) than formerly. Thus for some time past the old Timberwork Manual has fallen out of use. But (unfortunately) there is hardly anybody capable of writing a new one. To do that would be a masterpiece in itself!
In the Yuan-Feng reign period (1078-1085), in the
A house belonging to Li Shunju was struck by lightning. Brilliant
sparkling light was seen under the eaves. Everyone thought that the
hall would be burnt, and those who were inside rushed out. After the
thunder had abated, the house was found to be alright, though its
walls and the paper on the windows were blackened. On certain wooden
shelves, certain lacquered vessels with silver mouths had been struck
by the lightning, so that the silver had melted and dropped to the
ground, but the lacquer was not even scorched. Also, a valuable sword
made of strong steel had been melted to liquid, without the parts of
the house nearby being affected. One would have thought that the
thatch and wood would have been burnt up first, yet here were metals
melted and no injury to thatch and wood. This is beyond the
understanding of ordinary people. There are
A passage called "Strange Happenings" contains a peculiar account of
an unidentified flying object. Shen wrote that, during the reign of
Emperor Renzong (1022–1063), an object as bright as a pearl
occasionally hovered over the city of
...opened its door and a flood of intense light like sunbeams darted out of it, then the outer shell opened up, appearing as large as a bed with a big pearl the size of a fist illuminating the interior in silvery white. The intense silver-white light, shot from the interior, was too strong for human eyes to behold; it cast shadows of every tree within a radius of ten miles. The spectacle was like the rising Sun, lighting up the distant sky and woods in red. Then all of a sudden, the object took off at a tremendous speed and descended upon the lake like the Sun setting.
Shen went on to say that Yibo, a poet of Gaoyou, wrote a poem about
this "pearl" after witnessing it. Shen wrote that since the "pearl"
often made an appearance around Fanliang in Yangzhou, the people there
erected a "Pearl Pavilion" on a wayside, where people came by boat in
hopes to see the mysterious flying object.
Ancient people use chi kang, (combined steel), for the edge, and jou thieh (soft iron) for the back, otherwise it would often break. Too strong a weapon will cut and destroy its own edge; that is why it is advisable to use nothing but combined steel. As for the yu-chhang (fish intestines) effect, it is what is now called the 'snake-coiling' steel sword, or alternatively, the 'pine tree design'. If you cook a fish fully and remove its bones, the shape of its guts will be seen to be like the lines on a 'snake-coiling sword'.
The clothing of
Book chapters On the humanities:
Official life and the imperial court (60 paragraphs)
On natural sciences:
On the I Ching, Yin and Yang, and 5 elements (7 paragraphs)
(Total number of paragraphs = 584) See also
List of Chinese writers
History of science and technology in China
^ a: Shen Gua (1031–1091) et les Sciences, Revue
d'Histoire des Sciences et de Leurs Applications (1989)
^ b: Florilège des notes du Ruisseau des rêves (Mengxi
bitan) de Shen Gua (1031–1095) by Jean-François Billete and 31 of
^ John Makeham (2008). China: The World's Oldest Living Civilization
Revealed. Thames & Hudson. p. 239.
^ in his biography in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York
^ Sivin, III, 44.
^ Sivin, III, 44-45.
^ a b c d Sivin, III, 45.
^ 张家驹 (1962). 沈括. 上海人民出版社.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 49.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 618.
^ a b Chan, 15.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 614.
^ a b Needham, Volume 3, 415-416.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 262.
^ Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 201.
^ Ropp, 170.
^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 141.
^ Needham, Volume 4, 82-84.
^ a b Needham, Volume 6, Part 1, 545.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 482.
^ Dong (2000), 69. (Professor Zhang Longqiao of the Chinese Department
of Peking Teachers' College, who popularized this account in Beijing's
Guang Ming Daily on February 18, 1979, in an article called "Could It
Be That A Visitor From Outer Space Visited
Chan, Alan Kam-leung and Gregory K. Clancey, Hui-Chieh Loy (2002).
Historical Perspectives on East Asian Science,
Fu, Daiwie. "On Mengxi Bitan’s world of marginalities and
“south-pointing needles”. Fragment translation vs. contextual
translation." (Archive) In: Alleton, Vivianne and Michael Lackner
(editors). De l'un au multiple: traductions du chinois vers les
langues européennes Translations from Chinese into European
Languages. Éditions de la maison des sciences de l'homme (MSH), 1999,
Paris. p. 176-201. ISBN 273510768X, 9782735107681.
Fu, Daiwie. "Mengxi Bitan as an example of organization of knowledge
in Song biji."
Shen Kua: mathematician, engineer, physicist, and astronomer