Shen Kuo (Chinese: 沈括; 1031–1095), courtesy name Cunzhong
(存中) and pseudonym Mengqi (now usually given as Mengxi) Weng
(夢溪翁), was a
Han Chinese polymathic scientist and statesman
Song dynasty (960–1279). Excelling in many fields of study
and statecraft, he was a mathematician, astronomer, meteorologist,
geologist, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, agronomist,
archaeologist, ethnographer, cartographer, encyclopedist, general,
diplomat, hydraulic engineer, inventor, academy chancellor, finance
minister, governmental state inspector, poet, and musician. He was the
head official for the Bureau of
Astronomy in the Song court, as well
as an Assistant Minister of Imperial Hospitality. At court his
political allegiance was to the Reformist faction known as the New
Policies Group, headed by Chancellor
Wang Anshi (1021–1085).
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays or Dream Torrent Essays (夢溪筆談;
Mengxi Bitan) of 1088, Shen was the first to describe the magnetic
needle compass, which would be used for navigation (first described in
Alexander Neckam in 1187). Shen discovered the concept
of true north in terms of magnetic declination towards the north
pole, with experimentation of suspended magnetic needles and "the
improved meridian determined by Shen's [astronomical] measurement of
the distance between the pole star and true north". This was the
decisive step in human history to make compasses more useful for
navigation, and may have been a concept unknown in Europe for another
four hundred years (evidence of German sundials made circa 1450 show
markings similar to Chinese geomancer compasses in regard to
Alongside his colleague Wei Pu, Shen planned to map the orbital paths
Moon and the planets in an intensive five-year project
involving daily observations, yet this was thwarted by political
opponents at court. To aid his work in astronomy,
Shen Kuo made
improved designs of the armillary sphere, gnomon, sighting tube, and
invented a new type of inflow water clock.
Shen Kuo devised a
geological hypothesis for land formation (geomorphology), based upon
findings of inland marine fossils, knowledge of soil erosion, and the
deposition of silt. He also proposed a hypothesis of gradual
climate change, after observing ancient petrified bamboos that were
preserved underground in a dry northern habitat that would not support
bamboo growth in his time. He was the first literary figure in China
to mention the use of the drydock to repair boats suspended out of
water, and also wrote of the effectiveness of the relatively new
invention of the canal pound lock. Although Ibn al-Haytham
(965–1039) was the first to describe camera obscura, Shen was the
first in China to do so, several decades later. Shen wrote extensively
about movable type printing invented by
Bi Sheng (990–1051), and
because of his written works the legacy of
Bi Sheng and the modern
understanding of the earliest movable type has been handed down to
later generations. Following an old tradition in China, Shen
created a raised-relief map while inspecting borderlands. His
description of an ancient crossbow mechanism which he himself
unearthed proved to be a Jacob's staff, a surveying tool which wasn't
known in Europe until described by
Levi ben Gerson in 1321.
Shen Kuo wrote several other books besides the Dream Pool Essays, yet
much of the writing in his other books has not survived. Some of
Shen's poetry was preserved in posthumous written works. Although much
of his focus was on technical and scientific issues, he had an
interest in divination and the supernatural, the latter including his
vivid description of unidentified flying objects from eyewitness
testimony. He also wrote commentary on ancient
Daoist and Confucian
1.1 Birth and youth
1.2 Official career
1.3 Impeachment and later life
2 Scholarly achievements
2.1 Raised-relief map
2.3 Civil engineering
Mathematics and optics
Magnetic needle compass
Astronomy and instruments
Movable type printing
2.12 Other achievements in science and technology
2.13 Beliefs and philosophy
2.14 Art criticism
3 Written works
3.1 Dream Pool Essays
3.2 Other written works
4.1 Praise, critique, and criticism
4.2 Burial and posthumous honors
5 See also
8 External links
Birth and youth
Shen Kuo was born in Qiantang (modern-day Hangzhou) in the year 1031.
His father Shen Zhou (沈周; 978–1052) was a somewhat lower-class
gentry figure serving in official posts on the provincial level; his
mother was from a family of equal status in Suzhou, with her maiden
name being Xu (許).
Shen Kuo received his initial childhood
education from his mother, which was a common practice in China during
this period.a[›] She was very educated herself, teaching Kuo and
his brother Pi (披) the military doctrines of her own elder brother
Xu Tang (許洞; 975–1016). Since Shen was unable to boast of a
prominent familial clan history like many of his elite peers born in
the north, he was forced to rely on his wit and stern determination to
achieve in his studies, subsequently passing the imperial examinations
and enter the challenging and sophisticated life of an exam-drafted
The Bencao on traditional Chinese medicine; printed with woodblock
printing press in 1249; Shen grew ill often as a child, and so
developed an interest in medicinal cures.
From about 1040 AD, Shen's family moved around
Sichuan province and
finally to the international seaport at Xiamen, where Shen's father
accepted minor provincial posts in each new location. Shen Zhou
also served several years in the prestigious capital judiciary, the
equivalent of a federal supreme court.
Shen Kuo took notice of the
various towns and rural features of China as his family traveled,
while he became interested during his youth in the diverse topography
of the land. He also observed the intriguing aspects of his
father's engagement in administrative governance and the managerial
problems involved; these experiences had a deep impact on him as he
later became a government official. Since he often became ill as a
Shen Kuo also developed a natural curiosity about medicine and
Shen Zhou died in the late winter of 1051 (or early 1052), when his
Shen Kuo was 21 years old.
Shen Kuo grieved for his father, and
following Confucian ethics, remained inactive in a state of mourning
for three years until 1054 (or early 1055). As of 1054, Shen began
serving in minor local governmental posts. However, his natural
abilities to plan, organize, and design were proven early in life; one
example is his design and supervision of the hydraulic drainage of an
embankment system, which converted some one hundred thousand acres
(400 km²) of swampland into prime farmland.
Shen Kuo noted
that the success of the silt fertilization method relied upon the
effective operation of sluice gates of irrigation canals.
Emperor Shenzong of Song
Emperor Shenzong of Song (r. 1067–1085), a Song
era portrait painting.
Shen Kuo successfully passed the Imperial examinations, the
difficult national-level standard test that every high official was
required to pass in order to enter the governmental system. He not
only passed the exam however, but was placed into the higher category
of the best and brightest students. While serving at Yangzhou,
Shen's brilliance and dutiful character caught the attention of Zhang
Chu (張蒭; 1015–1080), the Fiscal Intendant of the region. Shen
made a lasting impression upon Zhang, who recommended Shen for a court
appointment in the financial administration of the central court.
Shen would also eventually marry Zhang's daughter, who became his
In his career as a scholar-official for the central government, Shen
Kuo was also an ambassador to the
Western Xia Dynasty and Liao
Dynasty, a military commander, a director of hydraulic works, and
the leading chancellor of the Hanlin Academy. By 1072, Shen was
appointed as the head official of the Bureau of Astronomy. With
his leadership position in the bureau, Shen was responsible for
projects in improving calendrical science, and proposed many
reforms to the
Chinese calendar alongside the work of his colleague
Wei Pu. With his impressive skills and aptitude for matters of
economy and finance, Shen was appointed as the Finance Commissioner at
the central court.
As written by Li Zhiyi, a man married to Hu Wenrou (granddaughter of
Hu Su, a famous minister of the Song Dynasty),
Shen Kuo was Li's
mentor while Shen served as an official. According to Li's epitaph
for his wife, Shen would sometimes relay questions via Li to Hu when
he needed clarification for his mathematical work, as Hu Wenrou was
esteemed by Shen as a remarkable female mathematician. Shen
lamented: "If only she were a man, Wenrou would be my friend."
While employed by the central government,
Shen Kuo was also sent out
with others to inspect the granary system of the empire, investigating
problems of illegal collections, negligence, ineffective disaster
relief, and inadequate water-conservancy projects. While Shen was
appointed as the regional inspector of Zhejiang in 1073, the Emperor
requested that Shen pay a visit to the famous poet Su Shi
(1037–1101), then an administrator in Hangzhou. Shen took
advantage of this meeting to copy some of Su's poetry, which he
presented to the Emperor indicating that it expressed "abusive and
hateful" speech against the Song court; these poems were later
politicized by Li Ding and Shu Dan in order to level a court case
against Su. (The Crow Terrace Poetry Trial, of 1079.) With his
demonstrations of loyalty and ability,
Shen Kuo was awarded the
honorary title of a State Foundation
Viscount by Emperor Shenzong of
Song (r. 1067–1085), who placed a great amount of trust in Shen
Kuo. He was even made 'companion to the heir apparent'
(太子中允; 'Taizi zhongyun').
Portrait painting of Wang Anshi.
At court Shen was a political favorite of the Chancellor Wang Anshi
(1021–1086), who was the leader of the political faction of
Reformers, also known as the New Policies Group (新法, Xin
Shen Kuo had a previous history with Wang Anshi, since
it was Wang who had composed the funerary epitaph for Shen's father,
Shen Kuo soon impressed
Wang Anshi with his skills and
abilities as an administrator and government agent. In 1072, Shen was
sent to supervise Wang's program of surveying the building of silt
deposits in the Bian
Canal outside the capital city. Using an original
technique, Shen successfully dredged the canal and demonstrated the
formidable value of the silt gathered as a fertilizer. He gained
further reputation at court once he was dispatched as an envoy to the
Liao Dynasty in the summer of 1075. The Khitans had made
several aggressive negotiations of pushing their borders south, while
manipulating several incompetent Song ambassadors who conceded to the
Liao Kingdom's demands. In a brilliant display of diplomacy, Shen
Kuo came to the camp of the Khitan monarch at Mt. Yongan (near modern
Pingquan, Hebei), armed with copies of previously archived diplomatic
negotiations between the Song and Liao dynasties.
Shen Kuo refuted
Emperor Daozong's bluffs point for point, while the Song reestablished
their rightful border line. In regard to the
Lý Dynasty of Đại
Việt (in modern northern Vietnam), Shen demonstrated in his Dream
Pool Essays that he was familiar with the key players (on the
Vietnamese side) in the prelude to the Sino-Vietnamese War of
1075–1077. With his reputable achievements, Shen became a
trusted member of Wang Anshi's elite circle of eighteen unofficial
core political loyalists to the New Policies Group.
Boundaries of the Northern Song Dynasty, the Liao Dynasty, and the
Although much of Wang Anshi's reforms outlined in the New Policies
centered on state finance, land tax reform, and the Imperial
examinations, there were also military concerns. This included
policies of raising militias to lessen the expense of upholding a
million soldiers, putting government monopolies on saltpetre and
sulphur production and distribution in 1076 (to ensure that gunpowder
solutions would not fall into the hands of enemies), and
aggressive military policy towards Song's northern rivals of the
Western Xia and Liao dynasties. A few years after Song Dynasty
military forces had made victorious territorial gains against the
Tanguts of the Western Xia, in 1080
Shen Kuo was entrusted as a
military officer in defense of Yanzhou (modern-day Yan'an, Shaanxi
province). During the autumn months of 1081, Shen was successful
in defending Song Dynasty territory while capturing several fortified
towns of the Western Xia. The
Emperor Shenzong of Song
Emperor Shenzong of Song rewarded
Shen with numerous titles for his merit in these battles, and in the
sixteen months of Shen's military campaign, he received 273 letters
from the Emperor. However, Emperor Shenzong trusted an arrogant
military officer who disobeyed the emperor and Shen's proposal for
strategic fortifications, instead fortifying what Shen considered
useless strategic locations. Furthermore, this officer expelled Shen
from his commanding post at the main citadel, so as to deny him any
glory in chance of victory. The result of this was nearly
catastrophic, as the forces of the arrogant officer were
decimated; Xinzhong Yao states that the death toll was 60,000.
Nonetheless, Shen was successful in defending his fortifications and
the only possible Tangut invasion-route to Yanzhou.
Impeachment and later life
The new Chancellor Cai Que (蔡確; 1036–1093) held Shen responsible
for the disaster and loss of life. Along with abandoning the
Shen Kuo had fought for, Cai ousted Shen from his seat
of office. Shen's life was now forever changed, as he lost his
once reputable career in state governance and the military. Shen
was then put under probation in a fixed residence for the next six
years. However, as he was isolated from governance, he decided to pick
up the ink brush and dedicate himself to intensive scholarly studies.
After completing two geographical atlases for a state-sponsored
program, Shen was rewarded by having his sentence of probation lifted,
allowing him to live in a place of his choice. Shen was also
pardoned by the court for any previous faults or crimes that were
claimed against him.
Painting of a Buddhist luohan, by Liu Songnian, painted in 1207; Shen
Kuo not only listed literati painting as one of his cherished
pastimes, but also Buddhist meditation.
In his more idle years removed from court affairs,
Shen Kuo enjoyed
pastimes of the Chinese gentry and literati that would indicate his
intellectual level and cultural taste to others. As described in
his Dream Pool Essays,
Shen Kuo enjoyed the company of the "nine
guests" (九客, jiuke), a figure of speech for the Chinese zither,
the older 17x17 line variant of weiqi (known today as go), Zen
Buddhist meditation, ink (calligraphy and painting), tea drinking,
alchemy, chanting poetry, conversation, and drinking wine. These
nine activities were an extension to the older so-called Four Arts of
the Chinese Scholar.
According to Zhu Yu's book Pingzhou Table Talks (萍洲可談;
Pingzhou Ketan) of 1119,
Shen Kuo had two marriages; the second wife
was the daughter of Zhang Chu (張蒭), who came from Huainan. Lady
Zhang was said to be overbearing and fierce, often abusive to Shen
Kuo, even attempting at one time to pull off his beard. Shen Kuo's
children were often upset over this, and prostrated themselves to Lady
Zhang to quit this behavior. Despite this, Lady Zhang went as far as
to drive out Shen Kuo's son from his first marriage, expelling him
from the household. However, after Lady Zhang died,
Shen Kuo fell into
a deep depression and even attempted to jump into the
Yangtze River to
drown himself. Although this suicide attempt failed, he would die a
In the 1070s, Shen had purchased a lavish garden estate on the
outskirts of modern-day Zhenjiang,
Jiangsu province, a place of great
beauty which he named "Dream Brook" ("Mengxi") after he visited it for
the first time in 1086.
Shen Kuo permanently moved to the Dream
Brook Estate in 1088, and in that same year he completed his life's
written work of the Dream Pool Essays, naming the book after his
garden-estate property. It was there that
Shen Kuo spent the last
several years of his life in leisure, isolation, and illness, until
his death in 1095.
Shen Kuo wrote extensively on a wide range of different subjects. His
written work included two geographical atlases, a treatise on music
with mathematical harmonics, governmental administration, mathematical
astronomy, astronomical instruments, martial defensive tactics and
fortifications, painting, tea, medicine, and much poetry. His
scientific writings have been praised by sinologists such as Joseph
Needham and Nathan Sivin, and he has been compared by Sivin to
polymaths such as his contemporary Su Song, as well as Gottfried
Leibniz and Mikhail Lomonosov.
Han Dynasty incense burner, showing artificial mountains as a lid
decoration, which may have influenced the invention.
If the account of
Sima Qian (c. 145–86 BC) in his Records of the
Grand Historian is proven correct upon the unearthing of Qin Shi
Huang's (r. 221–210 BC) tomb, the raised-relief map has existed
Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). Robert Temple and Joseph
Needham suggest that certain pottery vessels of the
Han Dynasty (202
BC – 220 AD) showing artificial mountains as lid decorations may
have influenced the raised-relief map. The
Han Dynasty general Ma
Yuan (14 BC – 49 AD) made a raised-relief map of valleys and
mountains in a rice-constructed model of 32 AD. Such rice
models were expounded on by the
Tang Dynasty (618–907) author Jiang
Fang in his Essay on the Art of Constructing Mountains with Rice (c.
845 AD). A raised-relief map made of wood representing all the
provinces of the empire and put together like a giant 0.93 m2
(10 ft2) jigsaw puzzle was invented by Xie Zhuang (421–466 AD)
Liu Song Dynasty
Liu Song Dynasty (420–479).
Shen's largest atlas included twenty three maps of China and foreign
regions that were drawn at a uniform scale of 1:900,000. Shen also
created a raised-relief map using sawdust, wood, beeswax, and wheat
Zhu Xi (1130–1200) was inspired by the
raised-relief map of Huang Shang and so made his own portable map made
of wood and clay which could be folded up from eight hinged
Raised-relief map § History, History of
cartography § China, and
Science and technology of the Han
Dynasty § Cartography
Further information: Traditional Chinese medicine
For pharmacology, Shen wrote of the difficulties of adequate diagnosis
and therapy, as well as the proper selection, preparation, and
administration of drugs. He held great concern for detail and
philological accuracy in identification, use and cultivation of
different types of medicinal herbs, such as in which months medicinal
plants should be gathered, their exact ripening times, which parts
should be used for therapy; for domesticated herbs he wrote about
planting times, fertilization, and other matters of horticulture.
In the realms of botany, zoology, and mineralogy,
Shen Kuo documented
and systematically described hundreds of different plants,
agricultural crops, rare vegetation, animals, and minerals found in
China. For example, Shen noted that the mineral
orpiment was used to quickly erase writing errors on paper.
A side view of a pound lock for canals, invented in China in the 10th
century and described by Shen.
Five bracket arm bases and two cantilever arms, from the Yingzao Fashi
The writing of
Shen Kuo is the only source for the date when the
drydock was first used in China.
Shen Kuo wrote that during the
Xi-Ning reign (1068–1077), the court official Huang Huaixin devised
a plan for repairing 60 m (200 ft) long palatial boats that
were a century old; essentially, Huang Huaixin devised the first
Chinese drydock for suspending boats out of water. These boats
were then placed in a roof-covered dock warehouse to protect them from
weathering. Shen also wrote about the effectiveness of the new
invention (i.e. by the 10th century engineer Qiao Weiyo) of the pound
lock to replace the old flash lock design used in canals. He wrote
that it saved the work of five hundred annual labors, annual costs of
up to 1,250,000 strings of cash, and increased the size limit of boats
accommodated from 21 tons/21000 kg to 113 tons/115000 kg.
If it were not for Shen Kuo's analysis and quoting in his Dream Pool
Essays of the writings of the architect
Yu Hao (fl. 970), the latter's
work would have been lost to history.d[›] Yu designed a famous
wooden pagoda that burned down in 1044 and was replaced in 1049 by a
brick pagoda (the 'Iron Pagoda') of similar height, but not of his
design. From Shen's quotation—or perhaps Shen's own paraphrasing of
Yu Hao's Timberwork Manual (木經; Mujing)—shows that already in
the 10th century there was a graded system of building unit
proportions, a system which Shen states had become more precise in his
time but stating no one could possibly reproduce such a sound
work. However, he did not anticipate the more complex and
matured system of unit proportions embodied in the extensive written
work by scholar-official Li Jie (1065–1110), the Treatise on
Architectural Methods (營造法式; Yingzao Fashi) of 1103.
Klaas Ruitenbeek states that the version of the Timberwork Manual
quoted by Shen is most likely Shen's summarization of Yu's work or a
corrupted passage of the original by Yu Hao, as Shen writes:
"According to some, the work was written by Yu Hao."
The Chinese had long taken an interest in examining the human body.
For example, in 16 AD the
Xin Dynasty usurper
Wang Mang called for the
dissection of an executed man, to examine his arteries and viscera in
order to discover cures for illnesses. Shen also took interest in
human anatomy, dispelling the long-held Chinese theory that the throat
contained three valves, writing, "When liquid and solid are imbibed
together, how can it be that in one's mouth they sort themselves into
two throat channels?" Shen maintained that the larynx was the
beginning of a system that distributed vital qi from the air
throughout the body, and that the esophagus was a simple tube that
dropped food into the stomach. Following Shen's reasoning and
correcting the findings of the dissection of executed bandits in 1045,
an early 12th-century Chinese account of a bodily dissection finally
supported Shen's belief in two throat valves, not three. Also, the
later Song Dynasty judge and early forensic expert Song Ci
(1186–1249) would promote the use of autopsy in order to solve
homicide cases, as written in his Collected Cases of Injustice
Mathematics and optics
Further information: Chinese mathematics
Yang Hui triangle (Pascal's triangle) using rod numerals, from a book
by mathematician Zhu Shijie, 1303
An 18th-century diagram of camera obscura
In the broad field of mathematics,
Shen Kuo mastered many practical
mathematical problems, including many complex formulas for
geometry, circle packing, and chords and arcs problems
employing trigonometry. Shen addressed problems of writing out
very large numbers, as large as 1043. Shen's "technique of small
increments" laid the foundation in
Chinese mathematics for packing
problems involving equal difference series. Sal Restivo writes
that Shen used summation of higher series to ascertain the number of
kegs which could be piled in layers in a space shaped like the frustum
of a rectangular pyramid. In his formula "technique of
intersecting circles", he created an approximation of the arc of a
circle s given the diameter d, sagitta v, and length of the chord c
subtending the arc, the length of which he approximated as s = c +
2v2/d. Restivo writes that Shen's work in the lengths of arcs of
circles provided the basis for spherical trigonometry developed in the
13th century by
Guo Shoujing (1231–1316). He also simplified the
counting rods technique by outlining short cuts in algorithm
procedures used on the counting board, an idea expanded on by the
Yang Hui (1238–1298). Victor J. Katz asserts that
Shen's method of "dividing by 9, increase by 1; dividing by 8,
increase by 2," was a direct forerunner to the rhyme scheme method of
repeated addition "9, 1, bottom add 1; 9, 2, bottom add 2".
Shen wrote extensively about what he had learned while working for the
state treasury, including mathematical problems posed by computing
land tax, estimating requirements, currency issues, metrology, and so
forth. Shen once computed the amount of terrain space required for
battle formations in military strategy, and also computed the
longest possible military campaign given the limits of human carriers
who would bring their own food and food for other soldiers. Shen
wrote about the earlier
Yi Xing (672–717), a Buddhist monk who
applied an early escapement mechanism to a water-powered celestial
globe. By using mathematical permutations, Shen described Yi
Xing's calculation of possible positions on a go board game. Shen
calculated the total number for this using up to five rows and twenty
five game pieces, which yielded the number 847,288,609,443.
Shen Kuo experimented with the pinhole camera and burning mirror as
the ancient Chinese Mohists had done in the 4th century BC. Although
Ibn al-Haytham (965–1039) was the first
to experiment with camera obscura,
Shen Kuo was the first to attribute
geometrical and quantitative properties to the camera obscura, just
several decades after Ibn al-Haytham's death. Using a fitting
metaphor, Shen compared optical image inversion to an oarlock and
waisted drum. He also discussed focal points and noted that the
image in a concave mirror is inverted. Shen, who never asserted
that he was the first to experiment with camera obscura, hints in his
writing that camera obscura was dealt with in the Miscellaneous
Morsels from Youyang written by
Duan Chengshi (d. 863) during the Tang
Dynasty (618–907), in regard to the inverted image of a Chinese
pagoda by a seashore.
Magnetic needle compass
Further information: List of Chinese inventions
Since the time of the engineer and inventor
Ma Jun (c. 200–265), the
Chinese had used the south-pointing chariot, which did not employ
magnetism, as a compass. In 1044 the Collection of the Most Important
Military Techniques (武經總要; Wujing Zongyao) recorded that
fish-shaped objects cut from sheet iron, magnetized by thermoremanence
(essentially, heating that produced weak magnetic force), and placed
in a water-filled bowl enclosed by a box were used for directional
pathfinding alongside the south-pointing chariot.
Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD) ladle-and-basin lodestone
south-pointing compass, used by ancient Chinese geomancers, but not
However, it was not until the time of
Shen Kuo that the earliest
magnetic compasses would be used for navigation. In his written work,
Shen Kuo made the first known explicit reference to the magnetic
compass-needle and the concept of true north. He wrote
that steel needles were magnetized once they were rubbed with
lodestone, and that they were put in floating position or in
mountings; he described the suspended compass as the best form to be
used, and noted that the magnetic needle of compasses pointed either
south or north.
Shen Kuo asserted that the needle will point
south but with a deviation, stating "[the magnetic needles] are
always displaced slightly east rather than pointing due south."
Shen Kuo wrote that it was preferable to use the twenty-four-point
rose instead of the old eight compass cardinal points — and the
former was recorded in use for navigation shortly after Shen's
death. The preference of use for the twenty-four-point-rose compass
may have arisen from Shen's finding of a more accurate astronomical
meridian, determined by his measurement between the pole star and true
north; however, it could also have been inspired by geomantic
beliefs and practices. The book of the author Zhu Yu, the Pingzhou
Table Talks published in 1119 (written from 1111 to 1117), was the
first record of use of a compass for seafaring navigation.
However, Zhu Yu's book recounts events back to 1086, when
Shen Kuo was
writing the Dream Pool Essays; this meant that in Shen's time the
compass might have already been in navigational use. In any case,
Shen Kuo's writing on magnetic compasses has proved invaluable for
understanding China's earliest use of the compass for seafaring
Further information: Song Dynasty § Archaeology
Bronzeware from the
Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC); Song era
antiquarians and archeologists in search of antiques for reviving
ancient rituals claimed to have found bronzewares dated as far back as
the Shang era, which contained written inscriptions.
Many of Shen Kuo's contemporaries were interested in antiquarian
pursuits of collecting old artworks. They were also interested in
archaeological pursuits, although for rather different reasons than
Shen Kuo held an interest in archaeology. While Shen's educated
Confucian contemporaries were interested in obtaining ancient relics
and antiques in order to revive their use in rituals, Shen was more
concerned with how items from archeological finds were originally
manufactured and what their functionality would have been, based on
Shen Kuo criticized those in his day who
reconstructed ancient ritual objects using only their imagination and
not the tangible evidence from archeological digs or finds. Shen
also disdained the notion of others that these objects were products
of the "sages" or the aristocratic class of antiquity, rightfully
crediting the items' manufacture and production to the common working
people and artisans of previous eras. Fraser and Haber write that
Shen Kuo "advocated the use of an interdisciplinary approach to
archaeology and practiced such an approach himself through his work in
metallurgy, optics, and geometry in the study of ancient
While working in the Bureau of Astronomy, Shen Kuo's interest in
archaeology and old relics led him to reconstruct an armillary sphere
from existing models as well as from ancient texts that could provide
additional information. Shen used ancient mirrors while conducting
his optics experiments. He observed ancient weaponry, describing
the scaled sight devices on ancient crossbows and the ancients'
production of swords with composite blades that had a midrib of
wrought iron and low-carbon steel while having two sharp edges of
high-carbon steel. Being a knowledgeable musician, Shen also
suggested suspending an ancient bell by using a hollow handle. In
his assessment of the carved reliefs of the ancient Zhuwei Tomb, Shen
stated that the reliefs demonstrate genuine
Han Dynasty (202 BC–220
AD) era clothing.
After unearthing an ancient crossbow device from a house's garden in
Haichow, Jiangsu, Shen discovered that the cross-wire grid sighting
device, marked in graduated measurements on the stock, could be used
to calculate the height of a distant mountain in the same way that
mathematicians could apply right-angle triangles to measure
height. Needham asserts Shen had discovered the survey device
known as Jacob's staff, which was not described elsewhere until the
Provençal Jewish mathematician
Levi ben Gerson (1288–1344) wrote of
it in 1321. Shen wrote that while viewing the whole of a mountain,
the distance on the instrument was long, but while viewing a small
part of the mountainside the distance was short due to the device's
cross piece that had to be pushed further away from the observer's
eye, with the graduation starting on the further end. He wrote
that if one placed an arrow on the device and looked past its end, the
degree of the mountain could be measured and thus its height could be
View of the Taihang Mountains, where
Shen Kuo had his epiphany about
The ancient Greek
Aristotle (384 BC–322 BC) wrote in his Meteorology
of how the earth had the potential for physical change, including the
belief that all rivers and seas at one time did not exist where they
were, and were dry. The Greek writer
Xenophanes (570 BC–480 BC)
wrote of how inland marine fossils were evidence that massive periodic
flooding had wiped out mankind several times in the past, but never
wrote of land formation or shifting seashores.
Du Yu (222–285) a
Chinese Jin Dynasty officer, believed that the land of hills would
eventually be leveled into valleys and valleys would gradually rise to
form hills. The
Ge Hong (284–364) wrote of the
legendary immortal Magu; in a written dialogue by Ge, Ma Gu described
how what was once the Eastern Sea (i.e. East China Sea) had
transformed into solid land where mulberry trees grew, and would one
day be filled with mountains and dry, dusty lands. The later
Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī
Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048)
hypothesized that India was once covered by the
Indian Ocean while
observing rock formations at the mouths of rivers.
Bamboo and rocks by Li Kan (1244–1320); using evidence of fossilized
bamboo within China's dry northwestern climate zone, Shen Kuo
hypothesized that climates naturally shifted geographically over time.
Shen Kuo who formulated a hypothesis about the process of land
formation (geomorphology) based upon several observations as evidence.
This included his observation of fossil shells in a geological stratum
of a mountain hundreds of miles from the ocean. He inferred that the
land was reshaped and formed by erosion of the mountains, uplift, and
the deposition of silt, after observing strange natural erosions of
Taihang Mountains and the Yandang Mountain near Wenzhou. He
hypothesized that, with the inundation of silt, the land of the
continent must have been formed over an enormous span of time.
While visiting the
Taihang Mountains in 1074,
Shen Kuo noticed strata
of bivalve shells and ovoid rocks in a horizontal-running span through
a cliff like a large belt. Shen proposed that the cliff was once
the location of an ancient seashore that by his time had shifted
hundreds of miles east. Shen wrote that in the Zhiping reign
period (1064–1067) a man of Zezhou unearthed an object in his garden
that looked like a serpent or dragon, and after examining it,
concluded the dead animal had apparently turned to "stone".
The magistrate of Jincheng, Zheng Boshun, examined the creature as
well, and noted the same scale-like markings that were seen on other
Shen Kuo likened this to the "stone crabs"
found in China.
Shen also wrote that since petrified bamboos were found underground in
a climatic area where they had never been known to be grown, the
climate there must have shifted geographically over time. Around
the year 1080,
Shen Kuo noted that a landslide on the bank of a large
river near Yanzhou (modern Yan'an) had revealed an open space several
dozens of feet under the ground once the bank collapsed. This
underground space contained hundreds of petrified bamboos still intact
with roots and trunks, "all turned to stone" as
Shen Kuo wrote.
Shen Kuo noted that bamboos do not grow in Yanzhou, located in
northern China, and he was puzzled during which previous dynasty the
bamboos could have grown. Considering that damp and gloomy low
places provide suitable conditions for the growth of bamboo, Shen
deduced that the climate of Yanzhou must have fit that description in
very ancient times. Although this would have intrigued many of his
readers, the study of paleoclimatology in medieval China never
developed into an established discipline.
Zhu Xi (1130–1200) wrote of this curious natural
phenomenon of fossils as well. He was known to have read the works of
Shen Kuo. Shen's description of soil erosion and weathering
predated that of
Georgius Agricola in his book of 1546, De veteribus
et novis metallis. Furthermore, Shen's theory of sedimentary
deposition predated that of James Hutton, who published his
groundbreaking work in 1802 (considered the foundation of modern
Joseph Needham likened Shen's account to that
of the Scottish scientist
Roderick Murchison (1792–1871), who was
inspired to become a geologist after observing a providential
Shen accurately hypothesized that rainbows were caused by sunlight
passing through rain droplets.
Early speculation and hypothesis pertaining to what is now known as
meteorology had a long tradition in China before Shen Kuo.
Shen wrote vivid descriptions of tornadoes—the first known
description of them in East Asia.
He also gave reasoning (earlier proposed by
Sun Sikong, 1015–1076)
that rainbows were formed by the shadow of the sun in rain, occurring
when the sun would shine upon it. Paul Dong writes that
Shen's explanation of the rainbow as a phenomenon of atmospheric
refraction "is basically in accord with modern scientific
principles." In Europe,
Roger Bacon (1214–1294) was the first to
suggest that the colors of the rainbow were caused by the reflection
and refraction of sunlight through rain drops.
Shen hypothesized that rays of sunlight refract before reaching the
surface of the earth, hence people on earth observing the sun are not
viewing it in its exact position, in other words, the altitude of the
apparent sun is higher than the actual altitude of the sun. Dong
writes that "at the time, this discovery was remarkably original."
Ibn al-Haytham, in his Book of
Optics (1021), also discussed
atmospheric refraction (in regard to twilight).
Astronomy and instruments
Further information: Chinese astronomy
One of the five star maps published in 1092 AD for Su Song's
horological and astronomical treatise, featuring Shen Kuo's corrected
position of the pole star.
Being the head official for the Bureau of Astronomy,
Shen Kuo was an
avid scholar of medieval astronomy, and improved the designs of
several astronomical instruments. Shen is credited with making
improved designs of the gnomon, armillary sphere, and clepsydra
clock. For the clepsydra he designed a new overflow-tank type,
and argued for a more efficient higher-order interpolation instead of
linear interpolation in calibrating the measure of time.
Improving the 5th century model of the astronomical sighting tube,
Shen Kuo widened its diameter so that the new calibration could
observe the pole star indefinitely. This came about due to the
position of the pole star shifting in position since the time of Zu
Geng in the 5th century, hence
Shen Kuo diligently observed the course
of the pole star for three months, plotting the data of its course and
coming to the conclusion that it had shifted slightly over three
degrees. Apparently this astronomical finding had an impact upon
the intellectual community in China at the time. Even Shen's political
rival and contemporary astronomer
Su Song featured Shen's corrected
position of the pole star (halfway between Tian shu, at −350
degrees, and the current Polaris) in the fourth star map of his
The astronomical phenomena of the solar eclipse and lunar eclipse had
been observed in the 4th century BC by astronomers
Gan De and Shi
Shen; the latter gave instructions on predicting the eclipses based on
the relative position of the
Moon to the Sun. The philosopher
Wang Chong argued against the 'radiating influence' theory of Jing
Fang's writing in the 1st century BC and that of Zhang Heng
(78–139); the latter two correctly hypothesized that the brightness
Moon was merely light reflected from the Sun. Jing Fang
had written in the 1st century BC of how it was long accepted in China
Moon were spherical in shape ('like a crossbow
bullet'), not flat.
Shen Kuo also wrote of solar and lunar
eclipses in this manner, yet expanded upon this to explain why the
celestial bodies were spherical, going against the 'flat earth' theory
for celestial bodies. However, there is no evidence to suggest
Shen Kuo supported a round earth theory, which was introduced
into Chinese science by
Matteo Ricci and
Xu Guangqi in the 17th
century. When the Director of the Astronomical
Shen Kuo if the shapes of the
Moon were round like balls or
flat like fans,
Shen Kuo explained that celestial bodies were
spherical because of knowledge of waxing and waning of the Moon.
Much like what
Zhang Heng had said,
Shen Kuo likened the
Moon to a
ball of silver, which does not produce light, but simply reflects
light if provided from another source (the Sun). He explained
that when the Sun's light is slanting, the
Moon appears full. He
then explained if one were to cover any sort of sphere with white
powder, and then viewed from the side it would appear to be a
crescent, hence he reasoned that celestial bodies were
spherical. He also wrote that, although the
in conjunction and opposition with each other once a month, this did
not mean the
Sun would be eclipsed every time their paths met, because
of the small obliquity of their orbital paths.
The original diagram of Su Song's book of 1092 showing the inner
workings of his clocktower; a mechanically rotated armillary sphere
crowns the top.
Shen is also known for his cosmological hypotheses in explaining the
variations of planetary motions, including retrogradation. His
Wei Pu realized that the old calculation technique for the
Sun was inaccurate compared to the apparent Sun, since the latter
was ahead of it in the accelerated phase of motion, and behind it in
the retarded phase. Shen's hypotheses were similar to the concept
of the epicycle in the
Greco-Roman tradition, only Shen compared
the side-section of orbital paths of planets and variations of
planetary speeds to points in the tips of a willow leaf. In
a similar rudimentary physical analogy of celestial motions, as John
B. Henderson describes it, Shen likened the relationship of the Moon's
path to the ecliptic, the path of the Sun, "to the figure of a rope
coiled about a tree."
Along with his colleague
Wei Pu in the Bureau of Astronomy, Shen Kuo
planned to plot out the exact coordinates of planetary and lunar
movements by recording their astronomical observations three times a
night for a continuum of five years. The Song astronomers of Shen's
day still retained the lunar theory and coordinates of the earlier Yi
Xing, which after 350 years had devolved into a state of considerable
error. Shen criticized earlier Chinese astronomers for failing to
describe celestial movement in spatial terms, yet he did not attempt
to provide any reasoning for the motive power of the planets or other
celestial movements. Shen and Wei began astronomical observations
Moon and planets by plotting their locations three times a
night for what should have been five successive years. The
officials and astronomers at court were deeply opposed Wei and Shen's
work, offended by their insistence that the coordinates of the
Yi Xing were inaccurate. They also slandered Wei Pu, out
of resentment that a commoner had expertise exceeding theirs.
When Wei and Shen made a public demonstration using the gnomon to
prove the doubtful wrong, the other ministers reluctantly agreed to
correct the lunar and solar errors. Despite this success,
they eventually dismissed Wei and Shen's tables of planetary
motions. Therefore, only the worst and most obvious planetary
errors were corrected, and many inaccuracies remained.
Movable type printing
Main article: History of typography in East Asia
The Chinese Diamond Sutra, the oldest known printed book in world
history (868), using woodblock printing.
Shen Kuo wrote that during the Qingli reign period (1041–1048),
Emperor Renzong of Song
Emperor Renzong of Song (1022–1063), an obscure commoner and
artisan known as
Bi Sheng (990–1051) invented ceramic movable type
printing. Although the use of assembling individual
characters to compose a piece of text had its origins in antiquity, Bi
Sheng's methodical innovation was something completely revolutionary
for his time.
Shen Kuo noted that the process was tedious if one only
wanted to print a few copies of a book, but if one desired to make
hundreds or thousands of copies, the process was incredibly fast and
efficient. Beyond Shen Kuo's writing, however, nothing is known
of Bi Sheng's life or the influence of movable type in his
lifetime. Although the details of Bi Sheng's life were scarcely
Shen Kuo wrote:
Bi Sheng died, his fount of type passed into the possession of my
followers (i.e. one of Shen's nephews), among whom it has been kept as
a precious possession until now.
A revolving table typecase with individual movable type characters
arranged primarily by rhyming scheme, from Wang Zhen's book of
agriculture published in 1313.
There are a few surviving examples of books printed in the late Song
Dynasty using movable type printing. This includes Zhou Bida's
Notes of The Jade Hall (玉堂雜記) printed in 1193 using the method
of baked-clay movable type characters outlined in the Dream Pool
Essays. Yao Shu (1201–1278), an advisor to Kublai Khan, once
persuaded a disciple Yang Gu to print philological primers and
Neo-Confucian texts by using what he termed the "movable type of Shen
Kuo". Wang Zhen (fl. 1290–1333), who wrote the valuable
agricultural, scientific, and technological treatise of the Nong Shu,
mentioned an alternative method of baking earthenware type with
earthenware frames in order to make whole blocks. Wang Zhen also
improved its use by inventing wooden movable type in the years 1297 or
1298, while he was a magistrate of Jingde,
Anhui province. The
Bi Sheng had experimented with wooden movable type, but
Wang's main contribution was improving the speed of typesetting with
simple mechanical devices, along with the complex, systematic
arrangement of wooden movable type involving the use of revolving
tables. Although later metal movable type would be used in China,
Wang Zhen experimented with tin metal movable type, but found its use
to be inefficient.
By the 15th century, metal movable type printing was developed in Ming
Dynasty China (and earlier in Joseon Korea, by the mid 13th century),
and was widely applied in China by at least the 16th century. In
Jiangsu and Fujian, wealthy Ming era families sponsored the use of
metal type printing (mostly using bronze). This included the printing
Hua Sui (1439–1513), who pioneered the first Chinese
bronze-type movable printing in the year 1490. In 1718, during
Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), the scholar of
Tai'an known as Xu
Zhiding developed movable type with enamelware instead of
earthenware. There was also Zhai Jinsheng (b. 1784), a teacher of
Jingxian, Anhui, who spent thirty years making a font of earthenware
movable type, and by 1844 he had over 100,000 Chinese writing
characters in five sizes.
Despite these advances, movable type printing never gained the amount
of widespread use in East Asia that woodblock printing had achieved
since the Chinese
Tang Dynasty in the 9th century. With written
Chinese, the vast amount of written morpheme characters impeded
movable type's acceptance and practical use, and was therefore seen as
largely unsatisfactory. Furthermore, the European printing press,
first invented by
Johannes Gutenberg (1398–1468), was eventually
wholly adopted as the standard in China, yet the tradition of
woodblock printing remains popular in East Asian countries still.
Other achievements in science and technology
Shen Kuo described the phenomena of natural predator insects
controlling the population of pests, the latter of which had the
potential to wreak havoc upon the agricultural base of China.
While visiting the iron producing district at Cizhou in 1075, Shen
described the "partial decarburization" method of reforging cast iron
under a cold blast, which Hartwell, Needham, and Wertime state is the
predecessor of the Bessemer process. Shen was worried about
deforestationg[›] due to the needs of the iron industry and ink
makers using pine soot in the production process, so he suggested for
the latter an alternative of petroleum, which he believed was
"produced inexhaustibly within the earth". Shen used the soot
from the smoke of burned petroleum fuel (石油 Shíyóu, "rock oil"
as Shen called it) to invent a new, more durable type of writing ink;
Ming Dynasty pharmacologist
Li Shizhen (1518–1593) wrote that
Shen's ink was "lustrous like lacquer, and superior to that made from
pinewood lamp-black," or the soot from pinewood.
Beliefs and philosophy
Further information: Chinese philosophy
Ideas of the philosopher
Mencius deeply influenced Shen.
Shen Kuo was much in favor of philosophical
Daoist notions which
challenged the authority of empirical science in his day. Although
much could be discerned through empirical observation and recorded
study, Daoism asserted that the secrets of the universe were
boundless, something that scientific investigation could merely
express in fragments and partial understandings. Shen Kuo
referred to the ancient
I Ching in explaining the spiritual
processes and attainment of foreknowledge that cannot be attained
through "crude traces", which he likens to mathematical
Nathan Sivin proposes that Shen was the first in
history to "make a clear distinction between our unconnected
experiences and the unitary causal world we postulate to explain
them," which Biderman and Scharfstein state is arguably inherent in
the works of Heraclitus, Plato, and
Democritus as well. Shen was
a firm believer in destiny and prognostication, and made rational
explanations for the relations between them. Shen held a special
interest in fate, mystical divination, bizarre phenomena, yet warned
against the tendency to believe that all matters in life were
preordained. When describing an event where lightning had struck
a house and all the wooden walls did not burn (but simply turned
black) and lacquerwares inside were fine, yet metal objects had melted
Shen Kuo wrote:
Most people can only judge of things by the experiences of ordinary
life, but phenomena outside the scope of this are really quite
numerous. How insecure it is to investigate natural principles using
only the light of common knowledge, and subjective ideas.
In his commentary on the ancient Confucian philosopher Mencius
(372–289 BC), Shen wrote of the importance of choosing to follow
what one knew to be a true path, yet the heart and mind could not
attain full knowledge of truth through mere sensory experience. In
his own unique way but using terms influenced by the ideas of Mencius,
Shen wrote of an autonomous inner authority that formed the basis for
one's inclination towards moral choices, a concept linked to Shen's
life experiences of surviving and obtaining success through
self-reliance. Along with his commentary on the Chinese classic
Shen Kuo also wrote extensively on the topics of supernatural
divination and Buddhist meditation.
A painting by Dong Yuan, who Shen praised for his ability to portray
landscapes and natural scenery in a grand but realistic style.
As an art critic, Shen criticized the paintings of Li Cheng
(919–967) for failing to observe the principle of "seeing the small
from the viewpoint of the large" in portraying buildings and the
like. He praised the works of
Dong Yuan (c. 934–c. 962); he
noted that although a close-up view of Dong's work would create the
impression that his brush techniques were cursory, seen from afar his
landscape paintings would give the impression of grand, resplendent,
and realistic scenery. In addition, Shen's writing on
Dong's artworks represents the earliest known reference to the
Jiangnan style of painting. In his "Song on Painting" and in his
Dream Pool Essays, Shen praised the creative artworks of the Tang
painter Wang Wei (701–761); Shen noted that Wang was unique in that
he "penetrated into the mysterious reason and depth of creative
activity," but was criticized by others for not conforming his
paintings to reality, such as his painting with a banana tree growing
in a snowy, wintry landscape.
Much of Shen Kuo's written work was probably purged under the
leadership of minister
Cai Jing (1046–1126), who revived the New
Policies of Wang Anshi, although he set out on a campaign of attrition
to destroy or radically alter the written work of his predecessors and
especially Conservative enemies. 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.
In modern times, the best attempt at a complete list and summary of
Shen's writing was an appendix written by Hu Daojing in his standard
edition of Brush Talks, written in 1956.
Dream Pool Essays
Main article: Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays consists of some 507 separate essays
exploring a wide range of subjects. It was Shen's ultimate
attempt to comprehend and describe a multitude of various aspects of
nature, science, and reality, and all the practical and profound
curiosities found in the world. The literal translation of the title,
Dream Brook Brush Talks, refers to his Dream Brook estate, where he
spent the last years of his life. About the title, he is quoted as
saying: "Because I had only my writing brush and ink slab to converse
with, I call it Brush Talks."c[›]
The book was originally 30 chapters long, yet an unknown Chinese
author's edition of 1166 edited and reorganized the work into 26
A passage called "Strange Happenings" contains a peculiar account of
an unidentified flying object.
Other written works
Poet and statesman Su Shi, whose pharmaceutical work was combined with
Shen Kuo's in 1126, in a
Yuan Dynasty portrait by Zhao Mengfu.
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays is certainly his most extensive and
Shen Kuo wrote other books as well. In 1075, Shen Kuo
wrote the Xining Fengyuan Li (熙寧奉元曆; The Oblatory Epoch
astronomical system of the Splendid Peace reign period), which was
lost, but listed in a 7th chapter of a Song Dynasty bibliography.
This was the official report of
Shen Kuo on his reforms of the Chinese
calendar, which were only partially adopted by the Song court's
official calendar system. During his years of retirement from
Shen Kuo compiled a formulary known as the Liang
Fang (良方; Good medicinal formulas). Around the year 1126 it
was combined with a similar collection by the famous Su Shi
(1037–1101), who was ironically a political opponent to Shen Kuo's
faction of Reformers and New Policies supporters at court, yet it
was known that
Shen Kuo and
Su Shi were nonetheless friends and
associates. Shen wrote the Mengqi Wanghuai Lu (夢溪忘懷錄;
Record of longings forgotten at Dream Brook), which was also compiled
during Shen's retirement. This book was a treatise in the working
since his youth on rural life and ethnographic accounts of living
conditions in the isolated mountain regions of China. Only
quotations of it survive in the Shuo Fu (說郛) collection, which
mostly describe the agricultural implements and tools used by rural
people in high mountain regions.
Shen Kuo also wrote the Changxing Ji
(長興集; Collected Literary Works of [the
Viscount of] Changxing).
However, this book was without much doubt a posthumous collection,
including various poems, prose, and administrative documents written
by Shen. By the 15th century (during the Ming Dynasty), this book
was reprinted, yet only the 19th chapter remained. This chapter
was reprinted in 1718, yet poorly edited. Finally, in the 1950s
the author Hu Daojing supplemented this small yet valuable work with
additions of other scattered poems written by Shen, in the former's
Collection of Shen Kua's Extant Poetry (Shanghai: Shang-hai Shu-tian,
1958). In the tradition of the popular Song era literary category
of 'travel record literature' ('youji wenxue'),
Shen Kuo also
wrote the Register of What Not to Forget, a traveler's guide to what
type of carriage is suitable for a journey, the proper foods one
should bring, the special clothing one should bring, and many other
In his Sequel to Numerous Things Revealed, the Song author Cheng
Dachang (1123–1195) noted that stanzas prepared by
Shen Kuo for
military victory celebrations were later written down and published by
Shen. This includes a short poem "Song of Triumph" by Shen Kuo,
who uses the musical instrument mawei huqin ('horse-tail barbarian
stringed instrument' or 'horse-tail fiddle') of the northwestern
Inner Asian nomads as a metaphor for prisoners-of-war led by Song
The mawei huqin followed the Han chariot,
Its music sounding of complaint to the Khan.
Do not bend the bow to shoot the goose within the clouds,
The returning goose bears no letter.
— Shen Kuo
Historian Jonathan Stock notes that the bent bow described in the poem
above represents the arched bow used to play the huqin, while the
sound of the instrument itself represented the discontent expressed by
the prisoners-of-war with their defeated khan.
Praise, critique, and criticism
In the Routledge Curzon Encyclopedia of Confucianism, Xinzhong Yao
states that Shen Kuo's legacy was tainted by his eager involvement in
Wang Anshi's New Policies reforms, his actions criticized in the later
traditional histories. However, Shen's reputation as a polymath has
been well regarded. The British sinologist, historian, and biochemist
Joseph Needham (1900–1995) stated that
Shen Kuo was "one of the
greatest scientific minds in Chinese history." The French
sinologist Jacques Gernet is of the opinion that Shen possessed an
"amazingly modern mind." Yao states of Shen's thorough recording
of natural sciences in his Dream Pool Essays:
We must regard Shen Kuo's collection as an indispensable primary
source attesting to the unmatched level of attainment achieved by
Chinese science prior to the twelfth century.
However, Toby E. Huff writes that Shen Kuo's "scattered set" of
writings lacks clear-cut organization and "theoretical acuteness,"
that is, scientific theory.
Nathan Sivin wrote that Shen's
originality stands "cheek by jowl with trivial didacticism, court
anecdotes, and ephemeral curiosities" that provide little
insight. Donald Holzman writes that Shen "has nowhere organized
his observations into anything like a general theory." Huff
writes that this was a systemic problem of early Chinese science,
which lacked systematic treatment that could be found in European
works such as the Concordance and Discordant Canons by the lawyer
Bologna (fl. 12th century). In regard to an
overarching concept of science which could branch together all the
various sciences studied by the Chinese, Sivin asserts that the
Shen Kuo "do not indicate that he achieved, or even
sought, an integrated framework for his diverse knowledge; the one
common thread is the varied responsibilities of his career as a high
Burial and posthumous honors
Upon his death,
Shen Kuo was interred in a tomb in
Yuhang District of
Hangzhou, at the foot of the Taiping Hill. His tomb was
eventually destroyed, yet
Ming Dynasty records indicated its location,
which was found in 1983 and protected by the government in 1986.
The remnants of the tomb's brick structure remained, along with Song
Dynasty glasswares and coins. The
Hangzhou Municipal Committee
completed a restoration of Shen's tomb in September 2001.
In addition to his tomb, Shen Kuo's Mengxi garden estate, his former
two acre (8,000 m²) property in Zhenjiang, was restored by the
government in 1985. However, the renovated Mengxi Garden is only
part of the original of Shen Kuo's time. A
Qing Dynasty era hall
built on the site is now used as the main admissions gate. In the
Memorial Hall of the gardens, there is a large painting depicting the
original garden of Shen Kuo's time, including wells, green bamboo
groves, stone-paved paths, and decorated walls of the original
halls. In this exhibition hall there stands a 1.4 m
(4.6 ft) tall statue of
Shen Kuo sitting on a platform, along
with centuries-old published copies of his
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays in glass
cabinets, one of which is from Japan. At the garden estate there
are also displayed marble banners, statues of Shen Kuo, and a model of
an armillary sphere; a small museum gallery depicts Shen's various
The Chinese Mount Zijinshan
Observatory discovered a new planetoid in
1964; in 1979, the
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Chinese Academy of Sciences decided to honor Shen
by listing "Shen Kuo" as one of its names.
History of astronomy
History of agriculture
History of geology
History of geomagnetism
History of the Song Dynasty
Technology of the Song Dynasty
List of geographers
List of Chinese writers
List of inventors
List of geologists
List of geophysicists
List of mineralogists
List of astronomers
List of botanists
List of zoologists
Eight Views of Xiaoxiang
^ a: See the article Society of the Song Dynasty.
^ b: Refer to the Partisans and factions, reformers and
conservatives section of the article History of the Song Dynasty.
^ c: From his biography in the Dictionary of Scientific
Biography (New York 1970–1990)
^ d: For more, see
Architecture of the Song Dynasty.
^ g: For deforestation due to the Song Dynasty iron industry
and efforts to curb it, refer to Economy of the Song Dynasty
^ h: Zhang's biography on Shen is of great importance as it
contains—according to the historian
Nathan Sivin — the fullest and
most accurate account of Shen Kuo's life.
^ a b c d Yao (2003), 544.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 2, 33.
^ John Makeham (2008). China: The World's Oldest Living Civilization
Revealed. Thames & Hudson. p. 239.
^ Bowman (2000), 599.
^ a b Mohn (2003), 1.
^ a b c d e f Sivin (1995), III, 22.
^ Embree (1997), 843.
^ Temple (1986), 115.
^ a b c d e Sivin (1995), III, 18.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 23–24.
^ a b Bowman (2000), 105.
^ a b c d e Sivin (1995), III, 1.
^ a b c d Sivin (1995), III, 5.
^ a b c d e f Sivin (1995), III, 6.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 3, 230–231.
^ Steinhardt (1997), 316.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 1, 135.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sivin (1995), III, 9.
^ a b c Tao et al. (2004), 19.
^ Hymes & Schirokauer (1993), 109.
^ a b Hartman (1990), 22.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 3.
^ a b c d e f g h Sivin (1995), III, 7.
^ Anderson (2008), 202.
^ Ebrey et al. (2006), 164.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 7, 126.
^ Zhang (1986), 489.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 4–5.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 8.
^ a b Lian (2001), 20.
^ Lian (2001), 24.
^ Hongen.com (2000–2006). 沈括 Archived 2007-10-22 at the Wayback
Machine.. Beijing Golden Human Computer Co., Ltd. (in Chinese).
Retrieved on 2007-08-27.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 10.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 11.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 3, 580–581.
^ a b c d Temple (1986), 179.
^ Crespigny (2007), 659.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 579–580.
^ a b Temple (1986), 180.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 580.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 29.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 30–31.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 6, Part 1, 475.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 6, Part 1, 499.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 6, Part 1, 501.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 30.
^ Cherniack (1994), 95–96.
^ a b c Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 3, 660.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 3, 352.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 4, 141.
^ a b Ruitenbeek (1996), 26.
^ a b Chung (2004), 19.
^ Ruitenbeek (1996), 26–27.
^ Bielenstein (1986), 239.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 31.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 30–31, Footnote 27.
^ Sung (1981), 12, 19, 20, 72.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 39.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 145.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 109.
^ a b c Katz (2007), 308.
^ a b Restivo (1992), 32.
^ Katz (2007), 308–309.
^ Katz (2007), 309.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 12, 14.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 14.
^ Ebrey et al. (2006), 162.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 2, 473–475.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 15.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 139.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 1, 98.
^ a b c Sivin (1995), III, 34.
^ a b c Sarkar, Salazar-Palma, Sengupta (2006), 21.
^ a b c Sivin (1995), III, 21.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 1, 252.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 1, 249–250.
^ a b Hsu (1988), 102.
^ a b Elisseeff (2000), 296.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 4, Part 1, 279.
^ Fairbank & Goldman (1992), 33.
^ Ebrey et al. (2006), 163.
^ a b c d e f g h Fraser & Haber (1986), 227.
^ Rudolph (1963), 176.
^ a b c Needham (1986), Volume 3, 574.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 573.
^ Desmond (1975), 692–707.
^ a b Temple (1986), 169.
^ Salam (1984), 179–213.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 603–604.
^ a b c Sivin (1995), III, 23.
^ a b c Needham (1986), Volume 3, 618.
^ a b c d Chan (2002), 15.
^ a b c d e Needham (1986), Volume 3, 614.
^ a b Needham (1986), Volume 3, 604.
^ For example,
Wang Chong (27–97) accurately described the process
of the water cycle. Needham (1986), Volume 3, 468.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 24.
^ Sivin (1984), 534.
^ Kim (2000), 171.
^ a b c d Dong (2000), 72.
^ a b c d Sivin (1995), III, 17.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 278.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 411.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 413–414.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 227.
^ a b c d e f Needham (1986), Volume 3, 415–416.
^ Fan (1996), 431–432.
^ Dong (2000), 71–72.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 16.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 19.
^ Sivin (1995), II, 71–72.
^ a b c Henderson (1986), 128.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 18–19.
^ a b Sivin (1995), II, 73.
^ Sivin (1995), II, 72.
^ a b c Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 201.
^ Gernet (1996), 335.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 202–203.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 27.
^ Wu (1943), 211–212.
^ Xu Yinong Moveable Type Books (徐忆农 活字本)
^ a b c d Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 203.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 206.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 205–206.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 208.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 217.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 211.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 1, 212.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 6, Part 1, 545.
^ Hartwell (1966), 54.
^ Menzies (1994), 24.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 5, Part 7, 75–76.
^ Deng (2005), 36.
^ a b Ropp (1990), 170.
^ Biderman & Scharfstein (1989), xvii.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 34–35.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 35.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 3, 482.
^ Ebrey (1999), 148.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 4, 115.
^ Stanley-Baker (1977), 23.
^ Barnhart (1970), 25.
^ Li (1965), 61.
^ Barnhart (1970), 24.
^ Li (1965), 37–38, Footnote 98.
^ Li (1974), 149.
^ Parker (1999), 175.
^ Chen Dengyuan, cited in Sivin (1995), III, 44.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 44–45.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 44.
^ Bodde (1991), 86.
^ Sivin (1995), III, 45.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 46.
^ a b Sivin (1995), III, 47.
^ Needham (1986), Volume 1, 137.
^ a b c d e Sivin (1995), III, 48.
^ Hargett (1985), 67.
^ Hargett (1985), 71.
^ a b c Stock (1993), 94.
^ Stock (1993), 108.
^ Fraser & Haber (1986), 226–227.
^ Gernet (1996), 338.
^ Yao (2003), 545.
^ a b c d Huff (2003), 303.
^ Sivin (1988), 59.
^ a b c
Yuhang Cultural Network (October 2003). Shen Kuo's Tomb
Archived 2014-05-02 at the Wayback Machine. The
Yuhang District of
Hangzhou Cultural Broadcasting Press and Publications Bureau.
Retrieved on 2007-05-06.
^ a b c Zhenjiang.gov (October 2006). Talking Park Archived 2007-07-07
at the Wayback Machine. The
Zhenjiang municipal government office.
Retrieved on 2007-05-07.
^ a b c The
Zhenjiang Foreign Experts Bureau (June 2002). Mengxi
Garden Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine. The Zhenjiang
Foreign Experts Bureau. Retrieved on 2007-05-07.
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