Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shen Kuo

Shen Kuo or Shen Kua , Cunzhong and Mengqi Weng, was a polymathic and statesman of the Song Dynasty . Excelling in many fields of study and statecraft, he was a , , meteorologist, geologist, zoologist, botanist, , agronomist, archaeologist, ethnographer, cartographer, encyclopedist, , , , , , finance minister, governmental state inspector, , and . He was the head official for the 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 , headed by Wang Anshi .

In his ''Dream Pool Essays'' of 1088, Shen was the first to describe the magnetic needle compass, which would be used for navigation . Shen discovered the concept of true north in terms of magnetic declination towards the , This was the decisive step in human history to make compasses more useful for navigation, and may have been a concept unknown in Europe .

Alongside his colleague Wei Pu, Shen accurately mapped the orbital paths of the moon and the planets, in an intensive five-year project that rivaled the later work of the astronomer Tycho Brahe . 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 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 , 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. Shen Kuo received his initial childhood education from his mother, which was a common practice in China during this period. Shen Zhou also served several years in the prestigious capital judiciary, the equivalent of a federal supreme court. 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 system, some one hundred thousand acres of swampland into prime .

Official career

In 1063 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 , 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. Shen Kuo had a previous history with Wang Anshi, since it was Wang who had composed the funerary epitaph for Shen's father, Zhou. 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. putting government monopolies on saltpetre and sulphur production and distribution in 1076 , and aggressive military policy towards China'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 . 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 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. As described in his ''Dream Pool Essays'', Shen Kuo enjoyed the company of the "nine guests" , a figure of speech for the , , Zen Buddhist meditation, ink , , alchemy, , conversation, and . These nine activities were an extension to the older so-called Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar.

According to 's book ''Pingzhou Table Talks'' of 1119, Shen Kuo had two marriages; the second wife was the daughter of Zhang Chu , 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 year later.

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" after he visited it for the first time in 1086. While visiting the iron producing district at Cizhou in 1075, Shen described the "partial decarborization" method of reforging cast iron under a cold blast, which Hartwell, Needham, and Wertime state is the predecessor of the Bessemer process. Shen believed that due to the needs of the 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 to invent a new, more durable type of writing ink; the Ming Dynasty pharmacologist Li Shizhen wrote that Shen's ink was "lustrous like lacquer, and superior to that made from pinewood lamp-black," or the soot from pinewood. 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. Shen Kuo's scientific writings have received worldwide acclaim by many sinologists such as Joseph Needham and Nathan Sivin. His work has often been compared to that of his equally brilliant Chinese contemporary Su Song , the mechanical genius whose clock tower incorporated a waterwheel, , escapement mechanism, and chain drive to operate the armillary sphere, opening doors, and rotating mannequins beating drums, bells, and holding announcement plaques. Shen Kuo has also been compared to many intellectual achievers and polymaths, such as Gottfried Leibniz and Mikhail Lomonosov.

Raised-relief map

If the account of Sima Qian in his ''Records of the Grand Historian'' is proven correct upon the unearthing of Qin Shi Huang's tomb, the raised relief-map has existed since the Qin Dynasty . Robert Temple and Joseph Needham suggest that certain pottery vessels of the Han Dynasty showing artificial mountains as lid decorations may have influenced the raised-relief map. The Han Dynasty general made a raised-relief map of valleys and mountains in a rice-constructed model of 32 AD. Zhu Xi 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 pieces. The Englishman John Evelyn , in his 1665 paper featured in the ''Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society'', wrote that the raised-relief map was something new from France. He held great concern for detail and 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. For example, Shen noted that the mineral orpiment was used to quickly erase writing errors on paper.


The writing of Shen Kuo is the only source for the date when the drydock was first used in China. Shen also wrote about the effectiveness of the new invention of the pound lock to replace the old flash lock design used in canals.

If it were not for Shen Kuo's analysis and quoting in his ''Dream Pool Essays'' of the writings of the architect Yu Hao , the latter's work would have been lost to history. Yu designed a famous wooden that burned down in 1044 and was replaced in 1049 by a brick 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'' —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 , the '''' of 1103.


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 would promote the use of autopsy in order to solve homicide cases, as written in his ''Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified''.

Mathematics and optics

In the broad field of mathematics, Shen Kuo mastered many practical mathematical problems, including many complex formulas for geometry, 'packing' equations for calculus, and chords and arcs problems employing trigonometry. Shen addressed problems of writing out very large numbers, as large as 1043. 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'', sagita ''v'', and length of the chord ''c'' subtending the arc, the length of which he approximated as ''s'' = ''c'' + 2v2/d. 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 , 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 . 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 the Iraqi Muslim scientist Ibn al-Haytham was the first to experiment with camera obscura, Shen Kuo was the first to apply geometrical and quantitative attributes 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.

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 one of the first references in human history to the magnetic compass-needle, the concept of true north, and its use for navigation at sea. 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, In any case, Shen Kuo's writing on magnetic compasses has proved invaluable for understanding China's earliest use of the compass for seafaring navigation.


Many of Shen Kuo's contemporaries were interested in antiquarian pursuits of collecting old artworks. They were also interested in pursuits, although for rather different reasons than why 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 empirical evidence. 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.

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 Proven& Jewish mathematician Levi ben Gerson 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. Du Yu a Chinese officer, believed that the land of hills would eventually be leveled into valleys and valleys would gradually rise to form hills. The Daoist alchemist Ge Hong wrote of the legendary immortal Ma Gu; in a written dialogue by Ge, Ma Gu described how what was once the Eastern Sea had transformed into solid land where grew, and would one day be filled with mountains and dry, dusty lands.

It was Shen Kuo who formulated a hypothesis about the process of land formation 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 of the mountains, uplift, and the deposition of silt, after observing strange natural erosions of the 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. Shen proposed that the cliff was once the location of an ancient seashore that by his time had shifted hundreds of miles east. The magistrate of Jincheng, Zheng Boshun, examined the creature as well, and noted the same scale-like markings that were seen on other marine animals. Around the year 1080, Shen Kuo noted that a landslide on the bank of a large river near Yanzhou had revealed an open space several dozens of feet under the ground once the bank collapsed. Historian Joseph Needham likened Shen's account to that of the scientist Roderick Murchison , who was inspired to become a geologist after observing a providential landslide.


Early speculation and hypothesis pertaining to what is now known as meteorology had a long tradition in China before Shen Kuo. For example, the philosopher Wang Chong accurately described the process of the water cycle. Shen wrote vivid descriptions of tornadoes—the first known description of them in East Asia—and gave reasoning 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."

Astronomy and instruments

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. Along with his colleague Wei Pu in the Bureau of Astronomy, Shen Kuo plotted out exact coordinates of planetary and lunar movements by recording their astronomical observations three times a night for a continuum of five years.

The astronomical phenomena of the solar eclipse and lunar eclipse had been known in China since at least the time of the astronomers Gan De and Shi Shen , since it was Shi Shen who 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 's writing in the 1st century BC and that of the astronomer Zhang Heng , the latter two of whom correctly hypothesized that the brightness of the 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 that the sun and moon were spherical in shape , 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 that 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 Observatory asked Shen Kuo if the shapes of the sun and 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. He also wrote that, although the sun and moon were 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.

Shen Kuo is also known for his cosmological hypotheses in explaining the variations of planetary motions, including retrogradation. His colleague Wei Pu realized that the old calculation technique for the mean sun was inaccurate compared to the , 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,

The Song Dynasty 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. 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. Although the use of assembling individual characters to compose a piece of text had its origins in , 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. Although the details of Bi Sheng's life were scarcely known, Shen Kuo wrote:
When Bi Sheng died, his passed into the possession of my followers , among whom it has been kept as a precious possession until now.

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'' printed in 1193 using the method of baked-clay movable type characters outlined in the ''Dream Pool Essays''. Yao Shu , an advisor to Kublai Khan, once persuaded a disciple Yang Gu to print philological s and Neo-Confucian texts by using what he termed the "movable type of Shen Kuo". , 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. The earlier 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 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 . This included the printing works of Hua Sui , who pioneered the first Chinese bronze-type movable printing in the year 1490. In 1718, during the mid Qing Dynasty , the scholar of Tai'an known as Xu Zhiding developed movable type with ware instead of earthenware. He praised the works of Dong Yuan ; 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 ; 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.

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 Daoist ''Book of Changes'' in explaining the spiritual processes and attainment of foreknowledge that cannot be attained through "crude traces", which he likens to mathematical astronomy. 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 and lacquerwares inside were fine, yet metal objects had melted into liquid, 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 , 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.

In a passage of the ''Dream Pool Essays'' called "Strange Happenings", Shen provided a peculiar account of an unidentified flying object that Professor Zhang Longqiao of the Chinese Department of Peking Teachers College states is "a clue that a flying craft from some other planet once landed somewhere near Yangzhou in China." Zhang 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 China Long Ago?"

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.

''Dream Pool Essays''

As the historian Chen Dengyuan points out, much of Shen Kuo's written work was probably purged under the leadership of minister Cai Jing , 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. The ''Dream Pool Essays'' was first quoted in a Chinese written work of 1095, showing that even towards the end of Shen's life his final book was becoming widely printed. The book was originally 30 chapters long, yet an unknown Chinese author's edition of 1166 edited and reorganized the work into 26 chapters. There is one surviving copy of this 1166 edition housed now in Japan, while a Chinese reprint was produced in 1305 as well.

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. Selected translations of the ''Dream Pool Essays'' from Middle Chinese into modern Vernacular Chinese was made by Zhang Jia Ju's biographical work ''Shen Kuo'' . 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. 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. yet it was known that Shen Kuo and Su Shi were nonetheless friends and associates. Shen wrote the ''Mengqi Wanghuai Lu'' , 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'' collection, which mostly describe the agricultural implements and tools used by rural people in high mountain regions. Shen Kuo also wrote the ''Changxing Ji'' . However, this book was without much doubt a posthumous collection, including various poems, prose, and administrative documents written by Shen. Shen Kuo also wrote the ''Register of What Not to Forget'', a 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 items.

In his ''Sequel to Numerous Things Revealed'', the Song author Cheng Dachang 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 '''' of the northwestern Inner Asian nomads as a metaphor for prisoners-of-war led by Song troops:

{| cellpadding="5" style="font-size:90%; border-collapse:collapse; background-color:transparent; border-style:none; margin: 10px 10px;"
| width="15" valign=top |
| align="left" |
: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.
| width="15" valign=bottom |
| colspan="3" | Shen Kuo The 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.

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. 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 tall statue of Shen Kuo sitting on a platform, along with centuries-old published copies of his ''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 achievements.

The Chinese discovered a new in 1964; in 1979, the Chinese Academy of Sciences decided to honor Shen by listing "Shen Kuo" as one of its names.


1 comment:

Bradley said...

Thank you for this fascinating account of the life and career of Shen Kuo. He truly was one of the world's great polymaths. I especially appreciate your mention of Ibn al-Haytham’s contributions to the field of optics. It is worth noting that Ibn al-Haytham used the pinhole technology to to test his hypothesis that "lights and colors do not blend in the air." Using pinhole technology, he "forced" light rays to intersect at an aperture and recorded the results in his massive study of light and vision, Kitāb al-Manāzir (Book of Optics). As the first person to systematically test hypotheses with experiments, Ibn al-Haytham deserves recognition not only as the “father of optics” but also as the first scientist. If your readers would like to know more about him, I would like to recommend my new book, Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist. Written for young adults, it is the world's first full biography of the eleventh-century Muslim scholar known in the West as Alhazen or Alhacen.