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Shen Kuo

Shen Kuo was an eminent scientist of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). He was an all-round scholar of astronomy, literature, physics, chemistry, calendars, geology, meteorology and medical science. He was also an outstanding engineer, an excellent military strategist and a tactful diplomat. He even made milestone contributions to art and literature. So Shen Kuo was well known for being knowledgeable in ancient China.

Shen (1031-1095) was a native in Qian Tang of Zhejiang Province. He held a number of official posts during his life. He served as an envoy to the Liao Kingdom and led troops in battle. At one time he served as the highest financial official, and even director of the imperial observatory.

Shen Kuo completed his famous scientific work Meng Xi Bi Tan (Dream Pool Essays) after retirement. In the book, he wrote a lot about the animals and plants he had seen when traveling through the country, such as giant clam in the South Sea, crocodile in Chaozhou, Chinese wolfberry in the northwest of China and jerboa in the desert of northern China. The book also introduced some methods to kill insect pests.

Being learned in anatomy, Shen Kuo pointed out in Mengxi Bitan that human beings had pharynx and larynx, with pharynx for devouring food and larynx for ventilation. He also had profound knowledge about fossils. When visiting the Taihang Mountain in North China's Shanxi Province, he found fossilized seashells and noted the presence of ovoid stones like those often found on the seashore, leading him to conclude that at some time in the distant past, Shanxi had been located by the sea.

Mengxi Bitan (Dream Pool Essays) was widely regarded as an important scientific works in ancient China.

While in his thirties, Shen Kuo frequently dreamed of a place. In the dream, he ascended a hill, the summit of which was covered with brightly colored flowers and trees. Clear waters flowed at the base of the hill, banked on either side by dense woods. Later on, when traveling around, he was shocked to find a piece of land that was just the place in his dream. There he settled and wrote of the discoveries he had made in his lifetime. This extraordinary story is the origin of Shen's Mengxi Bitan (Dream Pool Essays).

Shen Kuo was hundreds of years ahead of the Western scientists in the fields of astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, mathematics and the calendar. He was the first to discover that the compass does not point directly north, but to the magnetic north pole. In the field of mathematics, he developed techniques that laid the foundations for spherical trigonometry and high-order arithmetic progressions. Mengxi Bitan was a milestone in the history of Chinese science. Today, this amazing 1,000-year-old scientific work has been translated into a number of different languages, including English, French, German and Japanese.

Editor: Feng Hui

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