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Shen Kuo; China's Greatest Pre-modern Scientist


Meiguoren

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I want to start a general discussion on the Song Dynasty statesman, military general, and writer Shen Kuo (沈括 lived 1031-1095 CE), who I believe is China's greatest pre-modern scientist.

First off, how much do any of you know about Shen Kuo just off the top of your head? How much do you think average Chinese know about him and his groundbreaking work Dream Pool Essays (Meng Xi Bi Tan, 梦溪笔谈) published in 1088 CE?

I think he deserves to be a household name, ranked amongst the greatest of genius polymaths such as al-Biruni, al-Haytham, Leonardo Da Vinci, Gottfried Leibniz, Mikhail Lomonosov, Blaise Pascal, etc.

Certainly, Shen Kuo is comparable to another rival Chinese intellect of his age, the contemporary peer Su Song, renowned also for astronomy, mathematics, cartography, pharmacology, foreign diplomacy, and horology in inventing new clockworks just like Shen Kuo's many achievements. Su Song's clocktower is impressive for so many reasons (i.e. applying the escapement mechanism at least two hundred years before European clocks, as well as the first known chain drive of any sort, to power the rotating armillary sphere of his tower), yet Shen Kuo's written work is even more valuable, I think. Although impressive, the work of later writers such as Jiao Yu and Li Jie, Li Shizhen, Xu Xiake, Song Yingxing, etc. somewhat rivals but really does not compare to the quality and many brilliant aspects of Shen's work and scientific reasoning. I can really think of only a handful of pre-modern Chinese mathematicians who are more notable in the field of mathematics than Shen Kuo, such as Yang Hui, Qin Jiushao, Zhu Shijie, etc, and maybe Zhang Heng and Liu Hui since their work was far more ancient than Shen's (although Chinese mathematics was much more advanced by Shen's time).

I want to make it known that, without my edits, the wikipedia article on Shen Kuo would be still shoddy at best (even saying that is generous), and I am responsible for lifting it up to Featured Article Status, the highest quality rating Wikipedia has. The wikipedia article on the Dream Pool Essays was also non-existent before I created it, which speaks volumes about how many people are not concerned about the importance of Shen Kuo, or just don't know anything about him! I've had people leave messages on my talk page thanking me for putting so much effort into his article, because they had never even heard of him before. How sad is this? The first man to describe the magnetic compass, the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng, the first use of a drydock in China, the first to experiment with camera obscura in China (only decades after Ibn al-Haytham was the first to do so), etc. Plus, his geological theories about land formation (what we consider the modern study of geomorphology) and gradual climate change (what we consider the modern study of paleoclimatology) made him a man of intellect hundreds of years before his time.

What does everyone here think of Shen? :D

Meiguoren

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:(

This is sort of sad and pathetic, no replies or responses in 5 days? I see. This forum is pretty beat. :tong So I guess with no responses, I'm assuming everyone pretty much despises Shen Kuo and wishes he was never a part of Chinese history. :wink:

Meiguoren

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Three days after the last message (and more than a week since the first post), and still no comment or any thoughts about Shen Kuo? That goes from sad to outright rediculous, considering the amount of members on this site and traffic on this forum.

Meiguoren

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adrianlondon

On the basis that most people have never heard of him, a fact you state in your first post, and that the main source of online information available on him was written by yourself, I'm not sure what type of comment you're expecting.

No one has anything to say! We can just read your post, shoot off to Wiki, and then think "oooo!".

So .... oooo! ;)

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No one has anything to say! We can just read your post, shoot off to Wiki, and then think "oooo!".

So .... oooo! ;)

I see what you're saying, but I still think China's greatest premodern scientist deserves a little more than a simple "oooo!" as you so eloquently put it. An "oooo!" is more appropriate for when someone takes a bite of delicious ice cream, or finds a 100 dollar award in the mail, or when a kid of someone you know on a little league baseball team hits a fairly decent home run out of the ball park. Do you say "oooo!" when you read about the achievements of Einstein or Newton? Or do you give a little more respect to men who braved to shape and improve our world? I guess you don't care for that sort of thing.

Plus, you don't even have a single question? Not one? :( That could start something, at least.

You might want to try chinahistoryforum.com, they'll love you over there.

Heh, already beat you to it. :)

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studentyoung
What does everyone here think of Shen? :D
This is sort of sad and pathetic, no replies or responses in 5 days? I see. This forum is pretty beat. :tong So I guess with no responses, I'm assuming everyone pretty much despises Shen Kuo and wishes he was never a part of Chinese history.:wink:
Three days after the last message (and more than a week since the first post), and still no comment or any thoughts about Shen Kuo? That goes from sad to outright rediculous, considering the amount of members on this site and traffic on this forum.

It seems that you don’t understand that sometimes being a great scientist is very lonely. And it seems that you complain about others who might not be interested in your topic. Shen was learned great scientist and studied in mathematics, physics, traditional Chinese medicine and astronomy. He also made achievements in archaeology, painting, calligraphy, poem, music, history etc. But in public, he never complained about others who were not interested in his topics. Can you feel the great difference between you and Shen?

Or do you give a little more respect to men who braved to shape and improve our world?

I hope you might understand no one respond to your post doesn't mean they don’t give respect to men who braved to shape and improve our world.

I guess you don't care for that sort of thing.

I guess you don’t know that your tone might hurt others!

Thanks!

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adrianlondon
I guess you don't care for that sort of thing.

A patronising, conclusion-jumping academic! Well I never.

As for the actual content of your post, odd analogy to ice-cream aside, what are you actually after?

A discussion about the guy himself? That's unlikely as you say you're the only person who knows anything about him. So "oooo" does seem appropriate, in a "wow, really? That's cool to know, I'll read up about him" kind of way. But, now you've mentioned ice-cream I might just go off and eat that instead. If only I could work out where the shop is. Someone should invent a compas which points out the direction one is walking in so I could orientate myself.

A discussion on the scientific principles in his work? I don't think that's what you're after, as this is done independently of the man himself which does seem to be the focus of your post.

So, what did you actually want to talk about?

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But in public, he never complained about others who were not interested in his topics.

Sure, he didn't go running around the countryside screaming at all the peasant farmers about what he had done while writing important works or working as an official in various positions at court. However, his job, especially as head of the Bureau of Astronomy, was to present his work to others in order to correct significant errors and mistakes in accepted Chinese astronomy at the time. It was his moral duty as an official to set wrongs right, which entailed making his findings known to others. There was a huge amount of political opposition mounted against Shen because of his affiliation with Chancellor Wang Anshi and his court faction. They outright slandered his brilliant colleague Wei Pu simply because he wasn't born into a prominent family. Shen Kuo had to stick up for himself and for Wei Pu, knowing full well that their findings in astronomy were absolutely correct while any accepted model since the time of Yi Xing was unquestioned. Therefore, Shen had to put on a public display with an astronomical gnomon in front of everyone in order to prove the doubtful wrong about his teams' plottings for planetary and lunar orbital paths, as well as their calculation for the accelerated phase of motion and retarted phase of motion for the mean sun and apparent sun, respectively. Although the lunar and solar errors were fixed, the officials at court stymied his efforts to correct all of the errors involved with planetary orbit and motion. So in fact, if it was not for Shen Kuo sticking up for himself and complaining about the abuse he and Wei Pu were recieving from others for petty political and career reasons, nothing would have been solved, even though in the end only half his efforts were accepted.

Can you feel the great difference between you and Shen?

First off, I never professed to be a splitting image of Shen Kuo, he had an incredibly humble attitude and he was a better human being than most. I wish I had as much patience as he did with people that knew less than him; unfortunately I lack this paramount virtue, one that I am only slowly developing and learning from my own college professors, who are brilliant men that are light-years ahead of me in knowledge.

I hope you might understand no one respond to your post doesn't mean they don’t give respect to men who braved to shape and improve our world.

I wasn't responding to a comment by adrianlondon about lack of posting a response in the first place. I was responding to adrianlondon's comment that, upon learning something of Shen Kuo's life, career, achievements, and contributions to the world, he pretty much summed it all up in the indifferent and sarcastic phrase "oooo!" and nothing more. Maybe that wasn't the actual tone he was using or intending, but to me it rubbed off as saying Shen Kuo deserved nothing more than an "oooo," because that's all adrianlondon had to say!

I guess you don’t know that your tone might hurt others!

If his feeling are truly hurt (which I doubt they are), then that's not entirely negative. Putting the guilt trip on him might make him want to learn more (which in the end will only benefit him). Anything to pull more attention on here to Shen Kuo (who sorely deserves it), which was my original intent.

A patronising, conclusion-jumping academic! Well I never.

See? His feelings aren't hurt, like any normal person he's cracking jokes in self defense.

A discussion about the guy himself? That's unlikely as you say you're the only person who knows anything about him. So "oooo" does seem appropriate, in a "wow, really? That's cool to know, I'll read up about him" kind of way.

When did I ever say I was the only person who knew about him? If I was the only person who knew about him, that would be much more incredibly sad than things already are in regards to Shen. And no, I wasn't seeking a conversation or discussion about his personal life, I was looking more along the lines of what people knew about his various achievements, which are more relevant in any case.

But, now you've mentioned ice-cream I might just go off and eat that instead.

Um, ok. :-?:lol:

If only I could work out where the shop is. Someone should invent a compas which points out the direction one is walking in so I could orientate myself.

Now you're getting the picture.

A discussion on the scientific principles in his work?

Bingo. That and why they are significant and relevant today.

I don't think that's what you're after,

And then you had to go and say that, which ruined your previous assumption, which was correct.

So, what did you actually want to talk about?

Well, if you noticed the very last question in the post, "what does everyone here think of Shen," I was expecting an answer that was a little more intelligent and thoughtful to the topic than "oooo!" Pretty much a caveman response on the intelligence meter (no offense).

Plus, you've completely ignored the second and third sentences in the original posts, the only other questions posed. Those being:

First off, how much do any of you know about Shen Kuo just off the top of your head? How much do you think average Chinese know about him and his groundbreaking work Dream Pool Essays (Meng Xi Bi Tan, 梦溪笔谈) published in 1088 CE?

Now, you're answer to the first question should have followed the lines of something like: "I don't know anything about Shen Kuo at all, or at least did not know about him until I read this," if that is truly the case. That's what I was looking for! How much people actually knew about him without resorting to peeking at wikipedia, which people often do not have to do when well-known scientists like Tycho Brahe are being discussed, yet Shen is arguably as important.

As to the second question, I was aiming that more at actual Chinese people, who on average are educated pretty well in their own history. I asked this question out of pure curiosity of how well known he is in mainland China, or Taiwan, or Singapore, or Malaysia, or San Francisco for all I'm concerned (basically any place you will find Chinese people). I figured, since this is a Chinese language site teeming with Chinese people, that one out of at least 100 would give a crap. I was sorely mistaken, until I started putting the guilt trip on everybody. Unfortunately, that didn't work either, since no one has so far bothered to give a thoughtful response to those two questions. Studentyoung certainly could, since he actually lives or is at least from China, hence by default knows Chinese people and what his Chinese peers might know about historical subjects. I have never been to China, hence my curiosity in finding out (since Shen is apparently largely ignored in the West, despite fairly widespread acknowledgement of him in the circle of Western sinologist historians). Unfortunately, StudentYoung found it more worth his time to respond to my rebuttal to you than to actually answer any of the initial questions.

Therefore, my curiosity continues, and I'm curious in the first place because Shen is so damn important that I look at people outright ignoring him and wonder what is the root cause of this bizarre behavior and treatment of Shen. In fact, I look at such behavior (i.e. Western historians ignoring or downplaying the achievements of non-Western achievers) as intellectually dishonest in seeking any and all objective truth about a full and encompassing history. When the 14th century Italian Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) discovered the much-ignored but incredibly important letters of the ancient Roman statesman Cicero, he didn't just go "oooo!" and then went out for ice cream while not thinking much about what he had just discovered. He was absolutely appalled at the level of ignorance of his medieval peers and what they chose to ignore, and especially their indifference to the pagan authors of the past, simply because they were not Christian writers. And do you know what Francesco is responsible for? Nothing much. He only laid the foundations for European Humanism, the social spark that ignited the Renaissance Age, the revival of Republicanism and its civic virtues of which the scholastic, Aristotelian Western world had largely forgotten, and upon which our modern democracies should be forever grateful for. You know, nothing big. Or as you might put it, "oooo!"

Meiguoren

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adrianlondon
When the 14th century Italian Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) discovered the much-ignored but incredibly important letters of the ancient Roman statesman Cicero, he didn't just go "oooo!" and then went out for ice cream

He probably had a cassata.

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He probably had a cassata

Lol. :lol:

Yeah, I only mentioned ice cream because it was mentioned in that context before, as in going and eating ice cream instead.

I like cassatas. Now look what you've done, you've gone and made me hungry!

Meiguoren

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