''Because I had only my writing brush and ink slab to converse with, I call it Brush Talks''.
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 AD, showing that even towards the end of Shen's life his final book was becoming widely printed. There is one surviving copy of this 1166 edition housed now in Japan, while a Chinese reprint was produced in 1305 as well. 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 importantance as it contains, according to the historian Nathan Sivin , the fullest and most accurate account of Shen Kuo's life.
In recent years there was a landslide on the bank of a large river in Yong-Ning Guan near Yanzhou. The bank collapsed, opening a space of several dozens of feet, and under the ground a forest of bamboo shoots was thus revealed. It contained several hundred bamboo with their roots and trunks all complete, and all turned to stone...Now bamboos do not grow in Yanzhou. These were several dozens of feet below the present surface of the ground, and we do not know in what dynasty they could possibly have grown. Perhaps in very ancient times the climate was different so that the place was low, damp, gloomy, and suitable for bamboos. On the Jin-Hua Shan in Wuzhou there are stone pine-cones, and stones formed from peach kernels, stone bulrush roots, stone fishes, crabs, and so on, but as these are all native products of that place, people are not very surprised at them. But these petrified bamboos appeared under the ground so deep, though they are not produced in that place today.
On the use of the sighting tube to fix the position of the pole star, Shen Kuo wrote:
Before it was believed that the pole star was in the center of the sky, so it was called Jixing . found out with the help of the sighting tube that the point in the sky which really does not move was a little more than 1 degree away from the summit star. In the Xining reign-period I accepted the order of the emperor to take charge of the Bureau of the . I then tried to find the true pole by means of the tube. On the very first night I noticed that the star which could be seen through the tube moved after a while outside the field of view. I realized, therefore, that the tube was too small, so I increased the size of the tube by stages. After three months' trials I adjusted it so that the star would go round and round within the field of view without disappearing. In this way I found that the pole star was distant from the true pole somewhat more than 3 degrees. We used to make the diagrams of the field, plotting the positions of the star from the time when it entered the field of view, observing after nightfall, at midnight, and early in the morning before dawn. Two hundred of such diagrams showed that the 'pole star' was really a circumpolar star. And this I stated in my detailed report to the emperor.
Movable type printing
On the methods of Bi Sheng's invention of movable type printing between the years 1041 to 1048 AD, Shen Kuo wrote:
took sticky clay and cut in it characters as thin as the edge of a coin. Each character formed, as it were, a single type. He baked them in the fire to make them hard. He had previously prepared an iron plate and he had covered his plate with a mixture of pine resin, wax, and paper ashes. When he wished to print, he took an iron frame and set it on the iron plate. In this he placed the types, set close together. When the frame was full, the whole made one solid block of type. He then placed it near the fire to warm it. When the paste was slightly melted, he took a smooth board and pressed it over the surface, so that the block of type became as even as a whetstone. If one were to print only two or three copies, this method would be neither simple nor easy. But for printing hundreds or thousands of copies, it was marvelously quick. As a rule he kept two forms going. While the impression was being made from the one form, the type was being put in place on the other. When the printing of the one form was finished, the other was then ready. In this way the two forms alternated and the printing was done with great rapidity.
Personal beliefs and philosophy
Of Daoism and the inability of empirical science to explain everything in the world, Shen Kuo wrote:
Those in the world who speak of the regularities underlying the phenomena, it seems, manage to apprehend their crude traces. But these regularities have their very subtle aspect, which those who rely on mathematical astronomy cannot know of. Still even these are nothing more than traces. As for the spiritual processes described in the that "when they are stimulated, penetrate every situation in the realm," mere traces have nothing to do with them. This spiritual state by which foreknowledge is attained can hardly be sought through changes, of which in any case only the cruder sort are attainable. What I have called the subtlest aspect of these traces, those who discuss the celestial bodies attempt to know by depending on mathematical astronomy; but astronomy is nothing more than the outcome of conjecture.
Dissertation on the ''Timberwork Manual''
Below are two passages from Shen's book outlining the basics contained in Yu Hao's ''Timberwork Manual''. Yu Hao was a Chinese architect of the earlier 10th, and Kuo was one to praise his work. In the first quote, Shen Kuo describes a scene were Yu Hao gives advice to another artisan architect about slanting struts for diagonal wind bracing:
When Mr. Qian was Governor of the two Zhejiang provinces, he authorized the building of a wooden pagoda at the Fan-Tian Si in Hangzhou with a design of twice three stories. While it was under construction General Chhien went up to the top and was worried because it swayed a little. But the Master-Builder explained that as the tiles had not yet been put on, the upper part was still rather light, hence the effect. So then they put on all the tiles, but the sway continued as before. Being at a loss what to do, he privately sent his wife to see the wife of Yu Hao with a present of golden hair pins, and enquire about the cause of the motion. Hao laughed and said: 'That's easy, just fit in struts to settle the work, fixed with , and it will not move any more.' The Master-Builder followed his advice, and the tower stood quite firm. This is because the nailed struts filled in and bound together up and down so that the six planes were mutually linked like the cage of the thorax. Although people might walk on the struts, the six planes grasped and supported each other, so naturally there could be no more motion. Everybody acknowledged the expertise thus shown.
In this next quote, Shen Kuo describes the dimensions and types of architecture outlined in Yu Hao's book:
Methods of building construction are described in the ''Timberwork Manual'', which, some say, was written by Yu Hao. , buildings have three basic units of proportion, what is above the cross-beams follows the Upperwork Unit, what is above the ground floor follows the Middlework Unit, and everything below that follows the Lowerwork Unit. The length of the cross-beams will naturally govern the lengths of the uppermost cross-beams as well as the rafters, etc. Thus for a cross-beam of length, an uppermost cross-beam of length will be needed. in larger and smaller halls. This is the Upperwork Unit. Similarly, the dimensions of the foundations must match the dimensions of the columns to be used, as also those of the rafters, etc. For example, a column high will need a platform high. So also for all the other components, corbelled brackets, projecting rafters, other rafters, all have their fixed proportions. All these follow the Middlework Unit . Now below of ramps there are three kinds, steep, easy-going, and intermediate. In places these gradients are based upon a unit derived from the imperial litters. Steep ramps are ramps for ascending which the leading and trailing bearers have to extend their arms fully down and up respectively . Easy-going ramps are those for which the leaders use elbow length and the trailers shoulder height ; intermediate ones are negotiated by the leaders with downstretched arms and trailers at shoulder height . These are the Lowerwork Units. The book had three chapters. But builders in recent years have become much more precise and skillful than formerly. Thus for some time past the old Timberwork Manual has fallen out of use. But there is hardly anybody capable of writing a new one. To do that would be a masterpiece in itself!
Botany and Zoology
Shen Kuo described the natural predator insect similarly shaped to the ''gou-he'' which preyed upon the agricultural pest infestation of ''zi-fang'', the latter of which are now known to be ''nian chong'', a member of the Noctuidae family, Hardeninae subfamily, ''Leucania separata'':
In the Yuan-Feng reign period , in the Qingzhou region, an outbreak of zi-fang insects caused serious damage to the crops in the fields in autumn. Suddenly another insect appeared in swarms of thousands and tens of thousands, covering the entire ground area. It was shaped like earth-burrowing gou-he , and its mouth was flanked by pincers. Whenever it met a zi-fang, it would seize it with the pincers and break the poor beast into two bits. Within ten days all the zi-fang had disappeared, so the locality had an abundant harvest. Such kinds of insects have been known since antiquity and the local people call them pang bu ken .
Book chapters of the Meng Xi Bi Tan
* Official life and the
* Academic and matters
* Literary and artistic
* Law and police
* Miscellaneous stories and anecdotes
* Divination, , and folklore
The Natural Sciences:
* On the I Ching, Yin and Yang, and
* Astronomy and calendar
* Geology and mineralogy
* Geography and cartography
* Engineering, metallurgy, and technology
* Irrigation and hydraulic engineering
* Biological sciences, botany, and zoology
* Agricultural arts
* Medicine and pharmaceutics
The Humanistic Sciences: