Talk:Shen Kuo

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Shen Kuo is a featured article; it (or a previous version of it) has been identified as one of the best articles produced by the Wikipedia community. Even so, if you can update or improve it, please do so.
This article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on October 28, 2007.
Article milestones
April 27, 2007Good article nomineeListed
May 7, 2007Featured article candidateNot promoted
June 1, 2007Featured article candidatePromoted
Current status: Featured article

GA NominationEdit

GA review (see here for criteria)
  1. It is reasonably well written.
    a (prose):   b (MoS):  
  2. It is factually accurate and verifiable.
    a (references):   b (citations to reliable sources):   c (OR):  
  3. It is broad in its coverage.
    a (major aspects):   b (focused):  
  4. It follows the neutral point of view policy.
    a (fair representation):   b (all significant views):  
  5. It is stable.
  6. It contains images, where possible, to illustrate the topic.
    a (tagged and captioned):   b lack of images (does not in itself exclude GA):   c (non-free images have fair use rationales):  
  7. Overall:
    a Pass/Fail:  


The complaints I am voicing here are pretty much the same as in the last two articles (Su Song and Zhang Heng), with an addtional issue with images.

  • You need to indicate the name of the volumes in addition to the number for the Needham references.
  • You should add at least two more images if possible.

There are several problems with the prose in a few sections.

  • Unlike the other two, this article only has a lot of parantheses in the quotations. Nevertheless, I still think many of these should be removed. I don't think that their removal will affact the integrity of the quotations.
  • You are mixing Wade-Giles and Pinyin romanization. The majority of the article is in Pinyin, but you must convert the Wade-Giles into Pinyin before the article is passed. If you need assistance in this regard please let me know, as I can help convert the stuff.
  • I also feel that this article is too dependant on large block quotes. I think that the quotes should either be shortened so that they do not comprise the vast majority of The Scientific Writing and Theory sections and Philosophy section, or that these sections could be expanded to reduce their dependance on the quotations. Having the large quotes in the writing section, is in my opinion not an issue, that the topic addresses the writing itself.Zeus1234 04:12, 26 April 2007 (UTC)
Ok, I have indicated the names of the Needham volumes, added two more images, fixed many of the parentheses, and along with getting rid of some of the block quotes, provided more extensive prose to explain the ones I decided to keep. I also got rid of any random Wade-giles spelling, although the ones I have decided to keep are from direct quotations of Needham's books, and should not be reworded for sake of faithfulness to the actual quotations.PericlesofAthens 03:50, 27 April 2007 (UTC)
The improvements are good. The article now meritcs GA status. Congratulations!Zeus1234 05:40, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

Failed FACEdit

Ok, this is a great article, but the reason it has failed to be promoted for FA status is because one had problem with quotes of Shen's writing being in the article (saying that it added nothing to the article). I completely disagree. However, it just dawned on me, this entire time I could have easily placed all of the quotes in the Dream Pool Essays article that I created. That would have been a reasonable compromise. I will do that now.--PericlesofAthens 23:33, 7 May 2007 (UTC)

It's really stupid that one person can entirely derail a nomination. I personally think that while some of the quotes could be moved over, some of them should stay in the article. Zeus1234 00:02, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
I think a good compromise would be to pare them down a lot, and keep them directly relevant to the subject at hand. (Where's the failed FAC tag? It provides a handy link to the nomination..) --Fang Aili talk 03:13, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
Regardless, all of the quotes have been moved into the Dream Pool Essays article, and any valuable information from the quotes have been converted into prose explanations.--PericlesofAthens 04:03, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
Oh, and Fang, the link to the nomination page is hidden in the Good Article tag.--PericlesofAthens 04:09, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
I think at least one of the quotes should be put back, just to show how he wrote about scientific subjects. The eclipse quote in particular is quite enlightening. The article was much better before.Zeus1234 04:14, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
Well, apparently the Featured Article Director (user:Raul654) did not think so or share your sentiment, otherwise the article would have stayed as a candidate for at least an entire week (nominated May 1, booted on May 7).--PericlesofAthens 04:24, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
I don't think it failed due to the quote, but rather because I was the only one who supported the article's promotion. Still, a bit bizarre it wasn't kept for longer. I do think that one quote would not hurt the article in any way. Perhaps renominate with one quote, and if people complain, then remove it. It certainly isn't the same as having tons of quotes as before. Zeus1234 06:20, 8 May 2007 (UTC)

The article is really much better without the quotes. Because they're translations, we don't really learn anything about Shen's writing style, and they were sooooo long and filled with unneeded information. As for the rest of the article, there is a lot of awkward prose in there, for example:

From about 1040 AD, Shen's family moved around from Sichuan province to the international seaport at Xiamen as Shen's father accepted new posts of governance in each new territory. He observed not only the various towns and rural lands of China, but also the various aspects of his father's engagement in administrative governance.

It's not entirely clear what this is referring to. Did he move from Sichuan province to Xiamen, or did he move 'around' within an area defined by these two places? What were his father's posts? There's a double use of 'various' in the second sentence. 'Towns and rural lands' is clunky, and 'engagement in administrative governance' could be replaced with 'administrative career', or even just 'job'. The article's prose needs to be gone through with a fine toothcomb. Only then will it be feature-worthy.--Nydas(Talk) 08:37, 8 May 2007 (UTC)

Hello Nydas. I changed those sentences you had a problem with, and furthermore reworded an awkward sentence in the "Geological theory" section. However, like you said, this article needs a lot of copyediting review. I think I will call upon the magical League of Copyeditors for this one. Lol. :)--PericlesofAthens 12:50, 8 May 2007 (UTC)
Since there's a list of all of the Dream Pool Essays subjects on its own article, they need not be included here (lists like that are generally frowned upon when it comes to FAs anyway). Cliff smith 02:39, 9 May 2007 (UTC)
Very good point, I have kept that list in the Dream Pool Essays article, while deleting it from Shen Kuo's article. The article looks smoother now, too.--PericlesofAthens 03:07, 9 May 2007 (UTC)
I just added some more valuable information to Shen's "Career and later life" section, outlining his professional relationship with Wang Anshi and his diplomatic embassy to the Liao Dynasty.--PericlesofAthens 04:53, 9 May 2007 (UTC)
I just made some major improvements to the article. Have a look see...--PericlesofAthens 09:54, 9 May 2007 (UTC)
I just edited the Scholary achievements section by placing Mathematics into its own sub-section. I am furthermore relieved to say that I believe everything that needs to be in Shen's article is definitely included, and at 49 kilobites, his article is about 1 kilobite shy of being either a bit too long or questionable enough to break up into separate articles (which would be unneccessary)--PericlesofAthens 22:00, 10 May 2007 (UTC)

X hundred years before EuropeEdit

There are too many examples of things being hundreds of years before Europe, especially in the introduction. This is arguably Eurocentric, given that stuff about Newton or whoever won't have 'hundreds of years before China' all over the place.--Nydas(Talk) 15:34, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. When I edit over a long period of time I really don't notice that type of thing, yet I suppose you are right.--PericlesofAthens 19:17, 12 May 2007 (UTC)
I edited one example of what you said, but really, all of the others (and there are only a few as far as I can see) are necessary within understanding context. Such as comparing the intensive astronomical map plotting of planetary motions to the later work of Tycho Brahe (a good comparison).--PericlesofAthens 19:22, 12 May 2007 (UTC)
Btw, Isaac Newton's wiki article is incredibly well-written.--PericlesofAthens 19:40, 12 May 2007 (UTC)
Nydas, I think this is acceptable for cases where things were demonstrably independently discovered in two locations. Similarly, the article about Daimler references Benz. I think if discoveries had been made in Asia after they were made in Europe, we would similarly reference it, and likewise for any other region of the world. It may be true that some of the articles about Tycho Brahe etc. do not fully take into account earlier developments in China. This should be rectified. 21:32, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Featured Article StatusEdit

I just want to say thank you to everyone who supported this article, my very first article brought up to featured article status! It was a pain in the butt and required lots of patience and hard work, but it was worth it. And in the afterlife, Shen Kuo totally owes me. Lol.--PericlesofAthens 19:09, 3 June 2007 (UTC)

Today's Featured ArticleEdit

Awesome! I'm glad that this article has been chosen to be featured on the main page! I'm also thrilled that my work will be advertised a bit. Lol.--Pericles of AthensTalk 19:28, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

It's a remarkable piece of work which no doubt will continue to grow and even improve. Hats off to you. Alpheus 04:04, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Ahistorical drawing???Edit

The drawing of Shen Kuo is unreferenced and is apparently based on nothing more than the author's imaginings. If so, I believe that it is inappropriate to publish this in our encyclopedia. We should leave the fantasy to the History Channel and stick to the facts -- and if there is no visual record of how he looked, we need to leave it at that. Madman 03:22, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Not quite. It's based off of a sculpted bust of Shen's head. I wouldn't expect you to know that unless you read the Featured Article Candidate page for this article, so I'll let that slide. Lol.--Pericles of AthensTalk 04:11, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
If it is based on a bust of Shen Kuo, it should say that somewhere, describing when the bust was created as well. We need to reference images just like we reference words. Thanks, Madman 04:18, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Found the sourceEdit

The picture comes from this source here:, or the Department of Philosophy at the University of Peking. The specific image is found here.

Unfortunately they do not date the bust, but it looks modern, 20th century. Chinese in pre-modern China always had their portraits taken in the form of painting, never with busts really. Sculpting was not as highly revered by the cultured scholar official as painting was. Statues were reserved for more religious and aesthetic purposes (although tomb sculptures and statues were made to reflect how personal attendants and real soldiers actually looked). I tried to edit the page to include this web source, but I am blocked from doing so, since it is being featured on the main page at the moment.--Pericles of AthensTalk 04:27, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Additional commentEdit

I have to agree with madman. I think the lack of an 11th century source for the bust from which the drawing was produced should be clearly stated in the image caption. Something along the lines of, "this drawing is based on a bust of unknown providence and may not reflect Shen Kuo's true likeness". At least as a footnote. 21:25, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

The bust clearly looks modern. The portrait sculpture was I think completely unknown in China at this date. We should caption the drawing "modern artist's impression" or similar, and not in a note. Johnbod 21:31, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
I have added "modern artist's impression" to the caption. Sorry, but we need to be straightforward. Madman 23:45, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
Good. 01:39, 29 October 2007 (UTC)

Front page errorEdit

On the main page, it says that the guy lived from 960–1279, though the information in the actual article does not show this outrageous number. I guess that's one way to get people to look inside! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:37, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Those are the dates for the Song Dynasty. Zagalejo^^^ 05:35, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

On the main page, it says that the guy lived from 960–1279

Haha! Man. He must have found the Taoist elixir of immortality...and then ran out of it when he was about three hundred and nineteen years old. Lol! That's ok, we all make mistakes. It is misleading to the eye though, since the main page does not give the dates for his life, yet the article does.--Pericles of AthensTalk 08:50, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

True vs. magnetic northEdit

Did Shen try to measure longitude by the difference between true and magnetic north, and if so, did he succeed? To measure travels east or west would have been a very important advance, and seems well within his capabilities once he had accurately established true north as opposed to the position of Polaris. 17:37, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Response number 1Edit

After explaining the early history of map making and grid making in Chinese cartography from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, Needham states on pages 542-544 of his 3rd volume:

The mention of astronomical aspects of the map grid raises at one the question to what extent the Chinese cartography of Phei Hsiu [Pinyin: Pei Xiu] and Chang Heng [Pinyin: Zhang Heng] was keyed to celestial phenomena. In this respect there would seem to have been little difference between the Chinese and the Greeks, for while the latter used the gnomon shadow and the length of the solstitial day to determine latitude, the former were also perfectly aware that the shadow length varied continuously in the north-south line. The Chou Li [Pinyin: Zhou Li ] says that the Surveyors (Thu Fang Shih) [Pinyin: Tu Fang Shi] concern themselves with the method of the gnomon shadow template for determining the sun's shadow length, and by its aid measure the earth, constituting fiefs and principalities, i.e. presumably fixing their boundaries. As for longitude, the Chinese were no worse off than the Greeks. Its measurement with any degree of accuracy did not become possible until the 18th century, with the invention of the marine chronometer. Throughout antiquity and the middle ages, dead reckoning was the only way [and then Needham's B footnote refers to ancient Chinese odometers from the Han Dynasty.

According to Needham in his 3rd volume, on page 357, about celestial longitude:

Traditional Chinese astronomy never extended the ecliptic degrees to form 'segments' of celestial longitude radiating from the pole of the ecliptic in the same way as they thought of the hsiu [lunar mansion] as segments of what we should call right ascension...What the Chinese wished to determine was not, of course, as Maspero well says, the celestial longitude of the observed star, but the longitude of the point of intersection of its hour-circle with the ecliptic. Movements of sun and moon on the ecliptic were thus also reduced to terms of equatorial hsiu.

I will write more once I read more about developments in the following Tang and Song dynasties. Hold on to your bootstraps!--Pericles of AthensTalk 19:30, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

In the book by Chinese Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Dainian Fan and Robert Sonné Cohen, they have this to say of Shen Kuo's work with latitude on page 431:

Shen Kuo (1031-1096) and Guo Shoujing (1231-1316) are representative of Song and Yuan astronomers. In On the Armillary Sphere (Hun Yi Yi) Shen Kuo noted, "In a distance of only 500 li between north and south, there is more than one degree deviation in the North Pole." During the process of compiling and editing the Works and Days Calendar (Shou Shi Li), Guo Shoujing measured on the spot the height of the North Pole at 27 places with different latitudes. The data varied from 15 degrees (in the South China Sea) to 65 degrees (in the North China Sea). Obviously, they accepted the deviation between the height of the North Pole in the south and in the north as natural and did not consider it worthwhile to search for its causes. Great scientists like Shen Kuo and Guo Shoujing were not even aware that this is an important matter related to the shape of the earth. If a spherical earth hypothesis had existed in ancient China, this could not have happened.

So although Shen Kuo reasoned that celestial bodies such as the sun and moon were spherical, it appears he held the old Chinese notion that "heaven is round, earth is flat." A shame. The text goes on to say that the first Chinese person to introduce the idea of a round earth into the Chinese intellectual sphere was Xu Guangqi in the early 17th century, after being tutored by Matteo Ricci.--Pericles of AthensTalk 17:00, 31 October 2007 (UTC)

Naming conventionEdit

Maybe to English speakers it sounds like chinky-ching-chong but Shen is the surname and Kuo is the first informal name. This article continually refers to him as Kuo. That would be like saying in the Albert Einstein article, "Albert did this and that." Or referring to Thomas Edison as Tom. Or Linnaeus as Carl. Or Washington as Georgie. Using a first name is for best friends and your mom. And Kuo is rarely (if ever) a Chinese surname. Maybe if this was an Icelandic article using the first name would be fine, I don't think it is. Fix it. .:DavuMaya:. 18:41, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Lol. Thanks for bringing this to attention. I fixed all the loose and single "Kuos" lingering about without a "Shen" before it, simply replacing them with "Shen" or "Shen Kuo" or "him" or "he." If you can find anymore, feel free to fix them.--Pericles of AthensTalk 19:49, 28 October 2007 (UTC)


I just made some major edits to the article, creating a new sub-section and expanding several others. I hope people enjoy the read!--Pericles of AthensTalk 05:58, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

why Nuremberg woodcut?Edit

Why is the Nuremberg woodcut image included? Does it have any relation except that some people say it depicts a UFO, and some people say the pearl story is a story about a UFO? If that's the only connection, I think the picture should be removed. It might give people the impression there's a more direct connection. --Allen (talk) 17:50, 14 August 2008 (UTC)

I agree. There could be a link to the article on UFOs, but the woodcut is irrelevant and unnecessary since it relates to a different event. Otherwise we could add images of modern UFO sightings, which would be of as much relevance. Please fix this soon. Muchado (talk) 16:15, 25 October 2009 (UTC)
Yes, very good point, it shall be removed. Regards.--Pericles of AthensTalk 21:19, 26 October 2009 (UTC)

Astronomical observationsEdit

"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 Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601).[8]"

I checked the reference. Unfortunately, it does not support this. It says the following: "Shen and Wei therefore planned a series of observations of a kind not proposed in Europe until the time of Tycho Brahe (...) This program of observing was the most unfortunate casualty of the obstruction within the Bureau. Shen and Wei had no recourse but to produce a conventional planetary theory based mainly on old observations."

As such, this line should be removed from the article. DDSaeger (talk) 22:31, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

Here is the entire passage (with parts that you ommitted):

The boldest aspect of Shen's program was the attempt to predict the apparent positions of the planets—not merely their mean speeds and prominent phenomena—for the first time. The computational tools available did not permit this to be done with a few observations of stationary points, occultations and maximum elongations. Shen and Wei therefore planned a series of observations of a kind not proposed in Europe until the time of Tycho Brahe, five centuries later: exact coordinates read three times a night for five years. Similar records were to be kept for the moon's positions, since previous Sung systems had still used the lunar theory of I-hsing, which after 350 years had accumulated considerable error. This program of observing was the most unfortunate casualty of the obstruction within the Bureau. Shen and Wei had no recourse but to produce a conventional planetary theory based mainly on old observations. They were able to correct the lunar error, but even this proposal provoked such an outcry that it would be vindicated only by a public demonstration using a gnomon.

Their five-year efforts were eventually thwarted, but Shen and Wei were able to use the five years of simultaneously recording the position of the moon to correct the lunar error. So yes, they did sit around for five years plotting the positions of the planets and moon, even though the planetary positions were ultimately rejected by the Song court. This rejection, however significant to political history, is insignificant in regards to the history of science.--Pericles of AthensTalk 23:24, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

I interpret that passage as saying that they planned such observations, but did not actually execute them. Note how it says "planned a series of observations", "were to be kept". Now, if Shen did make these observations, this is not immediately obvious from the source, so another one should probably be found for that line. DDSaeger (talk) 12:03, 4 April 2009 (UTC)

The entire chapter can be found here online. On page 7 (note that the pages don't align perfectly with the hardcover book, which I believe has this info on the previous page 6), after stating Shen's plans to record daily observations over a five-year period "using renovated and redesigned instruments", it says:

The incompetent career officials who staffed the bureau stymied him. He forced the dismissal of six whom he caught falsifying records of phenomena. Those who remained doomed his program of observations and kept his new system of ephemeris computation from being among the two or three most securely founded before modern times. Shen's personal involvement in later stages of the reform undoubtedly was limited by his gradual movement into the vortex of factional politics.

Once again, this passage implies that his five-year project had already begun under his stewardship, although it was never completed due to it being thwarted by his subordinates in the Bureau who were aligned against him politically. Just to be safe, I will get rid of the statement in the intro until another source can be found that can confirm one thing or another.--Pericles of AthensTalk 15:52, 4 April 2009 (UTC)

Why sometimes Shen Gua?Edit

Why is he sometimes called Shen Gua? Is it a different name, or a different way of transcribing the same name? Andrew Dalby 16:00, 17 April 2009 (UTC)

Kuo and Gua are the two possible pronunciations of the character 括. Kuo and Gua are in pinyin, by the way. In Wade-Giles, the same two pronunciations are Romanized as K'uo and Kua. Madalibi (talk) 12:45, 18 April 2009 (UTC)
Thanks. Two possible pronunciations of one character is a possibility that hadn't occurred to me. Andrew Dalby 13:43, 29 April 2009 (UTC)


The stuff about recognising climate change is ref'd to Chan 15, presumably this. That doesn't look right to me William M. Connolley (talk) 17:50, 9 July 2009 (UTC)

Chan is used here as an extra reference to Joseph Needham's source, which is the prime source that I've used for the info on climate change. If you look at Dream Pool Essays#Geological theory, you will see the original Needham passages where he quotes Shen Kuo.--Pericles of AthensTalk 07:59, 10 July 2009 (UTC)
The Chan source is voodoo. It says nothing whatsoever of any relevance - at least, as far as I can see. I assume Chan 15 is page 15. I see you've taken it out now - that seems correct. I'm interested, though: have you yourself read the other ref and verified that it contains the relevant info? William M. Connolley (talk) 09:46, 10 July 2009 (UTC)

??? Yes. I own Needham's book. Not only that, I'm the one who produced the quote at Dream Pool Essays. Is there still a problem? Chan's source is not "voodoo" at all; I had used it to correctly cite three sentences in a paragraph above from the same source (i.e. Dream Pool Essays) and discussion (which I incidentally also used Needham to cite with):

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".[98][99] 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.[98][99] Shen Kuo likened this to the "stone crabs" found in China.[98][99]

It was merely a stupid clerical error on my part to continue citing with Chan (instead of just Needham) in the following paragraph on petrified bamboo and the landslide which revealed them. There's no "voodoo" here that I can see. Good day.--Pericles of AthensTalk 16:53, 10 July 2009 (UTC)

Using the Chan to support the cliamte stuff looked like voodoo to me. But as you say, it was merely an error on your part which you've corrected William M. Connolley (talk) 21:43, 10 July 2009 (UTC)
That's fine. I'm pretty sure that's the only instance where I made that sort of mistake (I don't see myself doing that often), but if you find anything else of this or any other nature that needs correcting, let me know. Regards.--Pericles of AthensTalk 21:54, 10 July 2009 (UTC)

Lead section unevenEdit

The lead section introduces Mengxi Bitan only in connection with the compass, and there it dedicates a whole paragraph to this one particular instrument, which he didn't even invent. I am tempted to change that to a sentence about the Bitan, move it together with the fourth paragraph, and merge the text about the compass into its existing section.

Similarly, the third paragraph appears very uneven; it dedicates several lines to such details as his reasons for thinking about geomorphology and his description of movable type printing (which was not his invention), while many of his own achievements, such as in anatomy and mathematics, for which we have whole sections, are not mentioned at all in that paragraph. I think it would make more sense if that paragraph were just a brief overview of the subsections of Scholarly achievements.

I hesitate to tamper with this, though, because it is still largely the same as when it became a featured article, in 2007.[1] How do my fellow editors feel about this? — Sebastian 22:23, 16 March 2010 (UTC)

You're right, discussion of the compass and movable type printing shouldn't be given so much space in the introduction, but they should certainly remain prominent given that Shen was the first literary figure to describe them. I would not be opposed to a rewrite of the third paragraph either, so long as each subsection of "Scholarly achievements" is given equal space (i.e. roughly a sentence for each).
Also, I approve of the hard work you've been doing in copyediting the article over the past month. I'm the one responsible for bringing this article to featured status, but that was in 2007, and I've since become a better writer! :) Your recent contributions are certainly commendable. Cheers.--Pericles of AthensTalk 01:30, 29 March 2010 (UTC)
Thank you for your kind message! I agree completely with you. I realize I may have been unclear about the compass; of course it should be mentioned. Do you have access to Needham's opus? As I am rereading the section Magnetic needle compass, I noticed the weasel language "one of the first references". Is that really what Needham writes, or was it added by a cautious editor? — Sebastian 04:26, 30 March 2010 (UTC)
On further reading, I saw in Four Great Inventions of ancient China a reference to, which says: "[Guiguzi] notes that in addition to its main purpose, the compass, or “south pointer” as the Chinese called it, could be carried with jade hunters to prevent them from getting lost during their journeys." So, how relevant is Shen Kuo's mention 1200 years later? — Sebastian 03:38, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Hi again Sebastian. I'll admit, that's a very curious statement in the Guiguzi, but it means virtually nothing without further proof. As not fully explained in that Florida State University site, the so-called "compass" during the Warring States, Qin, and Han was merely a lodestone bowl and large spoon used for the feng shui practice of orienting objects in one's environment to harmonize one's setting with the natural order. Nowhere in the Guiguzi is an actual magnetized needle mentioned in regards to navigation, something the FSU site fails to mention. This most essential component of the compass is not mentioned in literature until Shen Kuo's Dream Pool Essays. To answer your question about Needham, I do own most of the volumes for Science and Civilization in China. As for the statement with weasel language, this is in fact Needham's exact words from page 135 of Volume 1 about Shen Kuo's book:

His Mêng Chhi Pi Than, the date of which is about +1086, is one of the first books to describe the magnetic compass, and later we shall take it as a fixed point in the analysis of this subject.

Needham's language here certainly isn't strong enough (i.e. should have stressed that it was the absolute first, which it was, instead of lumping it into the category of "one of the first"). Therefore, I will try to hunt for the passages in other sources which I used to write that section. In the meantime, I'm trying to desperately use some of my spare time to take notes and rewrite the article on the Parthian Empire, which I plan to do now and for the rest of the night until I go to bed. I will try to address this issue later in the week, perhaps even tomorrow if I can squeeze in some time. Thanks for taking an interest in this article! As you rightfully pointed out, some of the language needs copyediting and rewriting altogether. Cheers.--Pericles of AthensTalk 05:07, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Wow, I'm impressed! Even if you don't have all volumes, you're still better than the University of Washington, which has only the abridged version, and not even all volumes of that on the main campus! Take your time; I'm busy with other things, too.
Needham's passage is odd for another reason: He must have gleaned tons of information about all manner of things from the Bitan, but the passage sounds like he introduces this work just as a side remark to the compass.
As far as this topic "Lead section uneven" is concerned, I think we're on agreement and I know what to do - if I had the time. However, there are a couple questions that just came up when I worked in the Scholarly achievements section (see below), which will also have an influence on the lead section, because we want to mirror the sections there. — Sebastian 19:26, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
Yes, I was fortunate enough to receive the majority of Needham's volumes as a Christmas gift a few years ago, I believe in December 2006. The gift-giver found an incredible discount on the books, largely because they were published in Taiwan by Caves Books Ltd., with permission from Cambridge University.--Pericles of AthensTalk 02:10, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
What a wonderful gift! And well deserved, seeing how you are putting it to good use. Now, of course that will take some time to be sorted out in the afterlife: 沈括 owes you one, you owe to the gift-giver, who in turn owes to the publisher, who owes to Needham, who owes to 沈括, and the rest of us all owe to all of the above. ;-) — Sebastian 16:28, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
LOL! Somehow, I am strangely reminded of the circle of life, although in this particular case I suppose it is the circle of the afterlife. :P Cheers.--Pericles of AthensTalk 18:49, 1 April 2010 (UTC)


Anyways, here are some of the relevant Needham passages I will share with you about the compass. From pages 249 to 250 of Volume IV, Part 1:

Development of the magnetic compass in China

What, then, happened in China? We propose now to take the basic text of Shen Kua, in the Mêng Chhi Pi Than, written about +1088, i.e. a century before the earliest European mention of the magnetic compass, as our fixed point, and to work back from that, considering all earlier references to the directivity of iron magnets, as well as other Sung texts. This important passage runs as follows:

Magicians rub the point of a needle with the lodestone; then it is able to point to the south. But it always inclines slightly to the east, and does not point directly at the south (jan chhang wei phien tung, pu chhüannan yeh). (It may be made to) float on the surface of water, but it is then rather unsteady. It may be balanced on the finger-nail, or on the rim of a cup, where it can be made to turn more easily, but these supports being hard and smooth, it is liable to fall off. It is best to suspend it by a single cocoon fibre of new silk attached to the centre of the needle by a piece of wax the size of a mustard-seed—then, hanging in a windless place, it will always point to the south.

Among such needles there are some which, after being rubbed, point to the north. I have needles of both kinds by me. The south-pointing property of the lodestone is like the habit of cypress-trees of always pointing to the west. No one can explain the principles of these things.

Moreover, the same book contains another, less well known, passage:

When the point of a needle is rubbed with the lodestone, then the sharp end always points south, but some needles point to the north. I suppose that the natures of the stones are not all alike. Just so, at the summer solstice the deer shed their horns, and at the winter solstice the elks do so. Since the south and the north are two opposites, there must be a fundamental difference between them. This has not yet been investigated deeply enough.

Here, then, we have not only the undeniably earliest clear description of the magnetic needle compass in any language, but also a clear statement of the magnetic declination. Some Western historians of science have been willing to recognise this, for example Cajori (5), although it greatly antedates the traditional time of the discovery of declination, by Columbus in +1492. The two kinds of needles mentioned by Shen Kua may of course have been magnetised at different poles of the lodestone, but there may also have been another origin for this traditional idea (see on, p. 267). The analogy with cypress-trees can only have rested on local observation of curvature due to prevailing winds.

Well then, the first statement in the last paragraph here seems sufficient for Needham's assertion about Shen Kuo being the first to describe the magnetic compass. One is reminded of just how dated this source is (i.e. finished and published by 1962), since he says a few historians of science have accepted this, when it now has universal consensus. He then goes on to describe the various magnetized lodestone tools the Chinese used for geomancy in the previous centuries. But after this, on pages 279-280, we get to the part where he describes the first textual evidence for its use by mariners navigating at sea:

The Use of the Compass in Navigation

Here it will be best to proceed as we did with the magnetic compass as such, and will allow the story to develop around a central text. It so happens that this text is approximately contemporary with the words of Shen Kua in the Mêng Chhi Pi Than (above, p. 250). The Phing-Chou Kho Than (Phingchow Table-Talk) was written between +1111 and +1117, but referred to events concerning that and other ports from +1086 onwards; its author was Chu Yü. He knew what he was talking about, for his father, Chu Fu, had been a high official of the Port of Canton from +1094 and Governor from +1099 to +1102. The essential passage runs as follows:

According to government regulations (chia ling) concerning seagoing ships (hai po), the larger ones can carry several hundred men, and the smaller ones may have more than a hundred men on board. One of the most important merchants is chosen to be Leader (Kang Shou), another is Deputy Leader (Fu Kang Shou), and a third is Business Manager (Tsa Shih). The Superintendent of Merchant Shipping gives them an unofficially sealed red certificate permitting them to use the light bamboo for punishing their company when necessary. Should anyone die at sea, his property becomes forfeit to the government...The ship's pilots are acquainted with the configuration of the coasts; at night they steer by the stars, and in the day-time by the sun. In dark weather they look at the south-pointing needle (chih nan chen). They also use a line a hundred feet long with a hook at the end which they let down to take samples of mud from the sea-bottom; by its (appearance and) smell they can determine their whereabouts.

Here then is a very detailed statement of the use of the mariner's compass just about a century before its first mention in Europe.

. . .Before the first European mention (+1190) there are two further Chinese texts.

He then goes on to describe the "Dreams of the Glories of the Eastern Capital" (Dong Jing Meng Hua Lu) written by Meng Yuan-Lao sometime after 1126 (i.e. the fall of Kaifeng) and referring to events around 1110, which states that the compass was used by sailors in dark and rainy conditions, and that the ship's mate (huo chang) was in charge of this. Needham writes that this Chinese phrase for the person in charge of compass readings on a ship was used until 18th century. The second source he describes is one by Xu Jing, written about thirteen years after Meng's book, which describes a diplomatic mission to Korea and use of the south-pointing floating needle.

So, Sebastian, I hope this is settled then! Hopefully later in the week I will have time to address your concerns below about article's organization. In the meantime, I cannot wait to work on notes for the article Parthian Empire, which I plan to rewrite entirely (just look how dilapidated that article presently is, a huge shame at Wiki). Cheers.--Pericles of AthensTalk 02:10, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

Thank you for the thorough reply; that was an interesting read! Yes, I agree, it's settled for the purpose of this article. Still, there seems some room for scholars to find out more. While you're right that the statement in the Guiguzi doesn't prove anything, it is strange that it would say such a thing; where does this idea come from? Also, while it's hard to imagine a compass without a needle, it is not impossible to use a lodestone for that purpose. I also wonder how the idea arose to rub a needle long enough to a lodestone to magnetize it. Maybe they noticed that the needles who had stuck to a lodestone got magnetized themselves, and then curiosity and impatience did the rest. Of course, this is not the right place for such speculation, but I couldn't resist mentioning it. — Sebastian 16:28, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Yes, I wish there was more conclusive textual evidence from the Warring States Period about use of the compass, but all we have is the statement in the Guiguzi about the lodestone being utilized by jade gatherers. Perhaps somewhere a scholar argues that this tool could be considered a compass proper, even without the magnetized needle. In any case, let's now focus on article organization, which I will try to address this weekend. Regards.--Pericles of AthensTalk 18:49, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

Arrangement of scholarly achievements sectionEdit

What's the rationale behind the current arrangement of subsections of the scholarly achievements section? We currently have the following:

   * 2.1 Raised-relief map
   * 2.2 Pharmacology
   * 2.3 Civil engineering
   * 2.4 Anatomy
   * 2.5 Mathematics and optics
   * 2.6 Magnetic needle compass
   * 2.7 Archaeology
   * 2.8 Geology
   * 2.9 Meteorology
   * 2.10 Astronomy and instruments
   * 2.11 Movable type printing
   * 2.12 Other achievements in science and technology
   * 2.13 Beliefs and philosophy
   * 2.14 Art criticism

I see the following problems with that:

  1. It's jumpy. Why start with "Raised-relief map", and why is that followed by "Pharmacology"? "Magnetic needle compass" seems much closer to "Astronomy and instruments" than to "Archaeology". Why is "Civil engineering" wedged in between "Pharmacology" and "Anatomy"? Is there any sequence we could adopt, such as of the Bitan itself? Or maybe Needham's order?
  2. Beliefs and art criticism don't fit in this section. The other sections all can be considered "science and technology" (according to Needham's use of the term "science"). Should these be moved to a section of their own? What should it be called?

A related question is about the section introduction, which largely duplicates the text we discussed for the article lead above. Should we merge or differentiate these? If differentiate, how? — Sebastian 19:26, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Text from first paragraph into infobox?Edit

As we're thinking about the lead section, here are some other consideration I'd like to mention. When I read an article in any encyclopedia, I am looking for a clear definition, if possible, in the first sentence. Currently, the first sentence is very hard to parse, because of the parentheticical insertion of two lines of names and romanizations. The second sentence no better, with a list over 3 lines of scientist names attached.

The scientist names are already covered in the infobox, as fields in which he worked. That is a better place for such a list, so I would propose to keep that list only there. I would also like to move the variations of his name into the infobox, as described at Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style_for_China-related_articles#Box_format. Unfortunately, it seems like these two infoboxes are mutually exclusive. I searched category:Chinese scientists, but the vast majority of the articles there (58) don't use any infobox at all. Two use {{Chinese}} (ex.: Ma Jun), 8 use {{Infobox scientist}} (ex. this article), and 3 use {{Infobox Person}} (ex.: Su Song). Maybe we could combine two of these to create an infobox "Chinese scientist"? — Sebastian 22:01, 4 April 2010 (UTC)

See also Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_China#Infobox_Chinese_scientists. — Sebastian 22:10, 4 April 2010 (UTC)

Hi Sebastian. Sorry that I did not address your concerns over the weekend. My grandmother on my mother's side, the last surviving grandparent of mine, had a stroke recently and passed away just yesterday after going into the hospital over the weekend. I'll focus on this article sometime later in the week. Regards.--Pericles of AthensTalk 20:56, 6 April 2010 (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear that; I hope she had a long and happy life, and that your family will harmoniously celebrate her life. The work on this article can wait; it is at least as good now as it was when it was a featured article. Please feel free to delete this little conversation or move it to your talk page as you see fit.Sebastian 16:52, 7 April 2010 (UTC)

File:Shen Kua.JPG Nominated for DeletionEdit

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I'm sorry but the article mentioned something about calculus. But, didn't Newton invent calculus. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:45, 26 January 2013 (UTC)

Thank you for bringing this up! I checked back on my old Needham reference, and indeed the previous statement was not entirely unsupported. Needham says that works of Shen Kuo and many Japanese mathematicians of the 17th and 18th centuries dealt with circle principles that seemed very akin to differential and integral calculus. However, he concludes (Volume 3, p. 145): "The essential point is that all the indigenous Chinese and Japanese work remained at the static level, while the dynamic approach was due to Newton and Liebniz alone." In light of that, I have struck the word "calculus" from the sentence but added the proper link to circle packing. Cheers!--Pericles of AthensTalk 03:11, 24 August 2013 (UTC)

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Found a link to a pdf of Sivin (1995), IIIEdit

About a quarter of the Citations are from Sivin (1995), III; which I've found online in PDF format (posted by Sivin as assigned reading for his courses). The problem is that each PDF page has slightly less than each book page, causing a gradually increasing mismatch so that by the end there's a 2 page difference (33 pages in book to 55 pages in PDF). Should I link it anyway or not? If so, should I include some kind of note (where/how would I do that)? Or perhaps I should just link the references for those citations where the relevant content is on the same page in both the PDF and book? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Yaakovaryeh (talkcontribs) 07:36, 25 December 2018 (UTC)

Return to "Shen Kuo" page.