Meng Xi's Notes: (Part 1) Introduction

Tan Mengxi

PureInsight | January 20, 2003

[] Kuo Shen, also known as Cunzhong Shen, was born in the ninth year of the Tiansheng Period, during the reign of Emperor Ren Zon of the Song Dynasty (1031 AD). His birthplace was Qiantang, or today's Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province. At the age of thirty-three, he received the Jinshi degree, the highest honor of the Imperial government's official examination. He had the distinction of being a county official, the head of the national treasury, known as Sansishi, and the head of the Imperial Observatory in charge of observing the celestial phenomena and calculating the almanac. Kuo Shen was truly multi-talented and conducted research in many different fields. For example, he wrote several books to promote the development of agriculture and large-scale irrigation projects. Among these books were Five Theories of Water Banks for Paddy Fields and The Illustrated Design of Water Banks for Better Crops, where he proposed revolutionary designs for water banks for paddy fields. To help safeguard the territory of the Northern Song Dynasty, he compiled two military books know as Principles of Border Wall Construction and The Standard Battle Formations for Border Defense. In addition, Kuo Shen proposed the use of the unadulterated Gregorian calendar to replace the traditional lunar calendar based on the principles of Yin and Yang. The proposed calendar had many advantages, such as conforming to the course of celestial bodies, which facilitated agricultural planning.

In his later years, Kuo Shen compiled, at the Villa of Meng Xi, an internationally acclaimed masterpiece, Meng Xi's Notes, which is a complete collection of scientific accomplishments and theories prior to the Song Dynasty. This work encompasses the disciplines of astronomy, mathematics, physics, geography, geology, meteorology, biology, pharmacology, archaeology, linguistics, history, literature, music, painting, finance and economics. The first edition of Meng Xi's Notes had twenty-six chapters, but was later expanded to thirty to include three chapters of "Appendix Notes," as well as a chapter of "Subsequent Notes." There are seventeen categories in this book, including ancient practices, mysteries, extraordinary phenomena, proverbs and banter, miscellaneous notes, human affairs, dialectics, music, study of the eight diagrams (ba gua) in the Book of Changes (Yi Jing), government and politics, wisdom and authority, art and language, painting and calligraphy, technical skills, use of tools and opinions regarding medicine.

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