Person: Kua, Shen
Shen Kua was a Chinese scholar who wrote on a wide variety of topics including mathematics, music, astronomy, calendars, cartography, geology, optics and medicine.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Shen Chou was a government official who moved around between various posts in the provinces before ending his career in the legal profession in the capital Kaifeng.
- The type of work that officials such as Shen Chou had to undertake was very varied, for he was involved in financial matters, in technical matters such as looking after the waterways and canals and overseeing major building projects, and he would have responsibilities for agriculture in the district to which he was posted.
- Another local administrator whom Shen Chou came to know and to admire was Wang Anshi.
- The emperor at the time of Shen Kua's birth was Jen-tsung.
- Shen, however, was making a name for himself as an extraordinarily able man.
- While subprefect of Ning-kuo in Anhwei province in 1061, Shen undertook a cartographic survey and then undertook another major land reclamation programme.
- Again it was very successful and after Shen passed national examinations in 1063 and moved to Yang-chou, the governor realised that here was someone of outstanding ability and recommended him for an appointment at court in the capital Kaifeng in Honan province.
- However Jen-tsung died in 1064 and Ying-tsung reigned briefly until 1068 when Shen-tsung took over.
- Under Shen-tsung reforms gathered pace and in 1069 Wang Anshi was appointed second privy councillor.
- He now launched a major reform program known as the "New Policies" and Shen was identified as one of eighteen members of Wang's strong reforming group within the court.
- While Shen had worked as an official in the provinces he had undertaken a large number of highly successful projects but this had not fully occupied him and he had spent his spare time studying astronomy, calendar science, and the mathematics behind these.
- In 1072 Shen was made Director of the Astronomy Bureau.
- This had not been done when Shen-tsung became emperor in 1068 and Shen Kua was now given the task.
- However, many of the staff at the Astronomy Bureau were incompetent and Shen had to dismiss six whom he found were falsifying data.
- Shen now undertook a number of projects to support Wang's reform agenda.
- Wang's opponents in government saw Shen as someone travelling round the country obtaining support for Wang's reform programme and they began to conspire against him.
- However Shen was so successful in the tasks he was given that he continued to be asked to undertake pojects of major national importance.
- Returning to the capital Kaifeng, Shen was appointed to the Imperial Academy and appointed Finance Commissioner in 1077.
- It was Wang's replacement who brought the false charges against Shen.
- Shen was sent to Shenxi province as Commissioner for Prefectural and Military Affairs.
- The emperor was delighted and Shen made proposals to him to fortify the region.
- Shen knew that maps tended not to survive for long, whereas books had a better chance of long term survival.
- After six years of being subjected to what was close to house arrest, Shen was allowed to live in a place of his own choosing.
- Shen Kua claimed that fossilised plants were evidence for changes in climate.
- The first thing to note is that Shen took a much more abstract view of mathematics than the Chinese generally did.
- Most Chinese mathematics was motivated by practical problems, but Shen was happy to look at mathematical problems for their own sake.
- Shen asked how any possibilities there were.
- This, of course, is an exceedingly large number and Shen's problem was to express such a number within the Chinese number system.
- We say presumably since copyists made errors in reproducing how many wan there were, possibly not understanding the significance of what Shen was doing.
- The second example that we shall give to illustrate Shen's mathematics is that of a pile of unit sized items.
- Shen does not specify what the items are, but leaves the formula general, he takes them to be of unit volume and also neglects (deliberately) volumes left between the items.
- In his astronomical work Shen had to convert from coordinates given in equatorial form to those given in ecliptic form.
- Shen demonstrated a remarkable ability to view spatial arrangements and he gave an approximate formula for the length of a circular arc in terms of the cord subtending the arc.
- Shen's work in astronomy is remarkable in many ways.
- Unlike Greek astronomers who tried to explain all motions as circular, Shen proposed that planets moved in a willow leaf motion composed with circular motion round the earth.
- In addition to Brush talks from Dream Brook Shen wrote Supplement to Brush Talks and Sequel to Brush Talks.
- Above all, one is aware in Shen, as in other great scientific figures, of a special directness.
Born 1031, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. Died 1095, Ching-k'ou, China.
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Tags relevant for this person:
Ancient Chinese, Astronomy, Chinese, Origin China
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive