Portal:History of Imperial China/Selected biography

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Shen Kuo

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Shen Kuo or Shen Kua (Chinese: 沈括; pinyin: Shěn Kuò; Wade–Giles: Shen K'uo) (1031–1095), style name Cunzhong and pseudonym Mengqi Weng, was a polymathic Chinese scientist and statesman of the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Excelling in many fields of study and statecraft, he was a mathematician, astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, agronomist, archaeologist, ethnographer, cartographer, encyclopedist, general, diplomat, hydraulic engineer, inventor, academy chancellor, finance minister, governmental state inspector, poet, and musician. He was the head official for the Bureau of Astronomy in the Song court, as well as an Assistant Minister of Imperial Hospitality.[1] At court his political allegiance was to the Reformist faction known as the New Policies Group, headed by Chancellor Wang Anshi (1021–1086). (read more...)

Zhang Heng

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Zhang Heng (Chinese: 張衡; pinyin: Zhāng Héng; Wade–Giles: Chang Heng) (AD 78139) was an astronomer, mathematician, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar of the Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China. He had extensive knowledge of mechanics and gears, applying this knowledge to several of his known inventions. He is best known for inventing the world's first water-powered armillary sphere to represent astronomical observation, improving the inflow clepsydra clock with an additional tank, and inventing the world's first seismometer device, which discerned the cardinal direction of earthquakes from incredibly far distances. In addition to writing an extensive star catalogue, Zhang also posited theories about the moon and its relationship to the sun, specifically the moon's sphericity, its illumination by reflecting sunlight, and solar and lunar eclipses. (read more...)

Su Song

Su Song (simplified Chinese: 苏颂; traditional Chinese: 蘇頌; pinyin: Sū Sòng; style name: Zirong 子容) (10201101 AD) was a renowned Chinese statesman, astronomer, cartographer, horologist, pharmacologist, mineralogist, zoologist, botanist, mechanical and architectural engineer, poet, antiquarian, and ambassador of the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

Su Song was the engineer of a water-driven astronomical clock tower in medieval Kaifeng, which employed the use of an early escapement mechanism. The escapement mechanism of Su's clock tower had previously been invented by Buddhist monk Yi Xing and government official Liang Lingzan in 725 AD to operate a water-powered armillary sphere, although Su's armillary sphere was the first to be provided with a mechanical clock drive. Su's clock tower also featured the oldest known endless power-transmitting chain drive, called the tian ti (天梯), or "celestial ladder", as depicted in his horological treatise. The clock tower had 133 different clock jacks to indicate and sound the hours. Su Song's treatise about the clock tower, Xinyi Xiangfayao (新 儀 . 象 法 要), has survived since its written form in 1092 and official printed publication in 1094. The book has been analyzed by many historians, such as Joseph Needham. However, the clock itself was dismantled by the invading Jurchen army in AD 1127, and although attempts were made to reassemble the clock tower, it was never successfully reinstated. (read more...)

Du Fu

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Du Fu (Chinese: 杜甫; pinyin: Dù Fǔ; Wade–Giles: Tu Fu, 712770) was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. Along with Li Bai (Li Po), he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets. His own greatest ambition was to help his country by becoming a successful civil servant, but he proved unable to make the necessary accommodations. His life, like the whole country, was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion of 755, and the last 15 years of his life were a time of almost constant unrest.

Initially little known, his works came to be hugely influential in both Chinese and Japanese culture. Of his poetic writing, nearly fifteen hundred poems written by Du Fu have been handed down over the ages. He has been called Poet-Historian and the Poet-Sage by Chinese critics, while the range of his work has allowed him to be introduced to Western readers as "the Chinese Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Wordsworth, Béranger, Hugo or Baudelaire". (read more...)

Zhou Tong

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Zhou Tong (Chinese: 周同 and 周侗; pinyin: Zhōu Tóng; d. late 1121 CE) was the archery teacher and second military arts tutor of famous Song Dynasty general Yue Fei. Originally a local hero from Henan, he was hired to continue Yue Fei's military training in archery after the boy had rapidly mastered spearplay under his first teacher. In addition to the future general, Zhou accepted other children from Yue's village as archery pupils. During his tutelage, Zhou taught the children all of his skills and even rewarded Yue with his two favorite bows because he was his best pupil. After Zhou's death, Yue would regularly visit his tomb and perform unorthodox sacrifices that far surpassed that done for even beloved tutors. Yue later taught what he had learned from Zhou to his soldiers and they were successful in battle.

With the publishing of Yue Fei's fictional 17th-18th century biography, The Story of Yue Fei, a new distinct fictional Zhou Tong emerged, which differed greatly from his historical persona. Not only was he now from Shaanxi; but he was Yue's adopted father, a learned scholar with knowledge of the eighteen weapons of war, and his personal name was spelled with a different, yet related, Chinese character. The novel's author portrayed him as an elderly widower and military arts tutor who counted Lin Chong and Lu Junyi, two of the 108 outlaws on which the Water Margin is based, among his former pupils. A later republican era folktale by noted Yangzhou storyteller Wang Shaotang not only added Wu Song to this list, but represented Zhou as knight-errant with supreme swordsmanship. (read more...)

  1. ^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 33.