Su Song

Su Song (simplified Chinese: 苏颂; traditional Chinese: 蘇頌; pinyin: Sū Sòng; style name: Zirong 子容) (1020–1101 AD) was a renowned Chinese polymath who specialized himself as a 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. Although the Xinyi Xiangfayao was his best known treatise, the polymath had other works compiled as well. He completed a large celestial atlas of several star maps, several terrestrial maps, as well as a treatise on pharmacology. The latter discussed related subjects on mineralogy, zoology, botany, and metallurgy.

Although later European Jesuit travelers to China such as Matteo Ricci and Nicolas Trigault would briefly mention Chinese clocks with wheel drives in their writing, early European visitors to China mistakenly believed that the Chinese had never advanced beyond the stage of the clepsydra, incense clock, and sundial. They believed that advanced mechanical clockworks were new to China, and were something valuable which Europe could offer. Although not as prominent as in the Song period, contemporary Chinese texts of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) describe a relatively unbroken history of designs of mechanical clocks in China from the 13th to the 16th century.

Read more about Su Song:  Su Song's Escapement Mechanism, The Endless Chain Drive, Su Song's Armillary Sphere, Transmission of Su's Text and His Legacy

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