Shen Kuo’s “Strange Happenings”

Shen Kuo was a polymath, scientist, and statesman of Song Dynasty China (circa 960-1279 CE). Shen was at least pretty danged good at archaeology, astronomy, botany, cartography, ethnography, geology, hydraulic engineering, math, meteorology, pharmacology, and zoology. He was also an academy chancellor, diplomat, government finance minister and state inspector, military general, musician, and poet.

Among Shen Kuo’s most famous works is The Dream Pool Essays. Written in virtual isolation at his private garden estate outside of what is now Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, China, Dream Pool Essays contains writings on astronomy, botany, geology, natural phenomena, zoology, moveable type printing, and Shen’s personal beliefs and philosophy. It also contains a section called “Strange Happenings,” which recounts a UFO sighting. That is not a typo.

Not As Good As Stranger Things

“Strange Happenings” recounts the tale of an unidentified flying object spotted in the skies above the city of Yangzhou. During the reign of Emperor Renzong (1022-1063 CE), a bright, pearlescent object was supposedly seen multiple times during over multiple nights. Similar reports were made by villagers in Anhui and Jiangsu to the east.

An actual photo of the UFO from the Song Dynasty.

Shen recounts one villager’s story, in which intense beams of light blazed out of the craft’s door as it opened; the outer shell then opened, revealing a “big pearl the size of a fist, illuminating the interior in silvery white.” The light was said to be too bright to look at, and powerful enough to be seen from ten miles away. “The spectacle was like the rising Sun,” the villager reported, “lighting up the distant sky and woods in red.” The object then flew off at high speed and disappeared over the horizon.

“Strange Happenings” also reports that Yibo, a well-known poet from the nearby city of Gaoyou wrote a poem about his encounter with the pearl-like craft. This and other publicity led the city of Fanliang in Yangzhou to build what was called the “Pearl Pavilion,” a place where tourists could travel to by boat and stay, in hopes of a UFO sighting.

Photo credit: Marcο_Paiola via / CC BY-NC-ND