While employed by the central government, Shen Kuo was also sent out with others to inspect the granary system of the empire, investigating problems of illegal collections, negligence, ineffective disaster relief, and inadequate water-conservancy projects. While Shen was appointed as the regional inspector of Zhejiang in 1073, the Emperor requested that Shen pay a visit to the famous poet Su Shi (1037–1101), then an administrator in Hangzhou. Shen took advantage of this meeting to copy some of Su's poetry, which he presented to the Emperor indicating that it expressed "abusive and hateful" speech against the Song court; these poems were later politicized by Li Ding and Shu Dan in order to level a court case against Su. With his demonstrations of loyalty and ability, Shen Kuo was awarded the honorary title of a State Foundation Viscount by Emperor Shenzong of Song (r. 1067–1085), who placed a great amount of trust in Shen Kuo. He was even made 'companion to the heir apparent' (太子中允; 'Taizi zhongyun').
Portrait painting of Wang Anshi.
At court Shen was a political favorite of the Chancellor Wang Anshi (1021–1086), who was the leader of the political faction of Reformers, also known as the New Policies Group (新法, Xin Fa).b[›] Shen Kuo had a previous history with Wang Anshi, since it was Wang who had composed the funerary epitaph for Shen's father, Zhou. Shen Kuo soon impressed Wang Anshi with his skills and abilities as an administrator and government agent. In 1072, Shen was sent to supervise Wang's program of surveying the building of silt deposits in the Bian Canal outside the capital city. Using an original technique, Shen successfully dredged the canal and demonstrated the formidable value of the silt gathered as a fertilizer. He gained further reputation at court once he was dispatched as an envoy to the Khitan Liao Dynasty in the summer of 1075. The Khitans had made several aggressive negotiations of pushing their borders south, while manipulating several incompetent Chinese ambassadors who conceded to the Liao Kingdom's demands. In a brilliant display of diplomacy, Shen Kuo came to the camp of the Khitan monarch at Mt. Yongan (near modern Pingquan, Hebei), armed with copies of previously archived diplomatic negotiations between the Song and Liao dynasties. Shen Kuo refuted Emperor Daozong's bluffs point for point, while the Song reestablished their rightful border line. In regards to the Lý Dynasty of Đại Việt (in modern northern Vietnam), Shen demonstrated in his Dream Pool Essays that he was familiar with the key players (on the Vietnamese side) in the prelude to the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1075–1077. With his reputable achievements, Shen became a trusted member of Wang Anshi's elite circle of eighteen unofficial core political loyalists to the New Policies Group.
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