Meng Xi Bi Tan is rich in content. Apart from writings on the natural and social sciences, there are anecdotes in poetry and prose form, as well as fantastic stories. This work of encyclopedic caliber, consisting of 26 volumes, enjoyed great popularity. And later, Meng Xi Bi Tan (Supplementary) (3 volumes) and Meng Xi Bi Tan (Continued) (1 volume) were also published.
The parts dealing with the natural sciences summarized ancient China's achievements in sciences, especially during the Song Dynasty, with a detailed record of the contributions made by laboring people in science and technology.
For the first time in history it was pointed out, by Shen Kuo, that there existed declination in geomagnetic fields; he recorded a simple method of artificial magnetization, i.e., the creating of a compass by "rubbing a thin stick against magnetite;" he elaborated on four ways to orient a compass; he advanced the "layering" method for terrain survey; he was the first to introduce the scientific term 石油 (shiyou, petroleum), which remains m use until today; and he also came up with the idea to devise a yearly calendar based on the sun.
In his lifetime, Shen Kuo maintained a firm belief in science and an original and creative mind. His works, apart from Meng Xi Bi Tan, include Chang Xing Ji (Analects of Revival), Liang Fang (Precious Prescriptions), and so on, totaling over 20 titles. Chang Xing Ji is an anthology of a comprehensive nature, containing Shen Kuo's important correspondence, reports, statements and tablet inscriptions, many of which relate to significant historic events during the Northern Song Dynasty, making it a valuable source of historical information.