China – Mathematical Pioneers

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China has long been known for its mathematical prowess. It is a subject that is drilled into the minds of most Chinese, even from a very young age. China’s affinity for math is not a recent phenomenon, however, and can actually be traced back thousands of years. Below are a few examples of China’s ancient mathematical wonders.

  1. Counting Rods (算筹-Suàn chóu)
    By about the 11th Century BC, China already had in place an effective counting system that enabled the expression of large units, decimals, and even negative values. This was likely the first of such number systems that so closely resembles the base-10 counting system we use today. The system used bamboo rods representing numbers1 through 9, which were then arranged in columns in order to represent multiple units. The number 0 was represented by a blank slate. In this way the Chinese could handle calculations in units of hundreds and thousands quickly and accurately – all long before a system of such efficiency was adopted by the west.
  2. The Nine Chapters of Mathematical Art (九章算术-Jiǔzhāng Suànshù)
    Another major stepping stone in the history of Chinese mathematics was the creation of The Nine Chapters of Mathematical Art– a book which was compiled over a period of hundreds of years, and possibly as far back as 300 BC. The book contained some 246 mathematical problems (from geometry to complex algebraic equations) which were all designed to aid a variety of aspects of everyday life. The use of this book extended to agriculture, engineering, trade, taxation, and a number of other industries, and was perhaps the most influential piece of mathematical literature in China for thousands of years.
  3. Yang Hui’s Triangle (杨辉三角形-Yánghuī sānjiǎoxíng)
    A third important discovery in ancient Chinese mathematics was the early interpretation of the famous Pascal’s Triangle, which was developed in China by a mathematician called Yang Hui in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Although Yang acknowledged that his triangle was originally invented by his predecessor, Jia Xian, Yang was the first person to illustrate the triangle in detail, and explain how it could be used to find square and cubic roots. For this reason, Pascal’s triangle is officially called Yang Hui’s triangle in China.

If you are a math addict, or want to learn more about how to use and explain math in Chinese, have a listen to this week’s math-themed lessons: Multiplication and Division and Addition and Subtraction.

– The ChinesePod Team


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S Chen

About S Chen

Director of My Learning Club Pty Ltd. Owner of Learn Chinese Cairns
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