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Count on it - history of Chinese Mathematics

In the colorful treasure trove of Chinese history and culture, mathematics (math) is undoubtedly a resplendent and glaring pearl. Boasting paramount values and a unique position in the world civilization history, math is another important contribution China has made to the world besides the Four Great Ancient Inventions of papermaking, gunpowder, compass, and printing.

The math achievements in ancient China boasted both a systematic theory and abundant inventions. Up to the 16th century, China was still leading the world in many aspects of math.

With a time-honored tradition, China maintained the longest period of development among the Four Great Ancient Civilizations of ancient China, Egypt, Babylon, and India, experiencing three major development climaxes in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), the Wei, Jin, Northern and South dynasties period (220-581), and the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368). The development process can be generally classified into the following periods:

  The burgeoning period prior to the Qin Dynasty (221-207BC)

The drainage areas of the Huanghe and Yangtze rivers have always been the cradles of Chinese culture. In the inscriptions on tortoise shells or animal bones of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) unearthed in Yin ruins (ruins of the capital city of the late Shang Dynasty near Xiaotun Village, Anyang City of Central China's Henan Province), characters denoting numbers abound. There are altogether 13 symbols representing the numbers from 1 to 10, 100, 1,000, and 10,000, with the biggest number found on the oracle bones being 30,000.

Suan chou, literally meaning "counting rods," is an ancient Chinese calculating tool. When the suan chou first appeared cannot be determined now, but archeological finds show that the calculating system was already popular by the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC). The suan chou system built a good foundation for the four fundamental operations of arithmetic before being gradually replaced by the abacus at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It is fair to say that the great mansion of ancient Chinese math was built on the foundation of the suan chou .
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