Multiplication - Chinese Style!

May 3, 2014 By Anita R
Anita R's picture

When presented with a simple math question such as 2.5 x 3, most people - while they may be slightly annoyed at the question - would not think twice about their ability to solve it.

It’s hard to imagine though that in early human history, math questions such as these would have been unsolvable.

Math In China

China has played a major role in the evolution of math. As early as the second millennium BC, they used bamboo rods to represent the numbers from one to nine. By placing these rods into columns, they could differentiate between the ones, tens, and hundreds places.

They later developed other tools, like the abacus, to make calculations easier. In fact, the abacus is being rediscovered today as a great way to do mental arithmetic! By the 11th century, math became a field of study. Ancient mathematicians also developed the idea of negative numbers and decimals, and began studying fields like trigonometry, geometry, and algebra.

Math was always important in Chinese history. Initially, they believed that math and number patterns were almost magical and had cosmic power. Formations like magic squares— a pattern where each row, column, and diagonal adds up to 15—were created because it was believed that they were extremely powerful.

Later, around 200 BC, math was used for a more practical purpose: running the empire. Fields of civil service, such as trade, taxation, and engineering, used math to make the work more efficient. They created a textbook called “Jiuzhang Suanshu” or “Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art.”

A New Way To Multiply 

Recently, China’s role in mathematical history has been further uncovered. The Tsinghua University in Beijing received a donation of almost 2,500 bamboo scrolls, and after further scrutiny, it was determined that 21 of these scrolls were actually a multiplication table. By arranging the scrolls in a specific order, a person can multiply any whole or half integer between 0.5 and 99.5.

Such a table could have had various purposes, from calculating taxes to measuring land size. This table, which was probably created around 305 BC, is considered the earliest decimal multiplication table to have ever been found.

Courtesy: National Geographic