The Development of Hindu-Arabic and Traditional Chinese Arithmetic

The Development of Hindu-Arabic and Traditional Chinese Arithmetic

By Lam Lay Yong

Chinese Science, Vol.13 (1996)

Introduction: Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics with which all of us are familiar. Irrespective of the countries we come from, we are taught the Hindu- Arabic numerals and their place value notation at a very early age. Thereafter we learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide with the numerals. We are also taught how to write the common fractions and how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide with them. It was from these basic techniques that arithmetic developed. Arithmetic is an important subject in our schools as its applications have become essential in our everyday life; from the man-in-the-street to the scientist, government officer, and businessmanâ€”all of us need to know arithmetic.

That arithmetic is useful is clear, but the history of the beginnings of the subject is still obscure. In recent decades, there have been some studies on Arabic texts related to early arithmetical procedures, and these have helped to shed some light. When we compare this knowledge with what we know about the arithmetic of ancient China, what is immediately and impressively apparent are certain strikingly similar features. The aim of this paper is to draw attention to these similarities and to show how vital they were in the development of arithmetic.