History of Mathematics

Chinese Decimal System
305 BCE Jan 1

Chinese Decimal System

Hunan, China

The Tsinghua Bamboo Slips, containing the earliest known decimal multiplication table (although ancient Babylonians had ones with a base of 60), is dated around 305 BC and is perhaps the oldest surviving mathematical text of China.[68] Of particular note is the use in Chinese mathematics of a decimal positional notation system, the so-called "rod numerals" in which distinct ciphers were used for numbers between 1 and 10, and additional ciphers for powers of ten.[69] Thus, the number 123 would be written using the symbol for "1", followed by the symbol for "100", then the symbol for "2" followed by the symbol for "10", followed by the symbol for "3". This was the most advanced number system in the world at the time, apparently in use several centuries before the common era and well before the development of the Indian numeral system.[76] Rod numerals allowed the representation of numbers as large as desired and allowed calculations to be carried out on the suan pan, or Chinese abacus. It is presumed that officials used the multiplication table to calculate land surface area, yields of crops and the amounts of taxes owed.[68]