# exploring the features of algebra in medieval China:the case of yigu yanduan

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## Date

2012

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## Abstract

summary.
Exploring Features of Algebra in Medieval China: The Case of Yigu yanduan.
The Yigu yanduan, 益古演段, was written in 1259 by Li Ye, 李冶, and published later in 1282. The Yigu yanduan presents itself as a list of 64 problems in three rolls. All the problems are related to the same topic which at first sight looks very pragmatic and simple: that is calculating the diameter or side of a field inside of which there is a pond. But the central topic of the Yigu yanduan is in fact the construction and formulation of quadratic equations derived from problems on squares, rectangles and circles.
The statute of this text was interpreted by historians as being an introduction to the Ceyuan haijing, 測圓海鏡, the other mathematical masterpiece written by Li Ye in 1248, and published as the same time as the Yigu yanduan. The Yigu yanduan has long been regarded as a kind of text for popular purpose and remained in the shadow of the Ceyuan haijing. The book is still considered as a list of simplified examples in the procedure of the Celestial Source. The purpose of this study is to confront this point of view, to explain why there was such a misunderstanding and to put into light a peculiar field in Chinese mathematics. I show that this book is in fact masterpiece treatise whose practices can be related to the famous Han dynasty classic, the Nine Chapters in Mathematical Art, 九章算術 and its commentary by Liu Hui (3rd century). The focus must be redirected on another procedure: the section of areas.
This study was done through careful comparison of all remaining available Qing dynasty editions of the Yigu yanduan, collection and reproduction of all the diagrams, and translation of the 64 problems. This study first shows how the Qing dynasty editors work with ancient sources and how their editorial choices mislead our modern interpretation. The systematic study of diagrams shows that one of the most important features of the Yigu yanduan is in fact a practice of manipulation of figures performed by the reader. The heart of the book relies on a non discursive practice: drawing and visualizing manipulations of figures.
Key word: history of algebra, diagrams, transformation, tabular settings, analogy

summary. Exploring Features of Algebra in Medieval China: The Case of Yigu yanduan. The Yigu yanduan, 益古演段, was written in 1259 by Li Ye, 李冶, and published later in 1282. The Yigu yanduan presents itself as a list of 64 problems in three rolls. All the problems are related to the same topic which at first sight looks very pragmatic and simple: that is calculating the diameter or side of a field inside of which there is a pond. But the central topic of the Yigu yanduan is in fact the construction and formulation of quadratic equations derived from problems on squares, rectangles and circles. The statute of this text was interpreted by historians as being an introduction to the Ceyuan haijing, 測圓海鏡, the other mathematical masterpiece written by Li Ye in 1248, and published as the same time as the Yigu yanduan. The Yigu yanduan has long been regarded as a kind of text for popular purpose and remained in the shadow of the Ceyuan haijing. The book is still considered as a list of simplified examples in the procedure of the Celestial Source. The purpose of this study is to confront this point of view, to explain why there was such a misunderstanding and to put into light a peculiar field in Chinese mathematics. I show that this book is in fact masterpiece treatise whose practices can be related to the famous Han dynasty classic, the Nine Chapters in Mathematical Art, 九章算術 and its commentary by Liu Hui (3rd century). The focus must be redirected on another procedure: the section of areas. This study was done through careful comparison of all remaining available Qing dynasty editions of the Yigu yanduan, collection and reproduction of all the diagrams, and translation of the 64 problems. This study first shows how the Qing dynasty editors work with ancient sources and how their editorial choices mislead our modern interpretation. The systematic study of diagrams shows that one of the most important features of the Yigu yanduan is in fact a practice of manipulation of figures performed by the reader. The heart of the book relies on a non discursive practice: drawing and visualizing manipulations of figures. Key word: history of algebra, diagrams, transformation, tabular settings, analogy

summary. Exploring Features of Algebra in Medieval China: The Case of Yigu yanduan. The Yigu yanduan, 益古演段, was written in 1259 by Li Ye, 李冶, and published later in 1282. The Yigu yanduan presents itself as a list of 64 problems in three rolls. All the problems are related to the same topic which at first sight looks very pragmatic and simple: that is calculating the diameter or side of a field inside of which there is a pond. But the central topic of the Yigu yanduan is in fact the construction and formulation of quadratic equations derived from problems on squares, rectangles and circles. The statute of this text was interpreted by historians as being an introduction to the Ceyuan haijing, 測圓海鏡, the other mathematical masterpiece written by Li Ye in 1248, and published as the same time as the Yigu yanduan. The Yigu yanduan has long been regarded as a kind of text for popular purpose and remained in the shadow of the Ceyuan haijing. The book is still considered as a list of simplified examples in the procedure of the Celestial Source. The purpose of this study is to confront this point of view, to explain why there was such a misunderstanding and to put into light a peculiar field in Chinese mathematics. I show that this book is in fact masterpiece treatise whose practices can be related to the famous Han dynasty classic, the Nine Chapters in Mathematical Art, 九章算術 and its commentary by Liu Hui (3rd century). The focus must be redirected on another procedure: the section of areas. This study was done through careful comparison of all remaining available Qing dynasty editions of the Yigu yanduan, collection and reproduction of all the diagrams, and translation of the 64 problems. This study first shows how the Qing dynasty editors work with ancient sources and how their editorial choices mislead our modern interpretation. The systematic study of diagrams shows that one of the most important features of the Yigu yanduan is in fact a practice of manipulation of figures performed by the reader. The heart of the book relies on a non discursive practice: drawing and visualizing manipulations of figures. Key word: history of algebra, diagrams, transformation, tabular settings, analogy

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history of algebra, diagrans, transformation, analogy, tabular settings, history of algebra, diagrans, transformation, analogy, tabular settings