Re: Chinese rod numerals

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Wed Jan 14 2004 - 15:45:42 EST

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    > Thus for example, referring to the page from a 13th
    > century book reproduced in Needham (1959) p. 132, I would translate the
    > passage from the bottom of the fourth column from the right (reading
    > right to left) roughly as:
    > " ... having done that, multiply the breadth of the yellow hypotenuse
    > by the unknown, to obtain (-2x^2 + 654x), then divide that by ..."
    > The expression shown here using algebra is set out in the original
    > using rod numerals. If that is not writing, then algebra is not
    > writing either.

    Nobody here is trying to prejudge the issue. The proposal for
    encoding these should simply cite some instances of Song
    dynasty alebraicists using the forms in writing.

    > I revert again to the cross-cultural issue: why should
    > modern western mathematicians have the privilege of finding everything
    > they need in Unicode, whereas those who wish to write Chinese
    > mathematics have to resort to pasting graphics into their texts,
    > because someone decides that parts of those texts are not "real
    > writing"?

    There is no need to go off down this garden path. Trying to accuse
    the committees of western mathematical bias (or any other cross-cultural
    bias) in choice of symbols is just going to get their backs up for
    no good reason. If you are looking for *any* character encoding
    without a cultural bias, then Unicode is your ticket.

    All you need to do is provide evidence in the summary proposal form
    of use of the symbols in writing (as opposed to laying out counting
    rods on tables to do calculations). That will cinch the case for
    them as characters. You (and John Jenkins) say such examples exist
    aplenty in the mathematical classics. O.k. just scan a few examples
    and provide those illustrations in the proposal.

    > Incidentally, I do note that provision has been made to encode the 64
    > hexagrams of the Book of Change, and also the symbols used in Yang
    > Xiong's Taixuan jing. See
    > under "Yi Jing hexagram symbols" and "Tai xuan jing symbols". While I
    > think that the idea of "writing" may not be in the last analysis a
    > helpful one to use as a demarcation criterion for Unicode, given that
    > the home page does say "The Unicode Standard defines codes for ....
    > arrows, dingbats, etc.",

    The home page is not the criterion. The text of the standard and
    the decision history of the encoding committees are.

    The Unicode Standard, Version 4.0, p. 1, first line:

    "The Unicode Standard is the universal character encoding scheme for
    written characters and text."

    Scope statement of ISO/IEC 10646, 3rd edition (the International
    Standard that the Unicode Standard is synchronized with):

    "ISO/IEC 10646 specifies the Universal Multiple-Octet Coded
    Character Set (UCS). It is applicable to the representation,
    transmission, interchange, processing, storage, input, and
    presentation of the written form of the languages of the world as
    well as of additional symbols."

    > I would think that if the hexagrams etc. are
    > in, then a fortiori so should rod numerals be. Much more if the Tai
    > xuan jing symbols are in, which I personally have never seen used
    > outside the context of the ancient book in which they occur

    Fine, make the case. The Unicode Technical Committee is not
    prejudiced against characters which occur only in ancient
    books (or even only on ancient tablets or incised in stone,
    for that matter). Witness the encoding of Linear B, of Ugaritic,
    and so on, or the imminent encoding of Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform.


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