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Was Pythagoras Chinese?: An examination of right triangle theory in ancient China (The Pennsylvania State University studies) Unknown Binding – 1988

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About the Author

Frank J. Swetz, a member of the Department of Mathematics-and Education at The Pennsylvania State University, Capitol Campus, received his Ed.D. from Columbia University. He is the author of Mathematics Education in China and numerous articles.



T.I. Kao, an engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, took his graduate work at the New Mexico State University.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Pennsylvania State University studies
  • Unknown Binding: 75 pages
  • Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press (1988)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00072R446
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Format: Paperback
The title is metaphorical in nature rather than literal, as the authors are well aware that Pythagoras was a Greek whose life spanned the century 500 B. C. and who never left the Mediterranean area. Their point is that a great deal of mathematics that has been considered to have been invented by the Greeks was in fact known to the Chinese much earlier. That mathematics includes the famous Pythagorean Theorem, so a more realistic title would be, "Was the Pythagorean Theorem Originally Proven by Chinese Mathematicians?"
While time and Chinese emperors who abhorred book learning has destroyed much of the evidence, it seems clear from what is presented in this book that the answer to the question posed in the second title is yes. Relying on ancient Chinese texts, they describe many of the problems posed and solved in them. The Pythagorean Theorem is not the only mathematical principle that can be gleaned from them as it is easy to see many others in the statements of the problems and their solutions.
At only 108 pages, this book is easy to read and therefore can easily be used as a supplement in courses in the history of mathematics. While the mathematics is not difficult, it demonstrates how much mathematical development occurred in China. It makes one wonder if perhaps the Greeks borrowed much of their mathematics rather than discovered it. For while travel was difficult in those years, it was not impossible and it is at least possible that mathematical knowledge diffused from China to the Mediterranean area, even at that early date.

Published in Journal of Recreational Mathematics, reprinted with permission
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