The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra by Roger Hart [Book Review]
“Tattered sandles.” This was the judgment of Xu Guangqi, the official collaborating with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci’s effort to bring Euclid’s Elements to China, on the state of contemporary Chinese mathematics. These sentiments were repeated by later academics and historians, who created a narrative of Chinese mathematics as stagnant: in a recent biography of Matteo Ricci, Michela Fontana writes that “mathematics, and science in general, was going through a phase of decline in respect to the past during the Ming era…”
In The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra, Roger Hart contests this received wisdom. Based on a close inspection of The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Arts, an ancient Chinese mathematical text dating from the first century C.E., Hart claims that he has found evidence of considerable mathematical sophistication. Specifically, he argues that Chinese mathematicians used techniques similar to current linear algebra.