The Decimal System
By: De Heath and Carter Bacci
The Chinese Decimal
The History of the Chinese Decimal System
The Decimal number system is also called HINDU-ARABIC, or ARABIC, or base 10 system. Mathematics commonly uses a positional numeral system employing 10 as the base and requiring 10 different numerals, the digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and a dot decimal point.
An example of how the Chinese used the decimal system may be seen in an inscription from the thirteenth century BC, in which '547 days' is written 'Five hundred plus four decades plus seven of days'. The Chinese wrote with characters instead of an alphabet. When writing with a Western alphabet of more than nine letters, there is a temptation to go on with words like eleven. Less elegant number schemes such as Roman numerals, built on positions by adding a unit to a power of ten symbol, without using placeholders. Some have argued the first use of a place value system should be attributed to the ancient Sumerians during the Proliterate period (3100-2800 BC). While it cannot be denied that the Babylonians used a place value system, theirs was sexagismal (base 60), and while the concept of place value may have come from Mesopotamia, the Indians were the first to use it with a decimal base (base 10). All current evidence points towards the Indian system having been influenced by the base 10 Chinese counting boards (precursor to the abacus) and the place value system of the Babylonians. Without doubt the use of a decimal base originates from the most basic human instinct of counting on one's fingers. The key contribution of the Indians however is not in the development of nine symbols to represent the numbers one to nine, but the invention of the place holder zero.