# Chinese Invention: Decimal system

## What is it

The Decimal System began in China 1400 BCE. 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. With Chinese characters, ten is ten-blank and eleven is ten-one (zero was left as a blank space: 405 is 'four blank five'), This was much easier than inventing a new character for each number (imagine having to memorize an enormous number of characters just to read the date!). Having a decimal system from the beginning was a big advantage in making mathematical advances.
Chinese Mathematics - Wiki Article

## How it was used

According to the oracle inscription shown on tortoiseshells or animal bones, Chinese people in theShang Dynasty(16th-11th century BC) was already able to use 13 words -- one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, hundred, thousand, and ten thousand -- to denote any number within 100,000. However, the largest number that can be found is 30,000. The notions of odd, even, and multiple also appeared on the oracle inscriptions.

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. In the Western alphabet, when writing out numbers greater than nine, new words are used (for example, ten, eleven, and so on). WithChinese characters, ten is ten-blank and eleven is ten-one (zero was left as a blank space: 405 is "four blank five"). This was much easier than inventing a new character for each number. Having a decimal system from the beginning was a big advantage in making mathematical advances. The first evidence of decimals in Europe is in a Spanish manuscript of 976 AD.

The decimal system, as a very important invention by the Chinese, boasts great significance in world mathematic history as well as general human history. Joseph Needham (1900-1995), a famous scientific historian who specialized in Chinese sciences, noted that it was virtually impossible for human beings to have a unified world without the decimal system, and the Chinese numeral system in the Shang Dynasty was basically more advanced and scientific than that of contemporary Babylon and Egypt.