Science in Context 33 (1):37-63 (2020)

ArgumentThe study of algebra in China has often focused on the algebraic “procedure of the Celestial Source.” Its geometrical ancestors are less known. The Yigu yanduan, authored by Li Ye, presents the procedure alongside its two geometrical counterparts, the “Section of Pieces [of Areas]” and the “Old Procedure.” The three procedures are known to represent three generations of algorithms used to set up quadratic equations. A similar geometrical procedure appears in a treatise written by Yang Hui. Although the procedures look alike at first glance, the two treatises reveal different moments in their work on the relation between counting materials and geometrical representation. This study challenges their chronology trying to identify the meander of the geometrical roots of the Celestial Source. The construction of negative coefficients plays a pivotal role in this mutation and shows several layers of composition.
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DOI 10.1017/s0269889720000113
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