WHAT HAPPENS IF we invert the gaze of the ethnomathematician? How would a practitioner of Chinese algebra have seen the mathematics developed by people such as Galileo or Descartes? Undoubtedly, he would have seen a people awkward in handling algebraic equations. He would have found ‘signs’ of concepts such as zheng (positive numbers), fu (negative numbers), and wu (zero), but used primitively. He would have noticed that their most respected thinker, Immanuel Kant, was still discussing whether fu was even a number, calling it “negative”, as if it lacked something or were bad. He would have seen ...


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