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Combinatorics: Ancient and Modern$
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Robin Wilson and John J. Watkins

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199656592

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199656592.001.0001

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(p.65) Chapter 2 China
Combinatorics: Ancient and Modern


Oxford University Press

Combinatorial practices in China go back to high antiquity, when divinatory techniques relied on configurations of broken and unbroken lines. The Yijing or I Ching (Book of Change), compiled under the Zhou dynasty, has transmitted these practices up to the present time and has been a widely commented upon and read source. But combinatorial practices in China were not limited to divination and magic squares: a large number of early sources also described games such as Go and chess, and games with cards, dominoes, and dice, that show a combinatorial interest from a more mathematical point of view. The earliest source that systematically discusses permutations and combinations is an 18th-century manuscript. Although mathematics had by then been introduced from Europe, the manuscript is clearly based on traditional mathematical concepts and algorithmic modes. This chapter shows how early combinatorial practices provided a framework for later mathematical developments in imperial China.

Keywords:   China, I Ching, divination, magic squares, games

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