Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/531

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
527
SCIENCE AMONG THE CHINESE

B.C. to a.d 1621. The general value of these records is thought to entitle them to credence.

While these observations of eclipses and comets were made for astrological and state purposes, they are not without value to European astronomers and chronologists. It would not be entirely safe to judge of the astronomical attainments of the Chinese from what has come down to our day, or by present popular notions. The knowledge contained in their own scientific books has not been taught, and in general the astronomical ideas of the Chinese are vague and inaccurate and serve as the basis of superstitious astrology rather than as an agency of enlightenment among the people. The writer vividly recalls his experience during a recent lunar eclipse, when almost the entire population of one of the largest cities on the Yangtsze turned out, each one carrying something with which to make a noise, kettles, pans, sticks, drums, gongs, fire-crackers, etc., to aid in frightening away the dragon of the sky from his hideous feast. And even the crew of a Chinese man-of-war, foreign built and armed with Krupp guns, will by orders published in The Peking Gazette turn out with drums, iron pans, etc., to make a din to "save the moon.'

Chinese astronomers distinguished five planets, or "moving stars," and named them according to their ideas of elementary substances: Venus, Golden; Jupiter, Wooden; Mercury, Water; Mars, Fire; Saturn, Soil. To them the galaxy was The Heavenly River, a close analogy to our term, The Milky Way. It is interesting to note how descriptive the Chinese terms are as applied in translations of modern astronomical ideas—a nebula is a "star-mist"; asteroids are "small moving stars "; the spectroscope is the "shooting shadow-lamp"; and spectrum analysis is "the shooting-shadow-difference-telling-light-method."

5. Mathematics.—The arithmetical notation of the Chinese is based on the decimal principle, but as their figures are not changed in value by position, it is difficult to write out clearly the several steps in solving a problem. Arithmetical calculations are performed with a "counting board," an arrangement of balls on wires, which can, however, only serve as an index for the progress and result of a calculation done in the head, so that if an error is made, the whole operation must be done, again.

The study of arithmetic has attracted attention among the Chinese from early times, and notices found in historical works indicate some treaties extant even in the Han dynasty (206 b.c-a.d. 214), followed by a great number of general and particular works down to the Sung Dynasty (1020-1120 A.D.). The Hindu processes in algebra were known to Chinese mathematicians, but though studied even after intercourse between the countries had ceased, these branches made slow progress down to the end of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644).