Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/34

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life of the people, and which by a common saying do not run uniform for ten li together, there is a like diversity in those standards of quantity upon the absolute invariability of which so much of the comfort of life and the entire advance of science in western lands depend. So far from suffering any inconvenience in the existence of a double standard of any kind, the oriental seems keenly to enjoy it, and two kinds of weights, or two kinds of measures seem to him natural and normal, and modern education is only just beginning to open his eyes to the inherent objections.

The whole Chinese system of thinking is based on such a different line of assumptions from those to which we are accustomed, that they can ill comprehend the mania which seems to possess the occidental to ascertain everything with unerring accuracy. Curiously enough, concomitant with the early development of their system of weights and measures—a decimal system for the most part—the Chinese have become fixed in the habit of reckoning by tens, and frequently refuse to make a statement of number nearer to the truth than a multiple of ten. An old man is "seventy or eighty years of age," when you know for a certainty that he was seventy only a year ago. A few people are "ten or twenty," a "few tens," or perhaps "ever so many tens." The same vagueness runs in all their statements, and for greater accuracy than this the Chinese do not care, except when you are paying them money.

The first generation of Chinese chemists will probably lose "a few tens" of its number as a result of the process of mixing a "few tens of grains" of something with "several tens of grains" of something else, the consequence being an unanticipated explosion.

The Chinese are as capable of learning minute accuracy in all things as any nation ever was—nay, more so, for they are endowed with infinite patience, but what we are here remarking is that as at present constituted they are entirely free from the quality of accuracy and that they do not know what it means.

Under such circumstances it is not surprising that so little real progress has been made in experimental science.

3. Lack of Mathematical Knowledge.—Although the study of arithmetic attracted attention among the Chinese from early times and numerous treatises are extant, and Hindu processes in algebra have long been known to them, yet these branches even down to the end of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1664) made only slow progress. Trigonometry was introduced by the early Jesuit missionaries and since foreigners have begun to teach western science the development in these elementary branches of mathematics has been fairly rapid. But still the knowledge of mathematics is very small even among learned men; the cumbersome notation and the little aid such studies gave in the old-style examinations doubtless discouraged men from pursuing what they had