Zu Chongzhi

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The majority of Zu's great mathematical works are recorded in his lost text the Zhui Shu. Most scholars argue about his complexity since traditionally the Chinese had developed mathematics as algebraic and equational. Logically, scholars assume that the Zhui Shu yields methods of cubic equations. His works on the accurate value of pi describe the lengthy calculations involved. Zu used the method of exhaustion to inscribe a 12,288-gon. Zu's value of pi is precise to eight decimal places and for a thousand years thereafter no subsequent mathematician computed a value this precise. Zu also worked on deducing the formula for the volume of a sphere.

The South Pointing Chariot

The South Pointing Chariot device was first invented by the Chinese mechanical engineer Ma Jun (c. 200-265 AD). It was a wheeled vehicle that incorporated an early use of differential gears to operate a fixed figurine that would constantly point south, hence enabling one to accurately measure their directional bearings. This effect was achieved not by magnetics (like in a compass), but through intricate mechanics, the same design that allows equal amounts of torque applied to wheels rotating at different speeds for the modern automobile. After the Three Kingdoms period, the device fell out of use temporarily. However, it was Zu Chongzhi who successfully re-invented it in 478 AD, as described in the texts of the Song Shu (c. 500 AD) and the Nan Chi Shu, with a passage from the latter below:

When Emperor Wu of Liu Song subdued Guanzhong he obtained the south-pointing carriage of Yao Xing, but it was only the shell with no machinery inside. Whenever it moved it had to have a man inside to turn (the figure). In the Sheng-Ming reign period, Gao Di commissioned Zi Zu Chongzhi to reconstruct it according to the ancient rules. He accordingly made new machinery of bronze, which would turn round about without a hitch and indicate the direction with uniformity. Since Ma Jun's time such a thing had not been.[3]

Named for him



  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 2. Cambridge University Press
  • Du, Shiran and He, Shaogeng, "Zu Chongzhi". Encyclopedia of China (Mathematics Edition), 1st ed.

Further reading

  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth. Cambridge University Press

External links

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