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Sacred Number

36 anCienT asia manipulating in tens In China a written decimal system with 13 basic characters has been used for more than 3,000 years see page 48. Another particularly beautiful system of writing numbers is the suan z or sangi rod notation, complete with a small zero, used in China, Japan, and Korea in some form since at least 200 BC below. Later, the famous Chinese abacus replaced rodnumeral counting boards. The speed of its operators, particularly in the Far East, is legendary, and it is still in widespread use today. India has an ancient numerical tradition. Number is prominent in many of its scriptures, and Indian cosmology uses huge numbers rivaled today only by those of modern physics. Indian numerals originate with the Brahmi sytem of numerals, with 45 characters for the numbers 1 to 90,000. In time the speculations of Indian mathematicians required a new system combining the first nine number names with powers of ten. Rapid and elegant calculation techniques and the unlimited description of very large numbers resulted. The zero also emerged, to denote an empty decimal power without confusion. It is from India that we received, via the Arabs, our modern decimal place value system. 37
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