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Numbers And Units In Chinese Economic History

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Chapter Summary

The British scholar, J.H. Clapham, has remarked that the methodological distinctiveness of economic history hinges primarily upon its quantitative interests. In dealing with quantities it is of course necessary to have a thorough understanding of the numbers and units in use. The first precaution is to watch out for misprints and copyists' errors. The Chinese characters for one, two, and three are easily confused because they are written with one, two, and three horizontal strokes respectively. Numerous examples of misprints of numbers may be found in Chinese texts. To avoid such mistakes, careful Chinese have introduced alteration proof forms of numbers. There are special forms for numbers from one to ten, and also for hundred and thousand. Some of these forms can be traced back to a few centuries B.C., although the whole set of ten or more alteration-proof forms is datable only from the end of the seventh century.

Keywords: Chinese texts; copyists' errors; economic history; misprints



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