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Liu Hui (fl. 3rd century) was a mathematician of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. In 263, he edited and published a book with solutions to mathematical problems presented in the famous Chinese book of mathematics known as The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art (九章算术).

He was a descendant of the Marquis of Zixiang of the Han dynasty, corresponding to current Zixiang township of Shandong province. He completed his commentary to the Nine Chapters in the year 263.

He probably visited Luoyang, and measured the sun's shadow.

Mathematical work

Along with Zu Chongzhi, Liu Hui was known as one of the greatest mathematicians of ancient China.[1] Liu Hui expressed all of his mathematical results in the form of decimal fractions (using metrological units), yet the later Yang Hui (c. 1238-1298 AD) expressed his mathematical results in full decimal expressions.[2][3]

Liu provided commentary on a mathematical proof identical to the Pythagorean theorem.[4] Liu called the figure of the drawn diagram for the theorem the "diagram giving the relations between the hypotenuse and the sum and difference of the other two sides whereby one can find the unknown from the known".[5]

In the field of plane areas and solid figures, Liu Hui was one of the greatest contributors to empirical solid geometry. For example, he found that a wedge with rectangular base and both sides sloping could be broken down into a pyramid and a tetrahedral wedge.[6] He also found that a wedge with trapezoid base and both sides sloping could be made to give two tetrahedral wedges separated by a pyramid. In his commentaries on the Nine Chapters, he presented:

An algorithm for calculation of pi (π) in the comments to chapter 1.[7] He calculated pi to 3.141024 \( < \pi < 3.142074 \) with a 192 (= 64 × 3) sided polygon. Archimedes used a circumscribed 96-polygon to obtain the inequality \pi <\tfrac{22}{7}, and then used an inscribed 96-gon to obtain the inequality \( \tfrac{223}{71} < \pi\) . Liu Hiu used only one inscribed 96-gon to obtain his π inequalily, and his results were a bit more accurate than Archimedes'.[8] But he commented that 3.142074 was too large, and picked the first three digits of π = 3.141024 ~3.14 and put it in fraction form \( \pi = \tfrac{157}{50} \). He later invented a quick method and obtained \pi =3.1416, which he checked with a 3072-gon(3072 = 29 × 6). Nine Chapters had used the value 3 for π, but Zhang Heng (78-139 AD) had previously estimated pi to the square root of 10.
Gaussian elimination.
Cavalieri's principle to find the volume of a cylinder,[9] although this work was only finished by Zu Gengzhi. Liu's commentaries often include explanations why some methods work and why others do not. Although his commentary was a great contribution, some answers had slight errors which was later corrected by the Tang mathematician and Taoist believer Li Chunfeng.

Liu Hui also presented, in a separate appendix of 263 AD called Haidao suanjing or The Sea Island Mathematical Manual, several problems related to surveying. This book contained many practical problems of geometry, including the measurement of the heights of Chinese pagoda towers.[10] This smaller work outlined instructions on how to measure distances and heights with "tall surveyor's poles and horizontal bars fixed at right angles to them".[11] With this, the following cases are considered in his work:

The measurement of the height of an island opposed to its sea level and viewed from the sea
The height of a tree on a hill
The size of a city wall viewed at a long distance
The depth of a ravine (using hence-forward cross-bars)
The height of a tower on a plain seen from a hill
The breadth of a river-mouth seen from a distance on land
The depth of a transparent pool
The width of a river as seen from a hill
The size of a city seen from a mountain.

Liu Hui's information about surveying was known to his contemporaries as well. The cartographer and state minister Pei Xiu (224–271) outlined the advancements of cartography, surveying, and mathematics up until his time. This included the first use of a rectangular grid and graduated scale for accurate measurement of distances on representative terrain maps.[12] Liu Hui provided commentary on the Nine Chapter's problems involving building canal and river dykes, giving results for total amount of materials used, the amount of labor needed, the amount of time needed for construction, etc.[13]

Although translated into English long beforehand, Liu's work was translated into French by Guo Shuchun, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who began in 1985 and took twenty years to complete his translation.
See also

List of people of the Three Kingdoms
Liu Hui's π algorithm
The Sea Island Mathematical Manual
History of mathematics
History of geometry
Chinese mathematics


^ Needham, Volume 3, 85-86
^ Needham, Volume 3, 46.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 85.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 22.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 95-96.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 98-99.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 66.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 100-101.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 143.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 30.
^ Needham, Volume 3, 31.
^ Hsu, 90–96.
^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 331.


Chen, Stephen. "Changing Faces: Unveiling a Masterpiece of Ancient Logical Thinking." South China Morning Post, Sunday, January 28, 2007.
Guo, Shuchun, "Liu Hui". Encyclopedia of China (Mathematics Edition), 1st ed.
Hsu, Mei-ling. "The Qin Maps: A Clue to Later Chinese Cartographic Development," Imago Mundi (Volume 45, 1993): 90-100.
Needham, Joseph & C. Cullen (Eds.) (1959). Science and Civilisation in China: Volume III, section 19. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-05801-5.
Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Physics and Physical Technology, Part 3, Civil Engineering and Nautics. Taipei: Caves Books Ltd.
Ho Peng Yoke: Liu Hui, Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Yoshio Mikami: Development of Mathematics in China and Japan.
Crossley, J.M et al., The Logic of Liu Hui and Euclid, Philosophy and History of Science, vol 3, No 1, 1994 this bo chen

External links

Liu Hui at MacTutor
Liu Hui and the first Golden Age of Chinese Mathematics,by Philip D. Straffin Jr

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