China Focus: Cultural connotations of China's scientific feats

Source: Xinhua| 2020-12-17 21:34:45|Editor: huaxia

by Xinhua writers Yao Yulin, Ma Shurui

HEFEI, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- The establishment of the Jiuzhang quantum computer prototype, and the return capsule of China's Chang'e-5 probe touching down on Earth in the early hours of Thursday, bringing back the country's first samples collected from the moon, have attracted worldwide attention.

The naming of these two of the country's forefront scientific breakthroughs, however, has a deeper cultural meaning.

"We named it as a mark of tribute to one of China's oldest books dedicated to mathematics, Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art, also known as 'Jiuzhang Suanshu' in Chinese," said Pan Jianwei, a renowned Chinese quantum physicist from the research team of the photonic quantum computer.

The historical document was published around the 1st century, nearly two millennia before the launch of Jiuzhang quantum computer prototype, and later used for the training of civil servants in the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220). The document's importance in Chinese mathematical education is akin to that of Euclid in Greek mathematical education. Besides, the algorithm mechanism built upon the book laid a foundation for modern computers to some extent.

The modern interpretation of its name once again thrusts the ancient wisdom into the global limelight.

"Jiuzhang Suanshu has been significant in the evolution of human civilization, representing a huge achievement in mathematical research at that time, while today's photonic quantum computer also stands for the country's state-of-the-art technologies," said Lu Fachun, a professor of history at Anhui University.

Behind the name also lies the efforts of Chinese scientists to marry the nation's splendid traditional culture with its self-reliant technological developments, according to Lu.

The return capsule of China's Chang'e-5 probe lands in Siziwang Banner, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, on Dec. 17, 2020. (Xinhua/Lian Zhen)

The return capsule of China's Chang'e-5 probe landing on Earth Thursday marks a successful conclusion of the country's current three-step lunar exploration program of orbiting and landing on the Moon, and bringing back samples to Earth, which began in 2004.

China's lunar exploration program is named after the legendary Chang'e, the "Moon Lady" who took a potion and floated into the sky, eventually landing on the Moon, where she became a goddess accompanied by a jade rabbit. The charming myth and pure romance exuding from the name added a dash of intimacy and enigma to the top-notch innovations, arousing curiosity among the public and sparking heated discussions.

With millions of netizens involved in naming a moon rover of the exploration program, "Yutu," which stands for the jade rabbit that accompanied the lunar goddess, the possibility of other options easily edged out.

"The Chinese nation has always attached great significance to the inheritance and development of its own fine traditional culture, which involves the commemoration of its representative figures and quintessential items," Lu said.

In 2015, China sent its Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) Satellite in a fresh search for smoking-gun signals of dark matter, invisible material that scientists say makes up most of the universe's mass. The satellite is nicknamed "Wukong" after the Monkey King with penetrating eyes in the Chinese classical fiction Journey to the West. And just like the mythical hero, the satellite also has a moral.

In China's endeavor to seek the truth and unravel the mysteries, Chang'e, Wukong and similar space missions are not alone. Nor are the scientists.

The ubiquitous fusion of China's past and future in the scientific community strikes a chord with academia and the public.

In 2016, China launched its quantum science experimental satellite "Mozi," in memory of a Chinese philosopher during an ancient era of great cultural and intellectual expansion.

"Outstanding Chinese scientists in the long sweep of history not only show their scientific spirit of exploration, adventure and pursuing the truth but also share profound humanistic care and historical vision as well as an increasingly firm cultural confidence," Lu said.