Examples of Integrating the China Theme

Posted on July 28th, 2008 by

This year, Gustavus will be starting a new campus-wide program, Gustavus Global Insight, in which we try to focus on a particular international theme each year and integrate that theme as broadly as possible in our curriculum and co-curricular activities.  This first year (2008-2009) will be focused on China.  I thought it would be interesting to share my plans for integrating this theme into my fall-semester computer science courses, not only to give an example of what we’re doing, but also in case anyone can provide me some useful feedback on these plans, such as further suggestions.

In the Introduction to Computer Science II, I’m planning on illustrating iterative numerical calculations by using an algorithm for approximating pi that was developed in the third century by Liu Hui and apparently used in the fifth century by Zu Chongzhi to calculate an approximation so precise that no one improved upon it for a millenium to come.  (This seems to be the longest any approximation to  pi ever has remained the record-holder, at least with the exception of 3, which was used so early as to be shrouded in the mists of time.)

In Computer Organization, I’m going to tell a story that definitely fits into the category of truth stranger than fiction.  A 17th century German Lutheran, collaborating with French Jesuits, becomes convinced not only that binary numerals express the perfection of God’s creation, but more remarkably that the Chinese had encountered the same truth thousands of years earlier.  In effect, the Chinese were Christians thousands of years before Christ himself!  (And, moreover, the Chinese emperor could be converted to Christianity if this were explained to him.)  Such, in the barest outline, is the story of Leibniz‘s encounter with the Yi Jing, also known as the I Ching or the Book of Changes.

Finally, in Networking, we will follow up our discussion of network security by considering how broader conceptions of security–political and societal security–are realized through a combination of technical and non-technical means in various parts of the world.  Our example will be the control China exercises over the Internet, in which the technical filtering component is often called “The Great Firewall of China”.


One Comment

  1. Moira McDermott says:

    Sounds great! Wish I could take your classes. Missing you all.

    I think there is some earlier (Chinese) version of Pascal’s triangle. It’s on the cover of one of the combinatorics/graph theory texts.