Math & Physics Problems Wikia

By: Tao Steven Zheng


In the Chinese mathematical text Jiuzhang Suanshu, we find an interesting problem that requires the Pythagorean triples formula to solve.

YygUvdMIsE4lyd9IoEAI2g m.png

Chapter 9: Gougu Problem 14


[There are two persons standing at the same location. Person A moves at a speed of 7. Person B moves at a speed of 3. Person B moves east. Person A first moves 10 bu south, then diagonally northeast until he meets person B once more. How far did each man travel?]

  • bu (步) literally means pace, a Chinese unit of length that measures roughly 1.6 meters long.

The units of the speed are not specified, but it is reasonable to assume that the speed is measured in bu per second, which measures 1.6 meters per second.

For calculating the sides a right triangle with integer sides, the solution prescribed by this 2000-year old text uses the formula




are the speeds of person A and person B respectively. This formula is indeed the formula for generating Pythagorean triples such that all sides of the right triangle are mutually coprime. There is no derivation provided in the Jiuzhang Suanshu, so I shall provide one using basic geometry and a little physics (which the ancient Chinese had to some degree).


Person A and person B begin and meet at the same point at the same time. Person A is the man who runs at a speed of

bu per second (which would be 11.2 m/s), who travels along the shorter side and the hypotenuse

. Person B is the man who runs at a speed of

bu per second (which would be 4.8 m/s), who travels along the longer side

. Thus we have two constraints: a time constraint, and a geometric constraint.

YygUvdMIsE4lyd9IoEAI2g m.png

Time constraint

Geometric constraint

From the time constraint, isolate for length

and square both sides.



from the geometric constraint,


With some algebra

Failed to parse (unknown function "\boxed"): {\displaystyle \boxed{\frac{c}{b} = \frac{m^2 + n^2}{2mn}} } .

From the time constraint, one can discover that



Failed to parse (unknown function "\boxed"): {\displaystyle \boxed{\frac{a}{b} = \frac{m^2 - n^2}{2mn}}} .


are mutually coprime, the above two boxed results suggests