The Chinese were the first to use negative numbers between 300–100 B.C.E.
Chinese mathematicians developed mathematics in almost complete isolation from the West until the arrival of the Jesuits in the 1600s and the consequent unification of world science.(1) With the coming of the Jesuits to Peking (Beijing) at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the period of “indigenous mathematics” comes to an end.(2) This means there are two major streams of mathematical development in the world. The first one starts with the Greeks and continues with the Indians and Arabs, culminating with the Europeans. The second is that of the Chinese, who represented about a fifth of the world’s population with an almost continuous mathematical tradition of over 3,000 years.
(1) Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Volume 3 – Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth (Cambridge, 1959), p. 142.
(2) Ibid., p. 52.