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Chinese internet abuzz over 12th place finisher in global math competition

By Cang Wei in Nanjing | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-06-14 19:23

Jiang Ping. [Photo/People's Daily Weibo account]

In a twist to the common belief that only the top spot matters in competitions, a young female student who secured 12th place at a global mathematics competition has captured the fascination of countless Chinese netizens.

On Thursday, the 2024 Alibaba Global Math Competition preliminary round results were revealed, with 801 participants worldwide making it to the finals. Seventeen-year-old Jiang Ping became a standout contestant from the relatively unknown Lianshui Secondary Vocational School in Jiangsu province.

While most finalists hail from prestigious institutions, such as Peking University, Cambridge University, MIT, Princeton University and Tsinghua University, Jiang's school caters to students who usually fail to be admitted to high school.

It offers 16 majors to its students, and Jiang majors in fashion design. However, her exceptional mathematical talent led her to teach herself advanced math over two years, culminating in a high score of 93 and a 12th-place ranking globally, making her the sole female in the top 30. She is the first current vocational school student to reach the finals in Alibaba's competition.

Jiang mentioned that she discovered her exceptional sense of numbers in junior high school. While her classmates found homework valuable, Jiang felt that simpler problems were of no worth to her, as she preferred tackling challenging ones.

"I lean towards topics like advanced mathematics, as they spark my desire for exploration."

Upon excelling in her first math exam at the vocational school, her math teacher, Wang Runqiu, took notice of her outstanding performance.

Wang recommended specialized math books to her and encouraged her to participate in math competitions, as anyone was allowed to participate.

"During high school exams, Jiang struggled with slow problem-solving speeds and couldn't complete her exams," Wang said. "But once she entered the vocational school, her diligence and research spirit quickly emerged."

Despite initially finding advanced math daunting, Jiang used translation tools and dictionaries to teach herself math in English. She dedicated herself to studying the subject during breaks or most of her free time after school.

In Jiang's eyes, mathematics is omnipresent. She believes that her favorite and most proficient area, partial differential equations (PDEs), is similar to drawing for fashion design.

"Their symmetries are so beautiful," Jiang said. Sometimes, her design inspirations for fashion sketches unexpectedly stem from mathematics. Between mathematics and fashion design, Jiang expressed a greater passion for the latter.

While her initial goal in joining the Alibaba Math Competition was a personal challenge, she now envisions merging her love for mathematics and fashion design to realize her future aspirations.

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