How to handle negative numbers in modular arithmetic?

I have a constraint to use finite-field arithmetic in my application. Since I want it to resemble ordinary arithmetic as much as possible, I chose a large prime $p$ (e.g., $p > 2^{256} )$, and I'm performing all operations modulus $p$.

The trouble starts when I'm mixing negative and positive numbers. In this scheme, a negative number becomes a positive number, and that yields weird results (perfectly fine in modular arithmetic, but that's not what I'm trying to achieve).

Is there a way to retain the properties of a finite field of size $p$, but instead of representing it with the group: $\{0, 1, ... p-1\}$, representing it with: $\{-\lfloor \frac{p-1}{2}\rfloor, ... 0 ... ,\lfloor \frac{p-1}{2}\rfloor\}$ ?

• Just use the numbers you want as remainders, in whatever range you prefer. If a remainder is above $(p-1)/2$, subtract $p$. – egreg Nov 6 '14 at 15:23

You can represent equivalence classes any way you want to. If you're asking whether you can give ${\mathbb Z}/p{\mathbb Z}$ the structure of an ordered field, the answer is no. To see this, consider that $1$ is positive, so any sum of $1$'s is positive, so everything is positive.
You can't lossless keep $p+1$ (or more) numbers using only p values. This is due to the pigeonhole principle.