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Chinese Abacus

The Chinese Abacus used to be the most widely used and simplest calculating device for people of all trades in ancient China. In recent times, it has been replaced by the popular calculators or teller machines. Also referred to as "Zhusuan", the Chinese abacus was invented by a famous mathematician Cheng Dawei in Ming Dynasty, who also published the Suanfa Tong Zong (the General Calculating Rules). This easily-used device has been equally famous to the "Four Great Inventions in China", because it can be used not only to perform basic calculations, such as addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, but also obtaining square roots and cubic roots.


The existing abacus is different in shape and material. Typically, it is made of wood. However, there are also large varieties of materials used for display and collection purposes, such as crystal, ivory and jade. Its frame is divided by a crossbeam into two parts, the upper deck and the lower deck. And there are 10 parallel rods strung in between, with two beads on the upper and five on the lower.


When using a Chinese abacus, keep in mind that each column has two 5-valued counting beads on the upper deck and five 1-valued beads below it, which making the total value of fifteen for each column. To obtain the values, you need to slide the beads towards the crosswire bar. On the contrary, if you slide the beads away, you lose values. For example, if you want to record number 7, simply slide one bead on the upper and two beads below together to the crosswire bar. 


With the support of arithmetic tables plus proficient hand technique, the speed of abacus calculation could be much faster than manual calculation. In addition, the production of abaci is very simple and cheap, explaining why the Chinese abacus was once a very fashionable calculating tool in various parts of China as well as in Japan, Korea and other neighbouring countries.


With Chinaholiday's Beijing Culture Tour, perhaps you could have a chance to explore the famous Mutianyu Great Wall and imperial underground palaces, then take a close look at the evolution of the Chinese Abacus at the Abacus Museum.