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Abacus math, the new name card of chinese culture to the world

2015-03-02 丨

The writer is from the Ministry of culture development

From June to August 2015, the headquarters of Shenmo Education assigned the third batch of abacus mental math senior instructors to the US and Italy for instruction. The instructors were responsible for training local teachers, so as to let abacus mental math, the course with strong Chinese cultural characteristics, take root overseas, and let more countries and children in different skin colors have the opportunity to experience the unique charm of Chinese characteristic childhood education.

To conduct localized reproduction of the technology, model and educational ideas of domestic education brand in foreign countries is rare in Chinese education industry. This behavior not only reflects the gradual growth of Chinese private education, but also lets Chinese abacus math, which has been tempered and tested for thousands of years, bloom vigorous vitality once again.

 (Figure: Professor Lirong Cheng (left), the President of Confucius Institute of the US, was introducing Ron Roberts (middle), the Chief Executive of Santiago, and President Chaozheng Wei (right), the instructor of Shenmo to each other.)

Abacus math has far-reaching impact on human life and progress.

At the end of 2013, UNESCO passed a resolution in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, announcing that abacus math has officially become intangible cultural heritage. The resolution brought abacus math—the ancient Chinese invention into the public view. In fact, as early as 2007, The Independent of the UK has rated Chinese abacus math the No.1 invention among “101 Scientific Inventions Improving Human Survival Conditions”.

According to historical records, abacus was invented by Hong Liu in Eastern Han Dynasty; abacus math was recorded in Memoir on Some Numerological Arts (Chinese: 数述记遗) written by Yue Xu in the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era at the earliest. Yingyai Shenglan (Chinese: 瀛涯胜览) and Jiuzhang Xiangzhu Bilei Suanfa Daquan (Chinese: 九章详注比类算法大全) also recorded abacus.

Since the beginning of the 15th century, China’s abacus math gradually spread to Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., which played an important role in the development of mathematics in these countries; later, abacus math spread to the West by some European business travelers, exerting a profound impact on progress of human civilization.

Now, the world has entered the era of electronic computers; however, abacus is still used worldwide. Even in the US, Japan and other highly modernized countries, more and more people are learning to use abacus. As Isao Araki, the president of the Japanese Abacus Math Education Alliance said: “Abacus math was born in China and spread to Asian countries, and it is going global through the cooperation of experts from Japan and China.”

Controversy and Development of Abacus Math in China

Professor Xin Li, the initiator of The Chinese Abacus Association, and the vice president and secretary-general of the first and second sessions of council, has devoted himself to abacus. Now he is over 90 years old; however, speaking of abacus math, he can talk about it on and on without hesitation, with all the important historical events, ancient books and records, and details in hand. He mentioned that abacus math and abacus mental math have the same origin, but there has been controversy of abacus math and abacus mental math; even in 2004, when the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education jointly set up the project, and National Institute of Education Sciences, Zhejiang University, China Science and Technology University, and Weifang Medical College researched for five years and concluded that childhood abacus mental math education has the function of developing children’s intelligence potential based on the scientific data analysis and tracking comparison tests, there is still controversy.

Figure: in August 2013, the overseas Chinese from nine foreign countries were visiting Shenmo Abacus Math Museum, and Xin Li was explaining the culture of abacus math.

Professor Li said, abacus math was originated among folks in China, so it is not the knowledge in temple, but practical knowledge from the basic level. Dawei Cheng, the master of abacus math in Ming Dynasty—wrote a book called General Source of Computational Methods (Chinese: 算法统宗), which has great value for abacus math development; however, Dawei Cheng is not a scholar, but a businessman. In the past, due to China’s policy of encouraging agriculture and suppressing business, coupled with the rise of tendency pursuing empty talk and impracticalities in the late Ming Dynasty, the practical knowledge—abacus math wasn’t paid much attention to by high levels. Since the founding of new China, its development was delayed again due to various reasons.

China’s modern abacus math education benefits from the visits and exchanges after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, when China began to pay attention to abacus math; in recent years, with relaxed policy, the folk abacus mental math education and promotion have been developed, and abacus math began to attract more and more attention gradually. After the application for intangible cultural heritage of abacus, the value of abacus math is gradually recognized by the public. This year, Shandong Provincial Education Department and Shandong Province Finance Bureau jointly issued Notice on Experimental Work of Abacus Mental Math Education of Primary and Secondary School Students, and some provincial education departments are paying more and more attention to abacus mental math education.

Abacus math, a name card of Chinese culture to the world

 “The essence of Shenmo lies in the traditional Chinese culture it embodies; for example, the abacus mental math course is based on a calculation tool handed down for generations. The abacus is the earliest computer in the world, which enriches the spirit and wisdom of thousands of years of Chinese civilization.    
Figure: In November 2014, the general president of Shenmo was explaining Chinese abacus math and abacus mental math in San Diego State University of the US.

In 2014, Mianjun Li, the founder of Shenmo Education and professional competitor of abacus math, introduced the amazing Chinese abacus math to more than 200 students at the University of California of the US; at earlier time in the International Education Expert Forum organized by the Confucius Institute in the US, as well as in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, as long as Mianjun Li spoke of Chinese abacus math, it could always cause extensive discussion. Of course, in Mianjun Li’s opinion, abacus math is not only a skill, but also the way of training knowledge-action unity abilities. He summed that abacus math training was a process of “obtaining the law through practicing skills, and the law reflects skills”. In terms of the law, Mianjun Li explained that the law was hidden after the phenomenon. Law exists everywhere from a job to the nature, and abacus math and abacus mental math training have the effect of helping people to see the law behind the phenomenon, which is consistent with the conclusion of American Institute of Brain Neuroscience got from abacus mental math researches: children who have been trained in abacus mental math have significant advantages in “quick access to information, quick processing of information, and quick removal of unwanted information”, and these advantages are essential for one’s growth.

American Chinese mathematician Guanping Cheng said in A Magic Feature of Abacus Math, after teaching children to do arithmetic with abacus math, a surprising result was obtained: Western arithmetic is based on Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3 ..., coupled by the use of abstract symbols; however, for many children, it was difficult to interpret abstract symbols, which had become a major obstacle to the improvement of American children’s math abilities. This situation also appeared in the classroom in which children learn English letters. Since the letters are abstract symbols, some children found them difficult to be identified, who were considered to suffer “dyslexia”; however, when they were taught Chinese characters, such as “人,大,小,山”, etc., children can not only write them down, but also understand their meanings. So the mystery of “dyslexia” was exposed. In fact, those children who found it difficult to learn arithmetic and English letters have no problem in language function of the brain, and they just cannot accept the abstract English symbols; while Chinese is pictographic, so it is easy for children to learn.

Doing arithmetic with Chinese abacus math is the same: the calculation process is pushing beads, which is a concrete and continuous conversion, rather than abstract operation. In the US, kindergarten children at the age of 4-5 years old can accept such way of teaching and can learn arithmetic. In that way, teaching children mathematics with abacus math can make the age of American children learning arithmetic decreased from 10 to 5 years old, and children can receive mathematics education five years in advance.

Abacus math is causing more and more attention of international scholars and experts; Mundell, the Nobel Prize winner and “the father of the euro”, visited Shenmo Abacus Math Museum, and said that: “Shenmo leads us into the historical and cultural world of magic Chinese abacus math!” Chinese abacus math may have become a new name card of Chinese culture.

NEXT:

Mental abacus—the first gas station on my journey of success On Sep 18, 2014 >

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