SHENMO MOTTO: Virtue & Wisdom


Into the Chinese abacus culture

2016-08-19 丨

The writer is from the Ministry of culture development

Abacus mental math derives from the Chinese Abacus, the world intangible cultural heritage, was invented about 2600 years ago, and is known as the world’s fifth great invention. The UK has selected “101 small inventions that changed the world”, which greatly promoted the progress of all human beings, and in the list, abacus ranks the first.

Abacus had far-reaching influence in ancient China, just as the computer in today’s society. In the four ancient civilizations of the ancient world, China’s mathematics has the longest boom period and reached the peak in about 1400 years of history from around AD to the 14th century. Unlike the Greek classical mathematics centering on proving the theorem, the ancient Chinese mathematics took creating algorithms, especially various algorithms of solving equations, as main line, and solving the practical problems as a guide, which was characterized by obvious algorithmization and mechanization. Abacus is one of the crystallization of wisdom of ancient Chinese mathematics and has far-reaching influence, just as the influence that the computer has in today’s society. There are many scientific and technological achievements related to Abacus, for example, in the current used calendar, Gregorian calendar, each tropical year is 365.2425 days; however, in the use of the abacus, Chinese people had obtained this accurate numerical value 400 years earlier than Gregorian calendar; to obtain the equal temperament, the 12th root of 2 must be calculated, and also in the use of the abacus, the Chinese people successfully calculated this value 100 years earlier than the West and mastered this secret of music; the data used in the explosion of China’s first atomic bomb was also calculated in the use of the abacus.

From the 16th century to the popularity of modern electronic computer, the abacus was always the most important calculation method of the Chinese people. Whether for small-scale shops, or the state-controlled astronomy, architecture, finance, transportation, and overseas trade, the abacus is indispensable.

The various elements of the abacus are also used as symbols in the language, literature, architecture, painting, sculpture and other fields, and even extend to the all aspects of daily production and life. Some mnemonic rhymes are even directly used as proverbs. For example, “to add 3, add 5 and minus 2” is an abacus mnemonic rhyme, which is used to describe neat and quick in Chinese later.

In Chinese cultural concept, the simple and unadorned abacus epitomizes the ancient Chinese people’s understanding of the universe, society, and life: to advance when it’s full, to fill up when it’s vacant; the abacus also reflects balance of the nature: heaven diminishes where there is superabundance, and supplements where there is deficiency.

The distribution of the upper and lower rod contains the three most typical mathematical system, namely, the binary system, quinary system and decimalism; by combining the simple motion of moving the beads up and down with a few simple mnemonic rhymes, the abacus can also achieve the complex calculation, such as power, extraction of a root, etc. This is a kind of simple thinking that complies with the rules and makes hard things simple, as well as contains the yin and yang changing rules and the wisdom of interaction with others of Chinese people.

The abacus contains the characters of low-key, rigorous, cautious, and endeavoring in exploration of Chinese people and to search for the wisdom of Tao in the numbers is the typical personality of the Chinese nation. With the transmission of the abacus and other Chinese culture to the world, the cultural quintessence of Chinese nation also influences people all over the world from all aspects.


Shandong Linyi Shenmmo abacus mental arithmetic museum opens On Jun 19, 2017 >

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