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The Evolution of Abacus in China

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The Evolution of Abacus in China

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History of Abacus

Perhaps abacus is one of the wonderful inventions of time. Its simplicity but the complex functions that it can do are still a wonder among many mathematicians. The origin of abacus in the form of counting boards and the pebble counting system dates back to the before Christ era.

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This small piece of invention had substantially boosted the trades and tax collection at that time. So this news abacus had spread to Europe and then with the help of merchants spread to the Japan. In Japanese the abacus is called as the soroban. Later in the next decade, this abacus reached China through Korea and evolved a new form in itself. In China it was called as the suanpan.

The abacus as we know was chronicled in China in the year Circa 1200 A.D. This classic form of abacus has 2 beads on the upper deck and 5 on the lower deck. This kind of 2/5 style abacus survived till 1850 and after that one of the upper beads have disappeared.

Many scholars think that the Europeans have brought the abacus to the east. If you see both the Chinese and the roman abacus have a vertical orientation and the number of beads also equals. The only difference might be in the minor variation in calculation and denomination of the higher digits.


Suanpan is the Chinese version of abacus and needless to say, the suanpan had given a new definition of abacus. It is considered to be the foundation of a modern day abacus, as it is one of the earliest abacus with beads. You might wonder why it is called with such a strange name. The mandarin term suanpan means a calculating plate.

The construction of suanpan was mostly made in wood, like a counting board except the fact that there are evidences that some of the richest Chinese merchants used a steel board as the base for the abacus. For reasons unknown, the suanpan went with a major change in 1930 by removing one of the five lower beads and leaving it with a ¼ abacus. Later this particular construction was adapted by the Japanese soroban.

While coming to the origin of Chinese abacus there are two schools of thought. There are a set of people who think that the suanpan was developed from the Chinese counting rod which was a common method of calculating in most of the civilizations at that time.

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If this is one of the theories the most of the people think that the frequent silk trade from China to Korea and Japan had helped the merchants to copy the method of calculations done at these places and implement a similar method in China.

Next Page: Soroban - Suanpan Comparison

Next: Mayan Abacus and Chinese Abacus

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