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The Evolution of Abacus in China

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Soroban - Suanpan Comparison

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Soroban - Suanpan Comparison

It is very unlikely for the suanpan to be developed from the counting rods used in ancient China. When we study the basic structure and construction of these two it seem to be a remote possibility. The counting boards were used in china as early as the Circa 500 AD and the suanpan was developed over a time frame of Circa 1200 to 1600 AD.

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This reveals a lot of gap in the development which is not possible. While on the other hand, the Japanese counterpart of suanpan, soroban was also widely used in the East around that time. In fact you can say that there is no much change in the construction of suanpan and the soroban.

When the early soroban does not give a room for zero and the decimal system, the suanpan catered for such needs. It is believed that the interaction of Chinese merchants with the Indian and Islamic merchants gave them an idea of zero and the decimal system which they incorporated in the revised soroban or the suanpan.

The End of the Evolution

When we read through the golden pages of the history it is clear that the suanpan had gone through continuous changes and it was modified from dynasty to dynasty, but all these changes only made it to be the modern day abacus.

The addition of zero and decimal system to the counting system during the Tang dynasty made a phenomenal change in the counting operation and the various horizons the abacus could rule. It could be seen that the modification of the abacus continued till 1930 when it was converted to be a ¼ abacus.

The developed trade relations of China in the ancient and the medieval period had seen a great development of the abacus. Perhaps that might be the reason why the modern day abacus is present and it so widely known.

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There are a few references in the old books in Chinese history about the abacus but since no specific reference about suanpan is given we are left to believe that, it could only be the mention of counting board and the suanpan came into China from Korea and Japan.

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