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The Story of the Chinese Abacus


Rare Treasures among the Chinese Abacus Family

Having gone through a long history, the Chinese abacus family includes a great number of interesting and rare members. Without a doubt, every treasure of a particular color, material and shape is a gem of the craftsman’s wisdom. The materials used for producing abaci include ivory, elephant bone, rosewood, Brazilian rosewood, ox horn, bronze, iron, bamboo and so on. Made from various materials, the abaci are designed into different forms to meet all kinds of needs of the operators. Below are some remarkable pieces of abacus work.

Echeloned Abaci

This is an echelon which consists of five abaci, of which every abacus has one more rod than the one above it. Usually, abaci in this set use rhombic beads, and have only one bead above the horizontal beams. The rod number from the above abacus to the bottom one is normally four, five, six, seven and eight. So the set has 150 beads in total.

The advantage of the echelon is best evidenced when the operator is doing complicated reckoning. He can calculate the results of different tiers with different abaci, and do the final calculation with the eight-rod abacus at the bottom. This system can, on the one hand, reduce errors, and on the other, avoid the trouble of resetting the same abacus over and over again. At the same time, as this echelon is often put on the writing desk, it serves as an illustration of a motto that Chinese intellectuals used to put on their table for self-motivation, because the set of the abaci forms a shape of a ladder, which symbolizes the drive to go higher and higher in one’s studies.

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