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  • Gordon Dumoulin

Ancient wisdom in today’s Chinese education

Ancient techniques and wisdom in today’s Chinese primary education


Last week I recorded my son’s online math homework (grade 2 primary school) while he was learning calculation with a bead arithmetic device (abacus). Arithmetic is the study of numbers and bead arithmetic techniques have been in use in among others China, Russia, Middle East and Europe centuries before the adoption of the written Hindu–Arabic numeral system.


The famous abacus in China is the suanpan (算盘), first described in a 190 CE book of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The word "abacus" was first mentioned by Xu Yue (160–220) in his book suanshu jiyi (算数记遗), or Notes on Traditions of Arithmetic Methods, in Han Dynasty.

The Suanpan has undergone many evolutions and expansions of new techniques. Traditional suanpan arithmetic was still being taught in Chinese schools until the 1990’s when calculators were widespread available and affordable. The bead arithmetic classes today in schools are primarily focused on developing consciousness for numbers and a stepping stone to faster, analytical and mental arithmetic capabilities.

There are even private schools teaching suanpan with national speed competitions.

learning aid and a stepping stone to faster and more accurate mental arithmetic, or as a matter of cultural preservation. Accountants and financial personnel had to pass certain graded examinations in bead arithmetic before they were qualified until early this century.


#china #chineseculture #chinesesociety #chineseeducation #crossculturalawareness #mentalcapacity

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