Huangshan City in Anhui Province may soon own China's latest addition to its national intangible cultural heritage. The status may soon be awarded to the "abacus culture," comprised of a large collection of abacus books including the Suan Fa Tong Zong (General Survey of Algorithm) by Cheng Dawei, the great master of zhusuan (reckoning by the abacus), different abaci as well as abacus calculation methods.
The Chinese abacus is a simple device for performing mathematical calculations. The abacus can perform addition, subtraction, division and multiplication; it can also be used to obtain square roots and cubic roots at great speed.
Cheng Dawei (1533-1606), a native of Xiuning County in Anhui, compiled Suan Fa Tong Zong in 1592, gathering all the great achievements in abacus lore prior to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He also completed abaci formulae that sped up the development of China's zhusuan and mathematics.
The general abacus is made of wood, but a large variety exist for display and collecting purposes, such as the crystal, ivory, carnelian and jade abaci. In Cheng's former residence, many abaci are displayed, ranging from the smallest -- a finger ring abacus, to the biggest -- a door-shaped one.
The abacus is still used today by some shopkeepers in Asia and in Chinatowns abroad. Some Asian schools still teach students how to use the abacus.
Starting from September 23, activities commemorating the 400th anniversary of Cheng's death will be held in Huangshan, including a big commemoration conference, a seminar on international abacus calculation theories as well as a national children's abacus competition.
(China.org.cn by Wang Qian, August 31, 2006)