History of soroban

The soroban a calculating device that is derived from the ancient Chinese abacus. Some sources say the abacus was invented in Mesopotamia or Greece about 2,600 years ago and that the Chinese copied it via interactions along the Silk Route. However, the earliest abacus was developed in China about 5,000 years ago. It was built out of wood and beads. It could be held and carried around easily. The Chinese abacus (called suanpan in Chinese) was  first described in a 190 CE book of the Eastern Han Dynasty, namely Supplementary Notes on the Art of Figures written by Xu Yue.  However, in the sophisticated form that we know today was an innovation during the late Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the early Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368). Lu Ban Mu Jing gave the most detailed description of the making and specifics of the abacus. The abacus drawn in the Shuxue Tonggui by Ke Shangqian in the 16th century was the same as current abacus. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), abaci became popular and spread to East Asian countries.

Known as the Fifth Invention of Ancient China, the abacus can perform addition, subtraction, division and multiplication; it can also be used to obtain square roots and cubic roots. The abacus was so successful that its use spread form China to many other countries. The abacus does not actually do the computing, as today’s calculators do. It helps people keep track of numbers as they do the computing.

Invention Milestones:

  • The earliest counting device was the human hand and its fingers.
  • Early man counted by means of matching one set of objects with another set (stones and sheep).- – Early tables, named abaci, formalized counting and introduced the concept of positional notation.
  • c3000BC An early form of the abacus, built using beads strung on wires is used in China
  • 2700–2300 BC saw the first appearance of the Sumerian abacus, a table of successive columns which delimited the successive orders of magnitude of their sexagesimal number system
  • c1000 BC Chinese counting boards originated
  • c500 BC Greeks and Romans are using counting devices based on the same principles as the abacus
  • c300 BC the Salamis tablet (originally thought to be a gaming board), a marble slab counting board used by the Babylonians circa 300 B.C., discovered in 1846 on the island of Salamis.
  • c300 AD The Chinese begin development of the abacus as a mathematical device
  • c500 AD The abacus is used in Europe
  • The Chinese abacus is said have emerged in Korea around 1400 AD. Koreans call it jupan, supan or jusan
  • In 1592, Cheng Da Wei published the Suanfa tong zong (General source of computational methods). The Chinese abacus and zhusuan (reckoning by the abacus) are known to have been created by a famous mathematician Cheng Dawei of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), who is known as “the great master of zhusuan”. (In Japan, he is worshipped as “the God of Arithmetics,” and August 8 was established as the “abacus festival” in commemoration of him.) This timeframe is strange because the Korean Chinese-derived abacus is said to have arrived a hundred years earlier…suggesting that the abacus predates Cheng Da Wei’s invention.
  • The Japanese are believed to have been imported the abacus or soroban (算盤, そろばん, lit. “Counting tray”), from China around 1600.
  • 17th c. drawing of a Roman abacusreveals its usage (see abacus-online-museum) and similarity to the Japanese 1/4 abacus.
  • The 1/4 abacus, which is suited to decimal calculation, appeared ca. 1930, which became widespread as the Japanese abandoned hexadecimal weight calculation that was still common in China.

For more visit: The invention of Abacus or Soroban