Chinese Zhusuan, knowledge and practices of mathematical calculation through the abacus
Inscribed in 2013 (8.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- Chinese Zhusuan, knowledge and practices of mathematical calculation through the abacus
Chinese Zhusuan is a time-honoured traditional method of performing mathematical calculations with an abacus. Practitioners can perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponential multiplication, root and more complicated equations by moving beads along the abacus rods according to defined formulas. Chinese Zhusuan has played a vital role in giving an impetus to mathematical studies, promoting algorithmic practices and fostering intelligence. Zhusuan oral formulas have easy-to-learn rhymes that represent specific calculation rules and summarize the arithmetic operations. Beginners can make quick calculations after some fairly basic training, while proficient practitioners develop an agile mind. Zhusuan is widely used in Chinese life and is an important symbol of traditional Chinese culture, providing a strong sense of cultural identity. It has been handed down through generations by traditional methods of oral teaching and self-learning. Training in abacus-based mental arithmetic is thought to improve a child’s attention span, memory and mental capability. Today, it contributes to the advancement of calculating techniques, cognitive schemas, educational psychology and intellectual development. It also has a far-reaching influence in various fields of cultural creativity, including folk customs, language, literature, sculpture and architecture.
Decision 8.COM 8.8
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:
- R.1: Zhusuan is considered by Chinese people as a cultural symbol of their identity as well as a practical tool; transmitted from generation to generation, it is a calculating technique adapted to multiple aspects of daily life, serving multiform socio-cultural functions and offering the world an alternative knowledge system;
- R.2: Inscription of Chinese Zhusuan on the Representative List could contribute to enhancing visibility of the intangible cultural heritage and promote respect for human creativity, particularly as an example of adaptability to contemporary needs;
- R.3: Current efforts to protect and promote Chinese Zhusuan are described and proposed safeguarding measures such as the publication of research on the element, the creation of manuals, and its promotion through contests, demonstrations and seminars are supported by the State Party and organizations concerned;
- R.4: The element has been nominated with the active participation in particular of the Chinese Abacus and Mental Arithmetic Association, as well as of bearers, scholars, organizations, and in cooperation with regional and national authorities; the communities provided their free, prior and informed consent;
- R.5: Chinese Zhusuan was included in 2008 on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage maintained by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website