Milestone-Proposal:The Abacus

Revision as of 15:59, 12 December 2013 by Administrator1 (talk | contribs)

Docket #:2013-30

This proposal has been submitted for review.

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution) Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

before 570 A.D.

Title of the proposed milestone:

The Abacus, before 570 A.D.

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The abacus, which was already used in China by 570 A.D. the latest according to historical records, is the first calculating mechanism known to us. A typical abacus is constructed as a bamboo frame with beads sliding on rods. An abacus helps people keep the track of numbers as they calculate, and its invention was the first step towards to the design of automatic calculators.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Senior Officer Name: Senior officer name masked to public

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Beijing
IEEE Section Chair name: Section chair name masked to public

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Proposer's name masked to public
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

6 Kexueyuan Nan Road, Haidian District, Beijing, China 100190

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need.

The building belongs to the Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

It is expected that the plaque location will be the square outside front door of the ICT building.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The plaque will be very near the front door of ICT building, and there are 24-hour security guards. Anybody could visit the plaque at anytime without the need to make an appointment.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

A letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property:


A letter or email from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application:

File:Beijing Section Permission.pdf

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

The Chinese abacus, which likes the compass, gunpowder, paper-making and printing, is one of the Chinese inventions. A typical Chinese abacus is constructed as a bamboo frame with several wires. The number of wires is not fixed and usually between nine and fifteen. On each wire, there are seven sliding beads separated into two groups by a horizontal beam. The first group, which is above the beam, has two beads each of which counted as 5. The other group, on the other hand, is below the beam and has five beads each of which counted as 1. By moving the beads up and down, the abacus can not only do addition and subtraction, but also do multiplication and division easily. The Chinese abacus has a great impact on the computing technology due to its two important features. First, it adopts the quinary system different from the decimal system, which is much earlier than the electronic computer's binary system and proves that the non-decimal system could be built efficiently. More importantly, abacus is naturally "float" -- the position of the decimal point can be set arbitrary, thus greatly expand the range of operands.

The Chinese abacus, which has a history of thousands of years, is widely used in stores before the electrical calculators became popular in China. As for the history of Chinese abacus, Needham has given a comprehensive and rigorous examination in his book, namely the Science & Civilisation in China [1]. Here, we briefly summarize the conclusions. The first complete description of the abacus in its modern form appears in Chhéng Ta-Wei’s book Suan Fa Thung Tsung in 1593 [2]. However, Goodrich showed that the earliest illustration of Chinese abacus is in the Hsin Pien Tui Hsiang Ssu Yen in 1436 [3]. Needham also pointed out that Shu Shu Chi I is the first book which described the abacus in 190 by Hsü Yo (or in 570 by its commentator, Chen Luan) [1]. Furthermore, there are some interesting clues to prove the long history of abacus. For example, there is a famous painting, whose name is “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” [4], clearly shows that the Chinese abacus is widely used by the ancient merchants in the Song dynasty which is 1,000 years ago.

Finally, the Chinese abacus has an important historical position in China and also has a far-reaching influence on the world. The abacus since Ming dynasty spread over many countries, such as Japan, Korea, United States and Russia. Especially in Japan, the abacus was greatly valued. "Reading, writing and using abacus" became the requirement for basic knowledge and skills of Japan's national elementary education. In 2007, the Chinese abacus was both voted as the most important one among the 101 and 50 inventions that influenced the development of human beings respectively by British newspaper the Independent [5] and the Indian newspaper Times of India [6]. Recently, China's Zhusuan that is the knowledge and practice of arithmetic calculation using an abacus, has been nominated as a candidate by UNESCO to be listed as World Intangible Cultural Heritage [7].

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

There are historical references to the Abacus in ancient Sumeria, as well as being in use in Ancient Greece and Rome Ancient Computers

References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.

[1]. Needham, Joseph. “Science & Civilisation in China”, Vol. III, Mathematics, Cambridge University Press, 1959.

[2]. Chhéng Ta-Wei. “Suan Fa Thung Tsung”, in Chinese, 1593. (《算法统宗》,(明)程大位著,1593年刊行)

[3]. Goodrich, L. Carrington. “The Abacus in China”, ISIS, 1948.

[4]. Along the river during the Qingming festival, China Online Museum,

[5]. 101 of the Greatest Inventions of All Time,

[6]. 50 inventions that changed the world,


Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.