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Ancient Abacus Remains Popular in Digital Age (1/2/2002)
Abacus, the oldest computer surviving more than 2,000 years, remains a favorite of Chinese in the digital age.

It is portable, uses no electricity, has no radiation, and can not be damaged by virus. The environmental-friendly calculator is prosperous as a complement of modern computer and is widely used in China's finance and accounting sectors.

Although the number of abacus makers drops every year to less than 200, many producers are beating their brains to develop new types of abacus.

Fu Xiaoyou, head of Shanxi Shengtian Industrial Co. Ltd. an abacus manufactory in north China, designed new abacus products with the aid of modern computer. The new abacus, looking like a keyboard, has entered the markets of Singapore and Japan.

In Chinese banks, abacus can usually be seen put aside with computers. And the employees in banks must pass the examination of calculation with abacus.

Wang Hui, a clerk of the Shanxi branch of the Agricultural Bank of China, said that, "Abacus is indispensable to our daily work, because it is more convenient than computer in small calculations."

According to the China Abacus Association, more than one million Chinese take part in the abacus examination every year.

The ancient calculator has also played an important role in China's scientific research. When China developed its first nuclear bomb more than 30 years ago, thousands of data were calculated with abacus.

The teaching of calculation with abacus is still popular in primary schools, because it is found that children are cleverer after learning calculation with abacus. In the education, abacus operation has been developed into mental calculation.

Shen Songnian, a teacher who has engaged in the experimental education for many years in east China's Shanghai, has published textbooks on abacus in Chinese, English and Japanese.

For others, abacus' collection value has surpassed its usage value.

Forty-six-year-old Zhou Guanglin invested two million yuan (241, 000 U.S. dollars) to build an abacus museum in Qixian County in North China's Shanxi Province.

Zhou said that during the Ming and Qing dynasties from 14 to 19 centuries, China's richest businessmen gathered in the province. The merchants started their business from learning abacus.

A great variety of abacuses made of gold, jade, bamboo, porcelain and other materials are housed in Zhou's museum. The largest one is six meters long and must be operated by many people. While the smallest one is only one centimeter long and is made into a finger ring.

"My aim of building this museum is to help people understand China's unique abacus culture," said Zhou.

A similar exhibition room can be found in China's largest commercial city Shanghai. More than 1,000 abacuses of various kinds collected by Chen Baoding during 60 years are shown in the small museum.