Welcome to baoku, the online learning library of the Confucius Institute at Mason. Baoku, in Chinese, means "treasure trove"—we hope that you find the site's useful information to be just that.

Traveling Trunk


The modern day abacus is a product of thousands of years of evolution. The first abacus (translates as “counting tray”) was used by shifting beans or stones along grooves in sand or on a piece of wood or metal. Since then, it has been made easily portable by a lightweight wooden frame, wires, and beads. The first Chinese abacus was documented in the 2nd century BC. (1).

The beads on an abacus are generally round and made of wood. A traditional abacus has seven beads in each row: two above the horizontal bar and five below (2). Calculations can be made by moving the beads with the thumb and forefinger towards the horizontal bar. The beads below the horizontal bar have a value of 1 and the beads above have a value of 5. The abacus is read from right to left (3).

Abacuses have proven useful as they are easily made, light weight, and give the answers quickly. People who are good at using an abacus can often do calculations just as quickly as a person using a calculator.

For instructions on how to use an abacus see the website: http://www.west-meet-east.com/abacus.htm (2).