What is a suanpan?
The suanpan is an abacus (a calculating tool) of Chinese origin 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, the exact design of this suanpan is not known. Usually, a suanpan is about 20 cm (8 in) tall and it comes in various widths depending on the application. It usually has more than seven rods. There are two beads on each rod in the upper deck and five beads on each rod in the bottom deck. This configuration is used for both decimal and hexadecimal computation. The beads are usually rounded and made of a hardwood.
The beads are counted by moving them up or down towards the beam. The suanpan can be reset to the starting position instantly by a quick jerk around the horizontal axis to spin all the beads away from the horizontal beam at the center.