What is the Chinese Multiplication Method?

Instructor: Mark Boster
Some people use their fingers to help them do multiplication. Some use x's or other marks. There is even a lattice method. However, the most interesting and easiest one seems to be the Chinese Method.

Sticks and Squirrels

Devon and his father were out in the country and decided to go on a twelve-mile horse ride. Devon counted twenty-one squirrels in the first mile, twenty-one in the second mile and twenty-one in each of the other miles. They were wondering how many squirrels they saw; however, they didn't have a piece of paper to multiply. Luckily, Devon did find some sticks and showed his father how to multiply with sticks. You want to know how he did that? Well, just hang on!

Chinese Multiplication Method

The Chinese Method, also known as the stick multiplication method, uses sticks to solve multiplication problems.

Diagram One
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Look at Diagram One. First, Devon laid sticks beginning on the bottom left for the number 21. He put 2 red sticks for the tens place and 1 black stick for the ones place.

Then he laid out sticks beginning at the top left for the number 12, placing them diagonally on top of the first sticks. He used 1 red stick for the tens place and 2 black for the ones place.

Next, Devon divided the sticks into three sections (gray lines) - one for each place value. Let's see how he did that:

  • Since the black lines represent the ones place, he found where the black lines crossed. Since they both are black, and are ones, 1 x 1 = 1. This is the ones column.
  • Since the red lines are the tens place, and 10 x 10 = 100, that would be the hundreds column.
  • Where the red and black cross (the middle column), 10 x 1 = 10, so that is the tens column.

Finally, he counted the times the sticks crossed each other in each section (blue dots). He started his counting in the ones place (the furthest right). He counted 2 dots and put a 2 in the circle. He counted 5 dots in the tens place and 2 dots in the hundreds place. Devon was able to use sticks to show that 21 x 12 = 252!

Pretty easy, huh?

But What about Larger Numbers?

Look at Diagram Two

Diagram Two
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Beginning at the bottom left, there are 4 hundreds, 3 tens and 3 ones. Those are crossed, starting at the top left, with the 1 ten and the 2 ones.

They are separated into place value by multiplying the place value of the lines, just like in the example above. This time, however, we also have a place value of 100 x 10 = 1000, so that is the thousands column.

OK, go ahead and count where the lines cross in each section.

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