Simplicity in number naming in a language (e.g. 'ten-two' in Chinese is simpler than the irregular 'twelve' in English) has been used to explain cross-cultural disparities in children's computational competence. In contrast to previous research focusing only on whether children can provide the correct answers, in this study (N = 117 and 92) we examined Chinese pre-schoolers' computational strategies in depth and individually so as to examine their understanding of the base-10 system and place value. The results showed that despite the fact that many can give the correct answers, there is strong evidence that Chinese pre-schoolers do not have adequate understanding of the base-10 number system and place value, suggesting that the advantages of the simpler number-naming system are limited. Copyright © 2005 Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business.