# Chinese units of measurement

(Redirected from Chinese measurements)
Chinese units of measurement
Chinese市制
Literal meaningmarket system

Chinese units of measurement, known in Chinese as the shìzhì ("market system"), are the traditional units of measurement of the Han Chinese. Although Chinese numerals have been decimal (base-10) since the Shang, several Chinese measures use hexadecimal (base-16).[citation needed] Local applications have varied, but the Chinese dynasties usually proclaimed standard measurements and recorded their predecessor's systems in their histories.

In the present day, the People's Republic of China maintains some customary units based upon the market units but standardized to round values in the metric system, for example the common jin or catty of exactly 500 g. The Chinese name for most metric units is based on that of the closest traditional unit; when confusion might arise, the word "market" (, shì) is used to specify the traditional unit and "common" or "public" (, gōng) is used for the metric value. Taiwan, like Korea, saw its traditional units standardized to Japanese values and their conversion to a metric basis, such as the Taiwanese ping of about 3.306 m2 based on the square ken. The Hong Kong SAR continues to use its traditional units, now legally defined based on a local equation with metric units. For instance, the Hong Kong catty is precisely 604.78982 g.

Note: The names ( or ) and fēn () for small units are the same for length, area, and mass; however, they refer to different kinds of measurements.

## History

According to the Liji, the legendary Yellow Emperor created the first measurement units. The Xiao Erya and the Kongzi Jiayu state that length units were derived from the human body. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, these human body units caused inconsistency, and Yu the Great, another legendary figure, unified the length measurements. Rulers with decimal units have been unearthed from Shang dynasty tombs.

In the Zhou dynasty, the king conferred nobles with powers of the state and the measurement units began to be inconsistent from state to state. After the Warring States period, Qin Shi Huang unified China, and later standardized measurement units. In the Han dynasty, these measurements were still being used, and were documented systematically in the Book of Han.

Astronomical instruments show little change of the length of chi in the following centuries, since the calendar needed to be consistent. It was not until the introduction of decimal units in the Ming dynasty that the traditional system was revised.

### Republican Era

On 7 January 1915, the Beiyang government promulgated a measurement law to use not only metric system as the standard but also a set of Chinese-style measurement based directly on the Qing dynasty definitions (营造尺库平制).[1]

On 16 February 1929, the Nationalist government adopted and promulgated The Weights and Measures Act[2] to adopt the metric system as the official standard and to limit the newer Chinese units of measurement (Chinese: 市用制; pinyin: shìyòngzhì; lit. 'market-use system') to private sales and trade in Article 11, effective on 1 January 1930. These newer "market" units are based on rounded metric numbers.[3]

### People's Republic of China

The Government of the People's Republic of China continued using the market system along with metric system, as decreed by the State Council of the People's Republic of China on 25 June 1959, but 1 catty being 500 grams, would become divided into 10 (new) taels, instead of 16 (old) taels, to be converted from province to province, while exempting Chinese prescription drugs from the conversion to prevent errors.[4]

On 27 February 1984, the State Council of the People's Republic of China decreed the market system to remain acceptable until the end of 1990 and ordered the transition to the national legal measures by that time, but farmland measures would be exempt from this mandatory metrication until further investigation and study.[5]

### Hong Kong

In 1976 the Hong Kong Metrication Ordinance allowed a gradual replacement of the system in favor of the International System of Units (SI) metric system.[6] The Weights and Measures Ordinance defines the metric, Imperial, and Chinese units.[7] As of 2012, all three systems are legal for trade and are in widespread use.

### Macau

On 24 August 1992, Macau published Law No. 14/92/M to order that Chinese units of measurement similar to those used in Hong Kong, Imperial units, and United States customary units would be permissible for five years since the effective date of the Law, 1 January 1993, on the condition of indicating the corresponding SI values, then for three more years thereafter, Chinese, Imperial, and US units would be permissible as secondary to the SI.[8]

## Ancient Chinese units

### Length

Traditional units of length include the chi (), bu (), and li (). The precise length of these units, and the ratios between these units, has varied over time. 1 bu has consisted of either 5 or 6 chi, while 1 li has consisted of 300 or 360 bu.

Length in metres[9]
dynasty chi bu li
= 5 chi = 6 chi = 300 bu = 360 bu
Shang (c. 1600 – c. 1045 BC) 0.1675 1.0050 301.50
0.1690 1.0140 304.20
Western Zhou (c. 1045–771 BC) 0.1990 1.1940 358.20
Eastern Zhou (c. 771–256 BC) 0.2200 1.3200 396.00
0.2270 1.3620 408.60
0.2310 1.3860 415.80
Qin (c. 221–206 BC) 0.2260 1.3560 406.80[10] 415.80[11][12]
0.2381 1.4286 415.80[13] 415.80[11][12] 428.58 [10]
Wei - Sui (c. 220–266 AD; 581 to 618 AD) 0.2550 1.5300 459.00
0.2955 1.4775 443.25 531.90
Song (c. 960–1279 AD) 0.2700 1.3500 405.00 486.00
Northern Song (c. 960–1127 AD) 0.3080 1.5400 462.00 554.40
Ming (c. 1368–1644 AD) 0.3008–0.3190 1.5040–1.5950 451.20–478.50 541.44–574.20
Qing (c. 1636–1912 AD) 0.3080–0.3352 1.5400–1.6760 462.00–503.89 554.40–603.46

## Modern Chinese units

All "metric values" given in the tables are exact unless otherwise specified by the approximation sign '~'.

Certain units are also listed at List of Chinese classifiers → Measurement units.

### Length

#### Chinese length units promulgated in 1915

Table of Chinese length units promulgated in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo 110000 32 µm 0.00126 in
(T) or (S) 11000 0.32 mm 0.0126 in
fēn 1100 3.2 mm 0.126 in
cùn 110 32 mm 1.26 in Chinese inch
chǐ 1 0.32 m 12.6 in Chinese foot
5 1.6 m 5.2 ft Chinese pace
zhàng 10 3.2 m 3.50 yd Chinese yard
yǐn 100 32 m 35.0 yd
1800 576 m 630 yd Chinese mile, this li is not the small li above,
which has a different character and tone

#### Chinese length units effective in 1930

Table of Chinese length units effective in 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo 110 000 33+13 µm 0.00131 in Chinese mil
(T) or (S) 11000 13 mm 0.0131 in Chinese calibre
fēn 市分 1100 3+13 mm 0.1312 in Chinese line
cùn 市寸 110 3+13 cm 1.312 in Chinese inch
chǐ 市尺 1 33+13 cm 13.12 in Chinese foot
zhàng 市丈 10 3+13 m 3.645 yd Chinese yard
yǐn 100 33+13 m 36.45 yd Chinese chain

which has a different character and tone

#### Metric length units

The Chinese word for metre is ; this can take the Chinese standard SI prefixes (for "kilo-", "centi-", etc.). A kilometre, however, may also be called 公里 gōnglǐ, i.e. a metric .

In the engineering field, traditional units are rounded up to metric units. For example, the Chinese word (T) or (S) is used to express 0.01 mm.

Table of Chinese length units in engineering
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
11000000 1 µm Authorized name: 微米
(T) or (S) 1100000 10 µm Authorized name: 忽米
háo 110000 100 µm Authorized name: 絲米 (T) or 丝米 (S)
(T) or (S) 11000 1 mm Authorized name: 毫米
fēn 公分 1100 10 mm Authorized name: 釐米(T) or 厘米(S)
cùn 公寸 110 100 mm Authorized name: 分米
chǐ 公尺 1 1 m Authorized name:

which has a different character and tone

#### Hong Kong and Macau length units

Table of Chinese length units in Hong Kong[7] and Macau[8]
Jyutping Character English Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
fan1 fan condorim 1100 3.71475 mm 0.1463 in
cyun3 tsun ponto 110 37.1475 mm 1.463 in Hong Kong and Macau inch
cek3 chek côvado 1 371.475 mm 1.219 ft Hong Kong and Macau foot

These correspond to the measures listed simply as "China" in The Measures, Weights, & Moneys of All Nations [14]

### Area

#### Chinese area units promulgated in 1915

Table of Chinese area units promulgated in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo 11000 0.6144 m2 0.7348 sq yd
(T) or (S) 1100 6.144 m2 7.348 sq yd
fēn 110 61.44 m2 73.48 sq yd
(T) or (S) 1 614.4 m2 734.82 sq yd Chinese acre, or 60 square zhang
qǐng (T) or (S) 100 6.144 ha 15.18 acre Chinese hide
Table of Chinese square units effective in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
fāng cùn 方寸 1100 10.24 cm2 1.587 sq in square cun
fāng chǐ 方尺 1 0.1024 m2 1.102 sq ft square chi
fāng zhàng 方丈 100 10.24 m2 110.2 sq ft square zhang

#### Chinese area units effective in 1930

Table of Chinese area units effective in 1930[3][failed verification]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo 11000 23 m2 7.18 sq ft
(T) or (S) 1100 6+23 m2 7.973 sq yd
fēn 市分 110 66+23 m2 79.73 sq yd
(T) or (S) 1 666+23 m2 797.3 sq yd
0.1647 acre
Chinese acre, 60 square zhang
1/15 of a hectare
qǐng (T) or (S) 100 6+23 ha 16.47 acre Chinese hide
Table of Chinese square units effective in 1930[3][failed verification]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
fāng cùn 方寸 1100 11+19 cm2 1.722 sq in square cun
fāng chǐ 方尺 1 19 m2 172.2 sq in
1.196 sq ft
square chi
fāng zhàng 方丈 100 11+19 m2 119.6 sq ft
13.29 sq yd
square zhang

#### Metric and other area units

Metric and other standard length units can be squared by the addition of the prefix 平方 píngfāng. For example, a square kilometre is 平方公里 píngfāng gōnglǐ.

#### Macau area units

Table of Chinese area units in Macau[8]
Jyutping Portuguese Character Relative value Relation to the Traditional Chinese Units (Macau) Metric value Imperial value
cek3 côvado 16000 125 0.1269 m2 1.366 sq ft
pou3 1240 14 3.1725 m2 34.15 sq ft
3.794 sq yd
zoeng6 braça 160 16 12.69 m2 136.6 sq ft
15.18 sq yd
fan1 condorim 110 110 76.14 m2 91.06 sq yd
mau5 maz (T) or (S) 1 None 761.4 m2 910.6 sq yd

### Volume

These units are used to measure cereal grains, among other things. In imperial times, the physical standard for these was the jialiang.

#### Chinese volume units promulgated in 1915

Table of Chinese volume units effective in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value US value Imperial value Notes
sháo 1100 10.354688 mL 0.3501 fl oz 0.3644 fl oz
110 103.54688 mL 3.501 fl oz 3.644 fl oz
shēng 1 1.0354688 L 2.188 pt 1.822 pt
dǒu 10 10.354688 L 2.735 gal 2.278 gal
50 51.77344 L 13.68 gal 11.39 gal
dàn 100 103.54688 L 27.35 gal 22.78 gal

#### Chinese volume units effective in 1930

Table of Chinese volume units effective in 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value US value Imperial value Notes
cuō 11000 1 mL 0.0338 fl oz 0.0352 fl oz millilitre
sháo 1100 10 mL 0.3381 fl oz 0.3520 fl oz centilitre
110 100 mL 3.381 fl oz 3.520 fl oz decilitre
shēng 市升 1 1 L 2.113 pt 1.760 pt litre
dǒu 市斗 10 10 L 21.13 pt
2.64 gal
17.60 pt
2.20 gal
decalitre
dàn 市石 100 100 L 26.41 gal 22.0 gal hectolitre

#### Metric volume units

In the case of volume, the market and metric shēng coincide, being equal to one litre as shown in the table. The Chinese standard SI prefixes (for "milli-", "centi-", etc.) may be added to this word shēng.

Units of volume can also be obtained from any standard unit of length using the prefix 立方 lìfāng ("cubic"), as in 立方米 lìfāng mǐ for one cubic metre.

#### Macau volume units

Table of Chinese volume units in Macau[8]
Jyutping Character Relation to the Traditional Chinese Units (Macau) Metric value
cyut3 110甘特 1.031 L
gam1 dak6 甘特 110 10.31 L
sek6 None 103.1 L

### Mass

These units are used to measure the mass of objects. They are also famous for measuring monetary objects such as gold and silver.

#### Chinese mass units promulgated in 1915

Table of Chinese mass units promulgated in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo 110000 3.7301 mg 0.0001316 oz
11000 37.301 mg 0.001316 oz cash
fēn 1100 373.01 mg 0.01316 oz candareen
qián 110 3.7301 g 0.1316 oz mace or Chinese dram
liǎng 1 37.301 g 1.316 oz tael or Chinese ounce
jīn 16 596.816 g 1.316 lb catty or Chinese pound

#### Mass units in the Republic of China since 1930

Table of mass units in the Republic of China since 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
11600000 312.5 µg 0.00001102 oz
háo 1160000 3.125 mg 0.0001102 oz

fēn 市分 11600 312.5 mg 0.01102 oz candareen
qián 市錢 1160 3.125 g 0.1102 oz mace or Chinese dram
liǎng 市兩 116 31.25 g 1.102 oz tael or Chinese ounce
jīn 市斤 1 500 g 1.102 lb catty or Chinese pound
dàn 100 50 kg 110.2 lb picul or Chinese hundredweight

#### Mass units in the People's Republic of China since 1959

Table of mass units in the People's Republic of China since 1959[4]
Pinyin Character[15] Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes

fēn 市分 11000 500 mg 0.01764 oz candareen
qián 市錢 1100 5 g 0.1764 oz mace or Chinese dram
liǎng 市兩 110 50 g 1.764 oz tael or Chinese ounce
jīn 市斤 1 500 g 1.102 lb catty or Chinese pound
formerly 16 liang = 1 jin
dàn 市擔 100 50 kg 110.2 lb picul or Chinese hundredweight

#### Metric mass units

The Chinese word for gram is ; this can take the Chinese standard SI prefixes (for "milli-", "deca-", and so on). A kilogram, however, is commonly called 公斤 gōngjīn, i.e. a metric jīn.

#### Hong Kong and Macau mass units

Table of Chinese mass units in Hong Kong[7] and Macau[8]
Jyutping Character English Portuguese Relative value Relation to the Traditional Chinese Units (Macau) Metric value Imperial value Notes
lei4 cash liz 116000 110 condorim 37.79931 mg 0.02133 dr Not defined in Hong Kong. Macanese definition may not be correct when dividing catty.
fan1 candareen (fan) condorim 11600 110 maz 377.9936375 mg 0.2133 dr Macanese definition of 377.9931 mg may not be correct when dividing catty.
cin4 mace (tsin) maz 1160 110 tael 3.779936375 g 2.1333 dr Macanese definition of 3.779931 g may not be correct when dividing catty.
loeng2 tael (leung) tael 116 116 cate 37.79936375 g 1.3333 oz Macanese definition of 37.79931 g may not be correct when dividing catty.
gan1 catty (kan) cate 1 1100 pico 604.78982 g 1.3333 lb Hong Kong and Macau share the definition.
daam3 picul (tam) pico 100 None 60.478982 kg 133.3333 lb Hong Kong and Macau share the definition.
Ding 1000 kg

#### Hong Kong troy units

These are used for trading precious metals such as gold and silver.

Table of mass (Hong Kong troy) units[7]
English Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
candareen troy 金衡分 1100 374.29 mg 0.096 drt
mace troy 金衡錢 110 3.7429 g 0.96 drt
tael troy 金衡兩 1 37.429 g 1.2 ozt

### Time

Table of time units
Pinyin Character Relative value Western value Notes
miǎo 144 milliseconds 1 second
fēn 100 miǎo 60 miǎo 14.4 seconds 1 minute
1 minor kè = 10 fēn 15 fēn 2 minutes 24 seconds 15 minutes kè was defined at 196, 1108, or 1120 day during the Liang dynasty, and established at 196 day after the Qing dynasty.
1 major kè = 60 fēn 14 minutes 24 seconds
diǎn (T)
(S)
100 fēn 60 fēn 24 minutes 1 hour
shí[16] (T)
(S)
8+13 4 kè 2 hours 1 hour the xiǎoshí(小時, lit. minor shí) is currently a unit used to express "hour" in order to avoid ambiguity
(pre-Qin) 10 kè 2 hours 24 minutes
shíchén 時辰 (T)

8+13 - 2 hours -
(pre-Qin) 10 kè 2 hours 24 minutes
xiǎoshí 小時 (T)

- 60 fēn - 1 hour
/ tiān 日/天 12 shíchén 24 xiǎoshí 24 hours 1 day

## Historiography

As there were hundreds of unofficial measures in use, the bibliography is quite vast. The editions of Wu Chenglou's 1937 History of Chinese Measurement[17] were the usual standard up to the 1980s or so, but rely mostly on surviving literary accounts. Newer research has put more emphasis on archeological discoveries.[18] Qiu Guangming & Zhang Yanming's 2005 bilingual Concise History of Ancient Chinese Measures and Weights summarizes these findings.[19] A relatively recent and comprehensive bibliography, organized by period studied, has been compiled in 2012 by Cao & al.;[20] for a shorter list, see Wilkinson's year 2000 Chinese History.[18]

## References

### Citations

1. "權度法 [Quándù Fǎ]", 政府公報 [Zhèngfǔ Gōngbào, Government Gazette], vol. No. 957, Beijing: Office of the President, 7 January 1915, pp. 85–94. (in Chinese)
2. ^
3. "The Weights and Measures Act (1929)". Legislative Yuan. Archived from the original on 2014-04-25.
4. ^ a b (in Chinese) 1959 Gazette of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, No. 180, pages 311 to 312
5. ^
6. ^ Yearbook HK. "Yearbook." Metrication. Retrieved on 26 April 2007.
7. ^ a b c d Cap. 68 WEIGHTS AND MEASURES ORDINANCE
8. Law No. 14/92/M ((in Chinese) 第14/92/M號法律; (in Portuguese) Lei n.o 14/92/M)
9. ^ Schinz, 1996
10. ^ a b Schinz, p. 476.
11. ^ a b Dubs (1938), pp. 276-280; (1955), p. 160, n. 7.
12. ^ a b Hulsewé (1961), pp. 206–207.
13. ^ Hill (2015), "About the Measurements", pp. xxiii-xxiv.
14. ^
15. ^ (in Chinese) 1959 Gazette of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, No. 180, page 316
16. ^
17. ^ 吳承洛 (1937), 《中國度量衡史》 [Zhōngguó Dùliànghéng Shǐ], 2nd ed. in 1957, 3rd ed. in 1993. (in Chinese)
18. ^ a b Wilkinson, Endymion (2000), Chinese History: A Manual (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, pp. 244–245, ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4.
19. ^ 丘光明 (2005), 张延明 (ed.), 《中国古代计量史图鉴》 [Zhōngguó Gǔdài Jìliàng Shǐ Tújiàn], Hefei: Hefei University Press, ISBN 7-81093-284-5. (in Chinese) & (in English)
20. ^ Cao Jin; et al. (2012), Chinese, Japanese and Western Research in Chinese Historical Metrology: A Classified Bibliography (1925-2012), Tübingen: Institute for Chinese and Korean Studies at the University of Tübingen.

### Sources

• Hill, John E. (2015) Through the Jade Gate - China to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes 1st to 2nd Centuries CE. Vol. I. John E. Hill. CreateSpace, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-5006-9670-2.
• Homer H. Dubs (1938): The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. One. Translator and editor: Homer H. Dubs. Baltimore. Waverly Press, Inc.
• Homer H. Dubs (1955): The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. Three. Translator and editor: Homer H. Dubs. Ithaca, New York. Spoken Languages Services, Inc.
• Hulsewé, (1961). "Han measures." A. F. P. Hulsewé, T'oung pao Archives, Vol. XLIX, Livre 3, pp. 206–207.
• Chinese Measurement Converter - Online Chinese / Metric / Imperial Converter
• Chinese/Metric/Imperial Measurement Converter
• Schinz, Alfred (1996). The magic square: cities in ancient China. Edition Axel Menges. p. 428. ISBN 3-930698-02-1.