Chinese units of measurement

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A traditional Chinese scale

Chinese units of measurement (Chinese: 市制; pinyin: shìzhì; literally: "market system") are the customary and traditional units of measure used in China. In the People's Republic of China, the units were re-standardised during the late 20th century to make them approximate SI (metric) units. Many of the units were formerly based on the number 16 instead of 10. In Hong Kong, the British Imperial system was used together with Hong Kong units of measurement, which were traditional Chinese weights and measures, and now traditional Chinese units and Imperial units are used alongside the metric system, which was introduced by legislation in 1976 as the official standard system of weights and measures. Taiwanese units of measurement, which appeared under the colonial influences of the Dutch and the Japanese, for the most part may have similar names but are different from the Chinese units of measurement. Taiwan is now fully metricated.

The Chinese name for most SI units is based on that of the closest traditional unit. When it is necessary to emphasize which system is used, the words "market" ( shì) for traditional units or "common/standard" ( gōng) for SI units may be added in front of the name. SI is the official system of units, but traditional units are still ubiquitously used in everyday life.

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

History[edit]

Bronze ruler from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to CE 220); excavated in Zichang County; Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an

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[edit]

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.[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; literally: "market-use system") to private sales and trade in Article 11, effective on 1 January 1930.[3]

People's Republic of China[edit]

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 till 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

Length[edit]

Gilded Bronze Ruler - 1 chi = 231 mm. Western Han (206 BCE–8 CE). Hanzhong City

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 metre[9]
dynasty chi bu li
= 5 chi = 6 chi = 300 bu = 360 bu
Shang 0.1675 1.0050 301.50
0.1690 1.0140 304.20
Zhou 0.1990 1.1940 358.20
Eastern Zhou 0.2200 1.3200 396.00
0.2270 1.3620 408.60
0.2310 1.3860 415.80
Qin 0.2310 1.3860 415.80[10][11]
Han 0.2310 1.3860 415.80[12] 415.80[10][11]
600 CE 0.2550 1.5300 459.00
Tang 0.2465 1.2325 369.75 443.70
0.2955 1.4775 443.25 531.90
Song 0.2700 1.3500 405.00 486.00
Northern Song 0.3080 1.5400 462.00 554.40
Ming 0.3008–0.3190 1.5040–1.5950 451.20–478.50 541.44–574.20
Qing 0.3080–0.3352 1.5400–1.6760 462.00–503.89 554.40–603.46

Modern Chinese units[edit]

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[edit]

Chinese length units promulgated in 1915[edit]

Table of Chinese length units promulgated in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo / miǎo 毫/秒 110 000 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
yǐn 100 32 m 35.0 yd
1800 576 m 630 yd this li is not the small li above,
which has a different character and tone

Chinese length units effective in 1930[edit]

Table of Chinese length units effective in 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo / miǎo 毫/秒 110 000 33 13 µm 0.00131 in
(T) or (S) 11000 13 mm 0.0131 in
fēn 市分 1100 3 13 mm 0.1312 in
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
yǐn 100 33 13 m 36.45 yd
市里 1500 500 m 546.8 yd this li is not the small li above,
which has a different character and tone

Metric length units[edit]

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 sī is used to express 0.01 mm.

Table of Chinese length units in engineering
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
11 000 000 1 µm Authorized name: 微米
1100 000 10 µm Authorized name: 忽米
háo 110 000 100 µm Authorized name: 丝米
(T) or (S) 11000 1 mm Authorized name: 毫米
fēn 公分 1100 10 mm Authorized name: 厘米
cùn 公寸 110 100 mm Authorized name: 分米
chǐ 公尺 1 1 m Authorized name:
公里 1000 1000 m this li is not the small li above,
which has a different character and tone

Hong Kong and Macau length units[edit]

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

Area[edit]

Chinese area units promulgated in 1915[edit]

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 10 li
(T) or (S) 1 614.4 m2 734.82 sq yd 10 fen, or 60 square zhang
qǐng (T) or (S) 100 6.144 ha 15.18 acre 100 mǔ
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[edit]

Table of Chinese area units effective in 1930[3]
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 10 li
(T) or (S) 1 666 23 m2 797.3 sq yd
0.1647 acre
10 fen
60 square zhang
qǐng (T) or (S) 100 6 23 ha 16.47 acre 10 shí or 100 mǔ
Table of Chinese square units effective in 1930[3]
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[edit]

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[edit]

Table of Chinese area units in Macau[8]
Jyutping Character Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
cek3 côvado 16000 0.1269 m2 1.366 sq ft
pou3 1240 3.1725 m2 34.15 sq ft
3.794 sq yd
zoeng6 braça 160 12.69 m2 136.6 sq ft
15.18 sq yd
fan1 condorim 110 76.14 m2 91.06 sq yd
mau5 (T) or (S) maz 1 761.4 m2 910.6 sq yd

Volume[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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
sháo 1100 10 ml 0.3381 fl oz 0.3520 fl oz
110 100 ml 3.381 fl oz 3.520 fl oz
shēng 市升 1 1 l 2.113 pt 1.760 pt
dǒu 市斗 10 10 l 21.13 pt
2.64 gal
17.60 pt
2.20 gal
dàn 市石 100 100 l 26.41 gal 22.0 gal

Metric volume units[edit]

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 a cubic metre.

Macau volume units[edit]

Table of Chinese volume units in Macau[8]
Jyutping Character Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
cyut3 1 1.031 l
gam1 dak6 甘特 10 10.31 l
sek6 100 103.1 l

Mass[edit]

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[edit]

Table of Chinese mass units promulgated in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo 110 000 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
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[edit]

Table of mass units in the Republic of China since 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
11 600 000 312.5 µg 0.00001102 oz
háo 1160 000 3.125 mg 0.0001102 oz
市釐 116 000 31.25 mg 0.001102 oz cash
fēn 市分 11600 312.5 mg 0.01102 oz candareen
qián 市錢 1160 3.125 g 0.1102 oz mace
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 擔 / 担 100 50 kg 110.2 lb picul or Chinese hundredweight

Mass units in the People's Republic of China since 1959[edit]

Table of mass units in the People's Republic of China since 1959[4]
Pinyin Character[13] Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
市厘 110 000 50 mg 0.001764 oz cash
fēn 市分 11000 500 mg 0.01764 oz candareen
qián 市钱 1100 5 g 0.1764 oz mace
liǎng 市两 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 市担 / 擔 100 50 kg 110.2 lb picul or Chinese hundredweight

Metric mass units[edit]

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

Hong Kong and Macau mass units[edit]

Table of Chinese mass units in Hong Kong[7] and Macau[8]
English Jyutping Character Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
lei4 liz 116 000 37.79931 mg 0.02133 dr Not defined in Hong Kong. Macanese definition may not be correct when dividing catty.
candareen (fan) fan1 condorim 11600 377.9936375 mg 0.2133 dr Macanese definition of 377.9931 mg may not be correct when dividing catty.
mace (tsin) cin4 maz 1160 3.779936375 g 2.1333 dr Macanese definition of 3.779931 g may not be correct when dividing catty.
tael (leung) loeng2 tael 116 37.79936375 g 1.3333 oz Macanese definition of 37.79931 g may not be correct when dividing catty.
catty (kan) gan1 cate 1 604.78982 g 1.3333 lb Hong Kong and Macau share the definition.
picul (tam) daam3 担 / 擔 pico 100 60.478982 kg 133.3333 lb Hong Kong and Macau share the definition.

Hong Kong troy units[edit]

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
troy candareen 金衡分 1100 374.29 mg 0.096 drt
troy mace 金衡錢 110 3.7429 g 0.96 drt
troy tael 金衡兩 1 37.429 g 1.2 ozt

Time[edit]

Table of time units
Pinyin Character Relative value Western value Notes
tradition value modern value tradition value modern value
miǎo / hǎo 秒/毫 144 millisecond 1 second
fēn 100 hǎo 60 miǎo 14.4 seconds 1 minute
1 minor kè=10 fēn 15 fēn 2.4 minutes 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 14.4 minutes
diǎn 100 fēn 60 fēn 24 minutes 1 hour
shí [14] (T)
(S)
8 13 4 kè 2 hours 1 hour the xiǎoshí(小時/小时) is currently used to express "hour" in order to avoid the ambiguity
(pre-Qin) 10 kè 2.4 hours
/ tiān 日/天 12 shí 24 shí 24 hours

Historiography[edit]

As there were hundreds of unofficial measures in use, the bibliography is quite vast. Up to the 1980s or so, the book by Wu Chenglou (吳承洛), Zhongguo dulianghengshi (中國度量衡史), first printed in 1937 and republished/revised a few times since (1957, 1993), was often used as reference. It relies however mostly on literary accounts. Newer research has put more emphasis on archeological discoveries.[15] From this latter body of work, an abridged Chinese-English overview book appeared in 2005.[16] Alas, no comprehensive text appears to exist in English. A relatively recent and comprehensive bibliography, organized by period studied, has been compiled in 2012 by Cao, Theobald, Vogel, et al.;[17] for a shorter list see Wilkinson's Chinese history: a manual (2000).[15]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f 大總統令法律第1號 (7 January 1915). 公布「權度法」. Government Gazette Volume No. 957, pages 85 to 94 (in Chinese). National Central Library Gazette Online. 
  2. ^ "The Weights and Measures Act: Legislative History". Ministry of Justice (Republic of China). 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "The Weights and Measures Act (1929)". Legislative Yuan. 
  4. ^ a b (Chinese) 1959 Gazette of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, No. 180, pages 311 to 312
  5. ^ Decree of the State Council Concerning the Use of Uniform Legal Measures in the Country
  6. ^ Yearbook HK. "Yearbook." Metrication. Retrieved on 26 April 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d Hong Kong legal definitions for metric, Imperial, and Chinese units and its traditional Chinese version
  8. ^ a b c d e Law No. 14/92/M ((Chinese) 第14/92/M號法律; (Portuguese) Lei n.º 14/92/M)
  9. ^ Schinz, 1996
  10. ^ a b Dubs (1938), pp. 276-280; (1955), p. 160, n. 7.
  11. ^ a b Hulsewé (1961), pp. 206–207.
  12. ^ Hill (2015), "About the Measurements", pp. xxiii-xxiv.
  13. ^ (Chinese) 1959 Gazette of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, No. 180, page 316
  14. ^ Nachum Dershowitz, Edward M. Reingold, "Calendrical calculations", page 207
  15. ^ a b Endymion Wilkinson (2000). Chinese history: a manual (2 ed.). Harvard University Asia Center. pp. 244–245. ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4. 
  16. ^ Qiu Guangming (丘光明) with translation by Yanming Zhang (张延明), Zhongguo gudai jiliang shi tujian (中国古代计量史图鉴 — A concise history of ancient Chinese measures and weights), Hefei: Hefei gongyedaxue chubanshe (合肥工业大学出版社 — Hefei University Press), 2005, 190p., ISBN 7-81093-284-5; bilingual edition: Chinese-English
  17. ^ Cao Jin, Ulrich Theobald, Hans Ulrich Vogel, et al., Chinese, Japanese And Western Research In Chinese Historical Metrology: A Classified Bibliography (1925-2012), Institute for Chinese and Korean Studies, University of Tübingen, Germany, 2012

References[edit]

  • 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.