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Tael can refer to any one of several weight measures of the Far East. Most commonly, it refers to the Chinese tael (simplified Chinese: 两; traditional Chinese: 兩; pinyin: liǎng), a part of the Chinese system of weights and currency . There were many different weighting standards of tael depending on the region or type of trade. In general the silver tael weighed around 40 grams. The most common government measure was the Kùpíng (庫平 "treasury standard") tael, weighing 1.2 Troy ounces (37.3 g). A common commercial weight, the Cáopíng (漕平 "canal shipping standard") tael weighed 1.18 Troy ounces (36.7 g) of marginally less pure silver.
Traditional Chinese silver sycees and other currencies of fine metals were not denominated or made by a central mint and their value was determined by their weight in taels. They were made by individual silversmiths for local exchange, and as such the shape and amount of extra detail on each ingot were highly variable; square and oval shapes were common but "boat", flower, tortoise and others are known. The local tael also took precedence over any central measure, so the Canton tael weighed 37.5g, the Convention or Shanghai tael was 33.9 g (1.09 oz troy), and the Customs or Hǎiguān (海關) tael 37.8 g (defined as 11⁄3 oz avoirdupois, about 1.22 oz troy). The conversion rates between various common taels were well known. The tael was still the basis of the silver currency and sycee remained in use until the end of the Qing Dynasty. Common weights were 50 tael, 10 tael, and 5 down to 1.
Modern studies suggest that, on purchasing power parity basis, one tael of silver was worth about 4130 modern Chinese yuan in the early Tang Dynasty, 2065 in the late Tang Dynasty, and 660.8 in the mid Ming Dynasty.
The tael is still in use as a weight measurement. In the People's Republic of China, it is equivalent to 50g since the country has gone metric (see Chinese unit for details). In Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia it is equivalent to 10 mace (qián 錢) or 1⁄16 catty, albeit with slightly different equivalent in metric in these two places. The Chinese units of measurement are usually used in the Chinese herbal medicine stores as well as gold and silver exchange. In Shanghai, silver is still traded in taels.
In Vietnam, all domestic transactions in gold are still expressed in tael and real estate prices are often quoted in taels of gold rather than the local currency over concerns over monetary inflation.
Some foodstuffs in China are sold in units also called "taels", but which do not necessarily weigh one tael. For cooked rice, the weight of the tael is approximated using special tael-sized ladels. Other items sold in taels include the Shengjian mantou and the Xiaolongbao, both small buns commonly found in Shanghai. In these cases, one tael is traditionally four and eight buns respectively.
The English word tael comes from the Malay word tahil, meaning "weight" and tahil is used in Malay and English today when referring to the weight in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei where it is still used in some contexts especially related to the significant Overseas Chinese population.
In Chinese, the phrase "half a catty is 8 tael" ("半斤八兩"), meaning two different presentations of the same thing, similar to the English phrase "Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other" is still often said today.
- "Weights and Measures Ordinance". The Law of Hong Kong.
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