Chinese Units of Measurement
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Chinese Units of Measurement
Chinese units of measurement
Chinese
Literal meaning

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). 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 500g. 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" (?, g?ng) 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 3.306m2 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 .

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

## History

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

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: ; pinyin: shìyòngzhì; lit.: 'market-use system') to private sales and trade in Article 11, effective on 1 January 1930.[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 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

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

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 meters[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

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.

Chinese measurement law in 1915

### 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 ? 32 µm
? (T) or ? (S) 0.32 mm 0.0126 in
f?n ? 3.2 mm 0.126 in
cùn ? 32 mm 1.26 in Chinese inch
ch? ? 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
y?n ? 100 32 m 35.0 yd
l? ? 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

Chinese measuring tape
Table of Chinese length units effective in 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo ? ​ µm Chinese milliinch
? (T) or ? (S) ​ mm 0.0131 in Chinese centiinch
f?n ​ mm 0.1312 in Chinese deciinch
cùn ​ cm 1.312 in Chinese inch
ch? 1 ​ cm 13.12 in Chinese foot
zhàng 10 ​ m 3.645 yd Chinese yard
y?n ? 100 ​ m 36.45 yd Chinese chain
l? 1500 500 m 546.8 yd Chinese mile, this li is not the small li above,
which has a different character and tone

#### Metric length units

The Chinese word for meter is ? m?; this can take the Chinese standard SI prefixes (for "kilo-", "centi-", etc.). A kilometer, however, may also be called g?ngl?, i.e. a metric l?.

In the engineering field, traditional units are rounded up to metric units. For example, the Chinese word ? s? is used to express 0.01 mm.

Table of Chinese length units in engineering
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
h? ? 1 µm Authorized name:
s? ? 10 µm Authorized name:
háo ? 100 µm Authorized name:
? (T) or ? (S) 1 mm Authorized name:
f?n 10 mm Authorized name:
cùn 100 mm Authorized name:
ch? 1 1 m Authorized name: ?
l? 1000 1000 m this li is not the small li above,
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]
English Jyutping Character Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
fan fan1 ? condorim 0.1463 in
tsun cyun3 ? ponto 1.463 in
chek cek3 ? côvado 1 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 [13]

### 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 ? 0.6144 m2 0.7348 sq yd Chinese milliacre
? (T) or ? (S) 6.144 m2 7.348 sq yd Chinese centiacre
f?n ? 61.44 m2 73.48 sq yd Chinese deciacre, 10 li
m? ? (T) or ? (S) 1 614.4 m2 734.82 sq yd Chinese acre, 10 fen, or 60 square zhang
q?ng ? (T) or ? (S) 100 6.144 ha 15.18 acre Chinese hide, 100 m?
Table of Chinese square units effective in 1915[1]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
f?ng cùn 10.24 cm2 1.587 sq in square cun
f?ng ch? 1 0.1024 m2 1.102 sq ft square chi
f?ng zhàng 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]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
háo ? ​ m2 7.18 sq ft Chinese milliacre
? (T) or ? (S) ​ m2 7.973 sq yd Chinese centiacre
f?n ​ m2 79.73 sq yd Chinese deciacre, 10 li
m? ? (T) or ? (S) 1 ​ m2 797.3 sq yd
0.1647 acre
Chinese acre, 10 fen
60 square zhang
1/15 of a hectare
q?ng ? (T) or ? (S) 100 ​ ha 16.47 acre Chinese hide, 10 shí or 100 m?
Table of Chinese square units effective in 1930[3]
Pinyin Character Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
f?ng cùn ​ cm2 1.722 sq in square cun
f?ng ch? 1 ​ m2 172.2 sq in
1.196 sq ft
square chi
f?ng zhàng 100 ​ 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 píngf?ng. For example, a square kilometer is ? píngf?ng g?ngl?.

#### Macau area units

Table of Chinese area units in Macau[8]
Jyutping Character Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
cek3 ? côvado 0.1269 m2 1.366 sq ft
pou3 ? 3.1725 m2 34.15 sq ft
3.794 sq yd
zoeng6 ? braça 12.69 m2 136.6 sq ft
15.18 sq yd
fan1 ? condorim 76.14 m2 91.06 sq yd
mau5 ? (T) or ? (S) maz 1 761.4 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 ? 0.3501 fl oz 0.3644 fl oz
g? ? 3.501 fl oz 3.644 fl oz
sh?ng ? 1 2.188 pt 1.822 pt
d?u ? 10 2.735 gal 2.278 gal
? 50 13.68 gal 11.39 gal
dàn ? 100 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
cu? ? 1 ml 0.0338 fl oz 0.0352 fl oz millilitre
sháo ? 10 ml 0.3381 fl oz 0.3520 fl oz centilitre
g? ? 100 ml 3.381 fl oz 3.520 fl oz decilitre
sh?ng 1 1 l 2.113 pt 1.760 pt litre
d?u 10 10 l 21.13 pt
2.64 gal
17.60 pt
2.20 gal
decalitre
dàn 100 100 l 26.41 gal 22.0 gal hectolitre

#### Metric volume units

In the case of volume, the market and metric sh?ng 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 sh?ng.

Units of volume can also be obtained from any standard unit of length using the prefix lìf?ng ("cubic"), as in lìf?ng m? for one cubic meter.

#### Macau volume units

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 10 10.31 l
sek6 ? 100 103.1 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 ? 3.7301 mg 0.0001316 oz
? 37.301 mg 0.001316 oz cash
f?n ? 373.01 mg 0.01316 oz candareen
qián ? 3.7301 g 0.1316 oz mace
li?ng ? 1 37.301 g 1.316 oz tael or Chinese ounce
j?n ? 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
s? ? 312.5 µg centicash or Chinese decimillidram
háo ? 3.125 mg decicash or Chinese millidram
31.25 mg cash or Chinese centidram
f?n 312.5 mg candareen or Chinese decidram
qián 3.125 g 0.1102 oz mace or Chinese dram
li?ng 31.25 g 1.102 oz tael or Chinese ounce
j?n 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[14] Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
50 mg cash or Chinese centidram
f?n 500 mg candareen or Chinese decidram
qián 5 g 0.1764 oz mace or Chinese dram
li?ng 50 g 1.764 oz tael or Chinese ounce
j?n 1 500 g 1.102 lb catty or Chinese pound
formerly 16 liang = 1 jin
dàn 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 g?ngj?n, i.e. a metric j?n.

#### Hong Kong and Macau mass units

Table of Chinese mass units in Hong Kong[7] and Macau[8]
English Jyutping Character Portuguese Relative value Metric value Imperial value Notes
cash lei4 ? liz Not defined in Hong Kong. Macanese definition may not be correct when dividing catty.
candareen (fan) fan1 ? condorim 0.2133 dr Macanese definition of 377.9931 mg may not be correct when dividing catty.
mace (tsin) cin4 ? maz 2.1333 dr Macanese definition of may not be correct when dividing catty.
tael (leung) loeng2 ? tael 1.3333 oz Macanese definition of 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 ? pico 100 60.478982 kg 133.3333 lb Hong Kong and Macau share the definition.

#### 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
troy candareen 374.29 mg 0.096 drt
troy mace 3.7429 g 0.96 drt
troy tael 1 37.429 g 1.2 ozt

### Time

Table of time units
Pinyin Character Relative value Western value Notes
mi?o ? 144 milliseconds 1 second
f?n ? 100 mi?o 60 mi?o 14.4 seconds 1 minute
? 1 minor kè = 10 f?n 15 f?n 2 minutes 24 seconds 15 minutes kè was defined at ​, ​, or ​ day during the Liang dynasty, and established at ​ day after the Qing dynasty.
1 major kè = 60 f?n 14 minutes 24 seconds
di?n ? (T)
? (S)
100 f?n 60 f?n 24 minutes 1 hour
shí[15] ? (T)
? (S)
​ kè 4 kè 2 hours 1 hour the xi?oshí(, 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 (T)
(S)
​ kè - 2 hours -
(pre-Qin) 10 kè 2 hours 24 minutes
xi?oshí (T)
(S)
- 60 f?n - 1 hour
/ ti?n ?/? 12 shíchén 24 xi?oshí 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[16] 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.[17]Qiu Guangming & Zhang Yanming's 2005 bilingual Concise History of Ancient Chinese Measures and Weights summarizes these findings.[18] A relatively recent and comprehensive bibliography, organized by period studied, has been compiled in 2012 by Cao & al.;[19] for a shorter list, see Wilkinson's year 2000 Chinese History.[17]

## References

### Citations

1. " [Quándù F?]", ? [Zhèngf? G?ngbào, Government Gazette], 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) ?14/92/M; (in 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. ^
14. ^ (in Chinese) 1959 Gazette of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, No. 180, page 316
15. ^
16. ^ (1937), [Zh?ngguó Dùliànghéng Sh?], 2nd ed. in 1957, 3rd ed. in 1993. (in Chinese)
17. ^ 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.
18. ^ (2005), (ed.), [Zh?ngguó G?dài Jìliàng Sh? Tújiàn], Hefei: Hefei University Press, ISBN 7-81093-284-5. (in Chinese)& (in English)
19. ^ 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.