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duliangheng 度量衡, weights and measures

Jan 3, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Length measures (du 度)

1 zhang 丈 = 10 chi 尺 ("ell")= 100 cun 寸 ("inch") = 1,000 fen

1 li 里 ≈ 500 m (not centrally defined)

Table 1. Length Measures through the Ages
Warring States / Qin / Western Han 1 chi = 23.1 cm
Eastern Han 1 chi = 23.75 - 24.2 cm
Southern & Northern Dynasties / Sui 1 chi = 24.5 - 29.6 cm
Tang 1 chi = 30 cm (short), 36 cm (long)
Song / Yuan 1 chi = 31.2 cm
Ming 1 chi = 34 cm (tailor), 32.7 cm (land), 32 cm (construction)
Qing 1 chi = 35.5 cm (tailor), 34.5 cm (land), 32 cm (construction)
customary 1 li = 0.5 km; 1 shizhang 市丈 = 10 shichi 市尺 = 100 shicun 市寸 = 3.3 m

Area measures

The term for "square" is fang 方, but not regularly used in area measuring. Most bewildering is the fact that the field area measure mu 畝 has not a square shape, but represents a strip 240 "paces" (bu 步) long but only 1 pace wide.

100 mu 畝 = 1 qing 頃; 900 mu = 1 jing

300 bu = 1 li

Table 2. Area Measures through the Ages
Zhou 1*6-8 chi 尺 = 1 bu; 1*100 bu = 1 mu = 161.7 m2
Qin - Qing 1*5 chi = 1 bu; 1*240 bu = 1 mu = 414 m2
customary 1 mu 畝 = 1⁄15 (0.06) ha = 6,6 a ≈ ⅙ (0.16) acre

Volume measures (liang 量)

2 (!) hu 斛 = 10 dou 斗 ("pecks") = 100 sheng 升 = 1,000 he

1 dàn (!) 石 ("bushels") = 10 dou, new unit from Song on

Table 3. Volume Measures through the Ages
Warring States 1 dou = 1.75 - 2.25 l (regionally different; other units in some feudal states)
Qin / Han 1 dou = 2 l
Three Kingdoms 1 dou = 2.045 l
Southern & Northern Dynasties 1 dou = 2 - 3 l
Sui / Tang 1 dou = 6 l (large) or 2 l (small)
Song 1 dou = 6.7 l
Yuan 1 dou = 9.5 l
Ming / Qing 1 dou = 10 l
customary 1 shidou 市斗 = 10 shisheng 市升 = 10 l

Weight measures (heng 衡) and monetary units

1 shí 石 ("picul"*) = 120 jin 斤 "catties*" ("pounds")= 1,920 liang 兩 "tael"* ("ounces") = 46,080 zhu

1 dan 擔 "picul"* ("load") = 100 jin

1 jin = 16 liang

1 liang = 24 zhu (the unit zhu disappears in the Tang period)

1 liang = 10 qian 錢 "mace"* (new unit from the Tang on) = 100 fen 分 "candareens"* = 1,000 li 釐 "cash"*

1 yin 引, a commercial weight unit (esp. for salt and tea) of varying size (Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing)

*words of Southeast Asian origin.

One qian (c. 4 g) is the ideal weight of a copper cash coin (wen 文), and liang/tael (c. 40 g) is used as a monetary unit of account and denomination for silver ingots (yinzi 銀子, yinding 銀錠). Although the weight relations are 1 : 10 the value of the two metals gives them an ideal conversion rate of 1 silver liang/tael to 1,000 copper cash (= 1 guan 貫 "string"). The precursor of the qian coin was the 5-zhu coin.

Table 4. Weight Measures through the Ages
Warring States / Qin 1 jin = 253 g; 1 liang = 15.8 g
Western Han 1 jin = 248 g; 1 liang = 15.5 g
Eastern Han 1 jin = 220 g; 1 liang = 13.8 g
Southern & Northern Dynasties (regionally different)
Sui 1 jin = 661 g (large), 220 g (small); 1 liang = 41.3 g (large), 13.8 g (small)
Tang 1 jin = 661 g; 1 qian = 4.13 g
Song / Yuan 1 jin = 633 g; 1 qian = 4 g
Ming 1 jin = 590 g; 1 qian = 3.69 g
Qing 1 jin = 596.8 g; 1 qian = 3.7 g
customary 1 shijin 市斤 = 500 g
Source:
Luo Zhufeng 羅竹風, ed. (1986-1993). Hanyu da cidian 漢語大辭典 (Shanghai: Cishu chubanshe), Vol. 7, 1334; Vol. Fulu-Suoyin 附錄‧索引, 3-21.