Fenjia: Household Division and Inheritance in Qing and Republican China

By David Wakefield | Go to book overview
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Appendix 3
Chinese Terms for Weights and Measures

IN the Qing and Republican periods, many terms for weights and measures used in household division documents were, in a superficial sense, standardized. Terms such as mu, yuan, tael, and dan (often read as shi) appear in many different areas and thus may appear to convey a single meaning. In fact, the meaning differed by time and place, often greatly. For example, the term diao formally meant one thousand copper coins strung together through a square hole in the middle of each coin. In reality, a diao might contain from 160 to 990 copper coins, depending on the locale. The term jin (often translated as "catty") formally meant 11/3 pounds, but in reality it varied from 12 to 42.5 ounces. A dan meant one hundred jin but varied from 90 to 280 jin. Mu is usually rendered as one-sixth of an acre (7,260 square feet), but it varied between 3,840 and 9,964 square feet. One standard even featured a mu that equaled 18,148 square feet. Therefore, for the terms below, I have given the official meaning of the weight or measure and, where known and appropriate, the range of its regional variations ( Bell and Woodhead 1913:83-86).

Term Official Meaning Range of Variation
big yuan one of the many types
of silver dollars used in
the Qing and Republican
periods; see yuan
chi 14.1 inches
.358 meters
8.6-27.8 inches

-224-

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