How to Measure a Meter in China

Most of the world uses the metric system of measurement, except for the USA which still uses the Imperial system. China also uses the metric system but had their own system of measurement before 1929.

When China was unified by Qin Shihuang (221-207 BC), the system of measurements for weights and measurements was also standardized. The unique Chinese measurements were used for thousands of years and documented systematically in the Book of Han during the Han Dynasty.

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After Imperial China, the Nationalist Government adopted the metric system as the official standard in 1929. In order to distinguish from the standard system, the traditional units of measurement were called the "market system" (市用制, shìyòngzhì) and used only for private sales and trade.

Now, the Government of the People's Republic of China officially recognizes both systems: the market system along with metric system. To avoid confusion, prefixes are added to units of measurement so that the word "market" (市, shì) indicates traditional units and "common" or "public" (公, gōng) indicates a metric value. For example, 公里 gōnglǐ is a length of 1 kilometer while 市里 shìlǐ or 里 lǐ is the traditional length of approximately 500 meters.

Some metric units have been given new Chinese names such as 米 mǐ for meter (the character also means rice) and 克 kè for gram.

The Most Common Units In China

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Weight
克 kè 1g
两 liǎng 50g
斤 jīn 500g
公斤/千克 gōngjīn/qiān kè 1000g

Length
千米/公里 qiānmǐ/gōnglǐ 1000 meter
里 lǐ 500 meter
米 mǐ meter
厘米 centimeter
毫米 háomǐ millimeter

Area
平方米 píngfāng mǐ square meter
亩 mǔ 6662⁄3 m2

Volume
升 shēng liter
毫升 háo shēng ML


This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.