chǐ [Chinese.]

In China, a unit of length, after 1930 = ¹⁄₃ meter. Although often translated as “foot”, it is in concept the distance between the outstretched thumb and forefinger, that is, it belongs to the span class of body units. Traditionally it is the length of a type of flute producing a certain note, and is also 90 wheat grains long.

Since 1959, a unit of length (shi chi, 市尺) in the market system (shì zhì), = ¹⁄₃ meter. (UN 1966) link to a table showing relationships between Chinese units of length  Usually romanized as chi before the official adoption of pinyin romanization by the People’s Republic of China, but also as che, chih, ch’ih, tch'e and even techi. The older Wade romanization is ch'ih.

For current values in Taiwan, see ch'ih.

Gōngchĭ (公 尺) is a meter; yīngchĭ (英 尺) is an English foot.

In the customs treaties forced on the Chinese by the European powers in the middle of the 19ᵗʰ century, for the purposes of Canton customs the chih was defined as 14.1 inches (about 35.81 centimeters), but this value was not used elsewhere. Observers noted these values:

In Shanghai, the Board of Revenue used a 13.2 inch che.

A reform early in the 20ᵗʰ century made the che 0.32 meter (12.598 inches). Nevertheless, an official survey in 1936 found 53 values for the che, varying from 0.2 to 1.25 meters, both by locality and by trade.

Scholars have often estimated the length of the chi in earlier times purely from documentary evidence, but in recent years archeological evidence has become increaingly important. As a result, ideas are in flux.

Dynasty Dates Value of che
in centimeters
Other estimate
Huang–ti After 2697 bce 24.88  
2254–2204 bce 24.88  
Hsia 2204–1765 bce 24.88  
Shang 1765–1121 bce 31.10 16
Chou 1121–220 bce 19.91  
Ch'in 349–205 bce 27.65  
Former Han 205 bce – 8 ce 27.65  
Hsin Mang 9–24 ce 23.04  
Later Han 25–220 ce 23.04  
Wei 220–265 ce 24.12  
Western Tsin 265–273 ce 24.12  
  274–316 23.04  
Eastern Tsin 317–430 24.45  
Former Chao 318–319 24.19  
Liu–Sung 420–478 24.51  
South Ch'i 479–501 24.51  
Liang & Chen 502–588 24.51  
Liang 502–557 23.20 (new legal ruler)  
(sundial measuring ruler)
Chen 557–588 23.55  
Later Wei & West Wei 386–557 29.51  
Later Wei & East Wei 495–550 29.97  
North Ch'i 550–557 29.97  
North Chou 557–566 29.51 (market ruler)  
566–581 26.68 (jade ruler)  
577–581 24.51 (iron ruler)  
Sui 581–606 29.51  
Sui 607–618 23.55  
Tang 618–906 31.10 30.3
Five Dynasties 907–960 31.10  
Song 960–1279 30.72 31.6
Yuan 1279–1368 30.72  
Ming 1368–1644 31.10 32
Qing 1644–1911 32.00  


Rules Respecting Trade and Dues

Note.-—These rules, as well as the tariff, formed a part of the British, American and French supplementary treaties signed at Shanghai, in November, 1858. The copy here given is that from the British treaty, and is in no material respect different from the others.

RULE 4.--Weights and Measures.

In the calculations of the tariff, the weight of a picul of one hundred catties is held to be equal to one hundred and thirty-three and one third pounds avoirdupois; and the length of a chang of ten Chinese feet to be equal to one hundred and forty-one English inches.

One Chinese chih is held to equal fourteen and one tenth inches English; and four yards English, less three inches, to equal one chang.

S. Wells Williams.
The Chinese Commercial Guide …. 5th ed.
Hongkong: A Shortrede & Co, 1863.
Page 70.


Qiu Guangming.
Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao.
Kexue, 1992.

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