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) 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
|Huang–ti||After 2697 bce||24.88|
|Former Han||205 bce – 8 ce||27.65|
|Hsin Mang||9–24 ce||23.04|
|Later Han||25–220 ce||23.04|
|Western Tsin||265–273 ce||24.12|
|Liang & Chen||502–588||24.51|
|Liang||502–557||23.20 (new legal ruler)|
(sundial measuring ruler)
|Later Wei & West Wei||386–557||29.51|
|Later Wei & East Wei||495–550||29.97|
|North Chou||557–566||29.51 (market ruler)|
|566–581||26.68 (jade ruler)|
|577–581||24.51 (iron ruler)|
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.
Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao.
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Last revised: 8 May 2001.