Did China Invent the Metric System?

The many splendid ideas migrating from China to the West over millennia include that of a decimal-based metric system of standardized weights & measures.

In 221 BC, Shi Huang Di, 1st Qin Dynasty Emperor (of Terracotta Army fame) reintroduced these common weights & measures as their use had fallen into abeyance during the fragmented social and political conditions of the Warring States period (425-221 BCE) which immediately preceded his epic reunification of the country!Their presence and the decimal basis of this presence has, incidentally’ been detected as long ago as the 6th Century BCE (1) His reintroduction of common weights and measures was accompanied by a standardisation of Chinese characters towards the same goal.

China gave the world the first decimal- based metric System–in 1978 one reached Britain! Not yet fully Metric, let alone ‘ahead of the game’ with advance knowledge of Chinese issue– our perceptions frequently lag about 2000 years behind, if you follow my meaning, with the way other parts of the world have dealt with the issue of common weights & measures!

Original Chinese metric measures and their Western equivalents now follow: in Length terms 3 chi & 2 li equal 1 metre & 1 km respectively; considering Weight 1 ke, 2 jin & 2 dan equal 1 gm, 1 kg & 1 tonne respectively. Looking at Area: 15 mu equals 1 hectare, whilst 4 sq li equal 1 sq km. In Capacity, 1 sheng & 1 duo equal 1& 10 litres respectively. (1)

The Chinese units’ decimal base plus their early inception reveals decimal-based metric systems’ origin–via the old Silk Road eventually, awareness would reach Asia Minor & Europe, albeit slowly. All the world has now undergone metrification (to some extent) except for two states St Kitts and astonishingly the USA. Perhaps now is the time for the US to reconsider its use of Imperial Measures. It seems strange at first to realise that one is not 6 feet but 183 cm in height, not 11 stones but 70 kilogrammes in weight and so on until you realise you are both! It’s the same in China (but because of their early familiarity with decimals with less angst) where the world has turned full circle and the Western Metric System co-exists alongside its ancient precursor which it is beginning to replace!

Notes & References.

(1) Britannica Science & Technology:: measurement systems



Source by Peter Allsop