Terms of Measurement, Units of Currency, and Bureaucratic Titles

In: The Peking Gazette
Lane J. Harris
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Weights and Measures


jin 斤 is unit of weight equivalent to 1.3 pounds or just over half a kilogram. Usually translated in the Peking Gazette as a catty.

shi 石 (or sometimes dan) is a unit for measuring grain equivalent to about 133 pounds. Often translated in the Peking Gazette as a picul.


cun 寸 is a unit of length approximately 1.4 inches; ten cun make a chi. Translated in the Peking Gazette as an inch.

chi 尺 is a unit of length approximating a foot; ten chi make a zhang. Often translated in the Peking Gazette as a foot.

zhang 丈 is a unit of length approximating four yards or twelve feet. Not usually translated.

li 里 is a unit of distance, roughly equivalent to one-third of an English mile or half a kilometer. Not usually translated.


mu 畝 is unit of area for measuring land; it is approximately one-third of an acre. Not usually translated.

qing 頃 is a unit of area for measuring land; it is approximately 16 acres. Not usually translated.

Units of Currency

wen 文 is a standard unit of currency made of copper and lead and minted (usually) by imperial decree. The value of the coins varied greatly over time, but their weight, size, and shape (round, with a square hold in the center to allow them to be strung together) remained virtually the same for centuries. Approximately 1,000 wen per liang. Invariably translated in the Peking Gazette as cash.

qian 錢 is a unit of currency equivalent to one-tenth of an ounce or one hundred cash. Usually translated in the Peking Gazette as mace.

liang 兩 is a unit of weight for silver used in monetary transactions, roughly equivalent to one ounce of silver. The value of the liang varied greatly over the Qing dynasty. In the Peking Gazette, the liang is invariably translated as tael.

The dollar occasionally appears in translations of the Peking Gazette, by which is meant the Spanish Carolus silver dollar (pre-1890s) or the Mexican silver dollar (post-1890s), the value of which was determined by the fineness of the silver.

Sycee. For larger transactions, the Qing government often dealt in silver in its bullion form. If the silver was unadulterated by any alloy, it was called “sycee” or pure silver. It was usually cast in small ingots (sometimes called “shoes”) because of their distinctive shape.

Dates and Times

In imperial China, dynasties calculated years according to the reign of the present emperor and dates according to the lunar calendar. All dates have been converted to the Gregorian solar calendar.

The day in late imperial China was divided into twelve periods called chen 辰 or watches, which were the length of two contemporary hours. The first watch was 11:00 pm to 1:00 am. In some of the sources below, the translators have continued to use these watches.

Bureaucratic and Administrative Terms

The Imperial Court

Emperor (huangdi 黃帝): The official title used for the living ruler of the present dynasty.

Empress (huanghou 皇后): The first wife of the reigning emperor.

Empress Dowager (huang taihou 皇太后): The actual or adoptive mother of a reigning emperor.

Heir Apparent (taizi 太子): The official title of the reigning emperor’s son who has been chosen as the successor to the throne; the title may be revoked.

Princes (huangzi 皇子): The sons of the reigning emperor. In the Qing, there were four princely ranks, but most individuals were known by the princely titles bestowed upon them by their imperial fathers.

Regent (several appellations): Title applied to a man or woman who presided over the court during the minority of the reigning emperor.

Imperial Clansman (zongshi 宗室): A descendant along any male line of the dynastic founder.

Imperial Clan Court (zongren fu 宗人府): A powerful governing body with jurisdiction over the entire royal family, except the emperor, and all imperial clansmen. Charged with maintaining the royal genealogical records, adjudicating disputes among royal family members, and holding legal jurisdiction in any case concerning a member of the imperial family.

Imperial Household (neiwu fu 內務府): An administrative agency with many offices created to serve the personal needs of the emperor, his immediate family, and his attendants within the palace. In the Qing, staffed mostly by Manchu imperial bondservants.

The Metropolitan Administration

The Grand Council (junjichu 軍機處): Established in the 1730s, the Grand Council quickly became the most important state agency for crafting government policy in the Qing. Its five high-ranking ministers, known as Grand Councilors, met almost daily with the emperors to deliberate over and make decisions concerning civilian and military policy.

The Grand Secretariat (neige 內閣): Throughout the Ming and early Qing dynasties, the Grand Secretariat was considered the supreme council of state with a role similar to the Grand Council. After the formation of the Grand Council, the size of the Grand Secretariat was greatly expanded, but its duties shrank to routine administration of the empire. Nonetheless, appointment to the Grand Secretariat remained a prestigious honor.

The Six Boards or Ministries (liu bu 六部): The Six Boards formed the core of the administrative machinery in the capital, but their duties largely lay in handling paperwork from the provinces and making routine recommendations to the emperors, through the Grand Secretariat, about everyday government affairs. The ministers or presidents of the boards, however, had no authority over provincial officials. The Board of Personnel was in charge of all matters relating to bureaucrats in government service; the Board of Revenue gathered population and economic data, oversaw the collection of taxes, and other matters related to government revenue; the Board of Rites oversaw the entire range of formal ceremonies and rituals related to the government, including foreign relations; the Board of War, in the Qing, was responsible for all matters concerning the Green Standard Army, government communications, and border defenses; the Board of Punishments oversaw the complex judicial and legal system throughout the empire; and the Board of Works oversaw all larger government construction projects.

The Censorate (duchayuan 都察院): An early and unique Chinese government institution with more than fifty censors spread across the empire engaged in the examination and investigation of the behavior and performance of all government officials, including admonishing the emperors, rooting out government corruption, influence peddling, and other forms of unethical behavior.

Mongol Superintendency or, occasionally, the Court of Colonial Affairs (lifanyuan 理藩院): Established in 1636 to oversee Qing relations with various groups of Mongols, its responsibilities grew with the westward expansion of the Qing empire in the eighteenth century to embrace almost all colonial affairs in Tibet, Mongolia, and Xinjiang.

The Zongli Yamen (zongli geguo shiwu yamen 總理各國事務衙門): A foreign affairs agency created in 1861 in the aftermath of the Second Opium War to handle relations with Western countries.

The Hanlin Academy (hanlin yuan 翰林院): The most prestigious academic institution in Beijing consisting of a some of the brightest scholarly minds in the empire, who drafted and edited imperially-sponsored historical, literary, and ceremonial works.

The Provincial Administration

Governor-General or Viceroy (zongdu 總督): The highest-ranking territorial official who administered all civilian and military affairs in one, two, or three contiguous provinces; often concurrently appointed as governor of one of the provinces.


Governor or, occasionally in Gazette translations, Lieut-Governor (xunfu 巡撫): The highest-ranking territorial official within a single province. Subordinate to the appropriate governor-general.

Financial Commissioner (buzheng shisi 布政使司): Second most powerful official in a province. Acted as treasurer for the province, handled matters related to tax collection, census taking, and oversight of the provincial bureaucracy.

Judicial Commissioner or provincial judge (ancha shisi 按察使司): In charge of all provincial legal matters, including the routine review of the more important court cases. He also managed the provincial communications system, evaluated officials, and administered the provincial civil service examinations.

Salt Controller (yanyun shisi 鹽運使司): In major salt producing areas, supervised the distribution of salt under the state monopoly to merchants for sale throughout the empire.

Grain Intendent (liangdao 糧道): Controlled the provincial revenue produced by the grain tax.

Circuit Intendent (daotai 道太): The official in charge of a circuit (dao 道) of two or more prefectures. Some circuits were functionally specific and held provincial-wide responsibilities while others were for more general administration.

Prefect (zhifu 知府): Official in charge of a prefecture, an administrative unit made up of a certain number of counties.

County Magistrate (zhixian 知縣): Official in charge of all government responsibilities in a county, the lowest administrative unit in the empire. In the translations, the county is also translated as department.

Imperial Commissioner (qinchai dachen 欽差大臣): A rare appointment made directly by the emperor to a high-ranking official to undertake an important government mission. An imperial commissioner ranked higher than a governor-general.

Military Titles

Eight Banners (baqi 八旗): The primary military and social organization of the Manchu people established by Nurhaci in the early seventeenth century; some Mongols, Han Chinese, and other ethnic groups were also incorporated into the banner system.

“Tartar General” or Manchu General-in-Chief (jiangjun 將軍): Highest-ranking Manchu general in each province, rank equivalent to a governor-general. He commanded the provincial banner forces.

Green Standard Army (lüying 綠營): Han Chinese provincial armies, containing both infantry and marines, which served to garrison cities and towns, suppress peasant uprisings, and act as a local police force.

Provincial Commander-in-Chief or General (tidu 提督): Commander of the provincial Green Standard troops.

Civil Service Examination Titles

Metropolitan Graduate (jinshi 進士): A candidate who had passed the triennial metropolitan examination held in the imperial capital.

Provincial degree holder (juren 舉人): A candidate who had passed the triennial examinations held in the various provincial capitals.

County degree holder or Licentiate (shengyuan 生員 or xiucai 秀才): A candidate who had passed the county-level examination; graded according to performance on the examination.

Student (tongsheng 童生): Scholars in each county who had passed a series of preliminary examinations making them eligible to take the county-level examination.

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The Peking Gazette

A Reader in Nineteenth-Century Chinese History


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