Tael (//), also known as the tahil and by other names, can refer to any one of several weight measures of the Far East. It usually refers to the Chinese tael, a part of the Chinese system of weights and currency.
|Hangul||량 (N)/냥 (S)|
|Malay||tahil / تهيل (Jawi)|
In Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia it is equivalent to 10 mace (Chinese: 錢; pinyin: qián) or 1⁄16 catty, albeit with slightly different metric equivalents in these two places. These Chinese units of measurement are usually used in Chinese herbal medicine stores as well as gold and silver exchange.
Tahil (// in Singaporean English) is used in Malay and English today when referring to the weight in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei where it is still used in some contexts especially related to the significant Overseas Chinese population.
In Chinese, tael is written 兩 (simplified as 两) and has the Mandarin pronunciation liǎng. The phrase "half a catty, eight taels" (Chinese: 半斤八兩, bàn jīn, bā liǎng; Vietnamese: kẻ tám lạng người nửa cân) is still used to mean two options are exactly equivalent, similar to the English "six of one, half-dozen of the other".
In China, there were many different weighting standards of tael depending on the region or type of trade. In general the silver tael weighed around 40 grams (1.3 ozt). The most common government measure was the Kuping (庫平; kùpíng; 'treasury standard') tael, weighing 37.5 grams (1.21 ozt). A common commercial weight, the Caoping (漕平; cáopíng; 'canal shipping standard') tael weighed 36.7 grams (1.18 ozt) of marginally less pure silver.
Traditional Chinese silver sycees and other currencies of fine metals were not denominated or made by a central mint and their value was determined by their weight in taels. They were made by individual silversmiths for local exchange, and as such the shape and amount of extra detail on each ingot were highly variable; square and oval shapes were common but "boat", flower, tortoise and others are known. The local tael also took precedence over any central measure, so the Canton tael weighed 37.5 grams, the Convention or Shanghai tael was 33.9 g (1.09 ozt), and the Haiguan (海關; hǎiguān; 'customs') tael 37.8 grams (1.3334 oz; 1.2153 ozt). The conversion rates between various common taels were well known. The tael was still used in Qing dynasty coinage as the basis of the silver currency and sycee remained in use until the end of the dynasty in 1911. Common weights were 50, 10, 5 and one tael.
Modern studies suggest that, on purchasing power parity basis, one tael of silver was worth about 4130 RMB (modern Chinese yuan) in the early Tang Dynasty, 2065 RMB in the late Tang Dynasty, and 660.8 RMB in the mid Ming Dynasty. Today the price of silver is about 元154RMB/tael.
The tael is still in use as a weight measurement in a number of countries though usually only in limited contexts.
China's standardised market tael (Chinese: 市两; pinyin: shìliǎng) of 31.25 g was modified by the People's Republic of China in 1959. The new market tael was 50 g or 1⁄10 catty (500 g) to make it compatible with metric measures. (see Chinese unit for details.) In Shanghai, silver is still traded in taels.
Some foodstuffs in China are sold in units also called "taels", but which do not necessarily weigh one tael. For cooked rice, the weight of the tael is approximated using special tael-sized ladles. Other items sold in taels include the shengjian mantou and the xiaolongbao, both small buns commonly found in Shanghai. In these cases, one tael is traditionally four and eight buns respectively.
Hong Kong and SingaporeEdit
The tael is a legal weight measure in Hong Kong, and is still in active use. In Hong Kong, one tael is 37.799364167 g, and in ordinance 22 of 1884 is 1 1⁄3 oz. avoir. Similar to Hong Kong, in Singapore, one tael is defined as 1 1⁄3 ounce and is approximated as 37.7994 g
The Taiwan tael is 37.5 g and is still used in some contexts. The Taiwan tael is derived from the tael or ryō (両) of the Japanese system (equal to 10 momme) which was 37.5 g. Although the catty (equal to 16 taels) is still frequently used in Taiwan, the tael is only used for precious metals and medicines.
In French Indochina, the colonial administration standardised the tael (lạng) as 100 g, which is commonly used at food markets where many items typically weigh in the 100–900 g range. However, a different tael (called cây, lạng, or lượng) unit of 37.5 g is used for domestic transactions in gold. Real estate prices are often quoted in taels of gold rather than the local currency over concerns over monetary inflation.
- "Tael" entry at the OED Online.
- "Weights and Measures Ordinance". The Law of Hong Kong.
- "Weights and Measures Act (CHAPTER 349) Third Schedule". Singapore Statutes.
- "Tahil" entry at A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English.