Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/33

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SCIENCE AMONG THE CHINESE

of a foreigner than the utter lack of accuracy among the Chinese in most matters involving numerical relations. The ordinary troubles that one has with careless and even dishonest workmen and contractors are enhanced manyfold by reason of the discrepancies between the various measures used for different purposes though called by the same name. The method by which the units were adopted and fixed is lost in antiquity, and the variations in the measures now used destroy any claim that there ever was a true standard recognized in any such way as the standard yard and meter are recognized and employed by western peoples to-day. It is extremely hard to secure any adequate and consistent information concerning the weights and measures actually in use.

For instance, the chih or unit of length differs according to the province and the prefecture, the city and the ward, the craft and the usage. There are in the "Chinese Commercial Guide" over a hundred different values of the chih as actually in use. Some of these are doubtless derived from ancient official chih, but the majority seem rather to be the caprice of custom. The variations are by no means small, the extreme values differing by more than 6 inches in a unit of approximately 14 inches on the average. In Shanghai for instance, the carpenter's rule is 11.14 inches long, whereas the mason's rule is as short as 10.9 inches, so that in a building 100 ft. long, if this difference were not realized by the architect and he furnished the same specifications in Chinese measure to masons and carpenters, the frame of the house would overhang the stone foundations by two feet.

The distance between two points A and B, according to Chinese representation, depends not merely on the geometrical factor, but on others that determine the relative facility of travel between these points. It is further from A to B than from B to A., if B is upstream from A on a river, or at a greater elevation on a hill road. It is further between A and B at night or when raining than it is by day or when clear. While of course the practical philosophy of this way of regarding distance is evident, it still is true that such failure to separate these factors from the geometrical factor in the form of statement operates to retard appreciation of accurate statement and accurate thinking.

Paper may be sold by the hundred sheets and yet by a desire to keep the stated cost per hundred uniform in spite of variations in quality, the dealer will "call" a less number of sheets a hundred sheets, so that when you request your servant to buy a hundred sheets of a certain paper, he returns with eighty and insists that "in that kind of paper a hundred sheets are only eighty!"

Although a first impression of China and the Chinese may be that of deadening uniformity, it takes but a little closer observation to show that this is just the opposite of the truth. Along with the manifold divergencies in speech and customs, which play a paramount part in the