Attaining Accuracy and Precision of Measuring Containers during the Qin Dynasty

Project: Research project

Project Details


This proposal is a technical study that explores how Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) bureaucrats attained accuracy and precision in the production and utilization of measuring containers, through which an awareness of the Qin empire was cultivated among the populace. One of the salient achievements of the Qin empire was the so- called unification of measurement systems, including lengths, volumes, and weights. Yet measurement systems and the technological methods employed to achieve accuracy and precision in ancient China have scarcely been explored in English-language scholarship, despite their fundamental importance in changing how science and technology developed in early China. Past scholars have not investigated the production of these measures in detail, nor have they related the methods used to attain their accuracy and precision to a more comprehensive picture of the larger empire-building project of the Qin Dynasty.

Even such renowned scholars of history of science as Joseph Needham and his successors have failed to place an adequate emphasis on the origins and development of accuracy and precision attainment in the Chinese historical context. Past scholars have instead focused primarily on the conversion of Qin volumetric units to modern-day metric units and the philological explanations of the edicts related to the unification of the measurement system, while ignoring the way in which these standard measures came into being.

We hope to first investigate the meaning of accuracy and precision in the view of Qin producers and users by focusing primarily on the measuring containers themselves. Establishing standards of accuracy and precision was essential in all engineering and technological projects; this was extremely important for the success of all grand infrastructure, palace, and cemetery building projects in the Qin empire. We will examine the material features of the containers in detail and investigate the ways in which the producers may have attained them. Whether this was achieved by a calculation of the volume of each container or the rapid replication of their models and/or molds constitutes our initial query. The containers were also useful tools for the purpose of (indirectly) propagandizing the establishment of the Empire. We will further investigate the means by which Qin bureaucrats cultivated an awareness of the Empire by widely distributing the standard containers and displaying the royal edicts inscribed on them. In so doing, we will supply the field of Qin history with additional solid evidence with regard to how the Empire was established and strengthened.
Effective start/end date1/12/1930/11/22


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