To rule by manufacture: Measurement regulation and metal weight production in the qin empire

Kin Sum LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


After annexing his opponent states, the Qin First Emperor in 221 bce issued an edict to regulate the measurement system of lengths, volumes, and weights throughout the empire. This edict was inscribed on a great number of metal objects to be used as prototypes or standards for the measurement system. How the molds for the weights and crucibles of metal were prepared are essential questions regarding the production of these standards. By examining the weights and tracing the history of their industrial production, this article focuses on studying their material features, which enable us to understand the operation of the Qin foundries that produced them and their relationships with the government. It is hypothesized that the weights were produced at multiple local workshops rather than in a centrally administered factory, but that the foundries' production methods were determined by the government's political agenda to communicate its regulation policy to its subordinates. In addition, the study explores the Qin industrial organization and how the maintenance and large-scale distribution of the standardized weights reflected the policy implementation of the Qin empire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalT'oung Pao
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • History and Philosophy of Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • First emperor
  • Imperial policy
  • Measurement standards
  • Metal weights
  • Production
  • Qin
  • Regulation
  • Unification


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