[KS] Going, going, gyeong: but why 10 quadrillion?

T.N. Park tnpark at mac.com
Sat Oct 1 04:31:12 EDT 2005

Afostercarter at aol.com wrote:
> A query for those less mathematically challenged than me
> (ie just about everyone).
> In the JoongAng story below, I'm puzzled why the new mega-unit
> should have 13 zeroes, rather than 12 or 16.

It's not a new mega-unit, I don't think. I've known of the kyŏng [경, 
1x10^16] for as long as I've known of the cho [조, 1x10^12].

> If I have it aright, the man/ok system - whose use even in official
> English-language websites etc traps many an unwary foreigner
> brought up on three-based Western thousands/millions/billions
> - proceeds in quasi-binary units of 2 and 4, thus:
> baek                 100
> man                  10,000 (a hundred hundreds)
> ok                     100,000,000 (ten thousand ten thousands)

It gets even murkier when a Brit and a Yank talk about it, since they 
can't agree on a billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, etc.

> That is already plenty big enough. But the ROK's perverse refusal
> to do to the won what de Gaulle did for the franc in 1959 - ie create
> a new won, worth 100 old won - means they now need mega-numbers;
> hence the gyeong. Fair enough.

Such a system is easier said than done (and cheaper said than done). 
And I suspect that if they did change, they would lop off just one 
zero, not two, keeping it much closer to the Japanese yen with which it 
often dovetails and fishtails.

For now I would be satisfied with a 100,000 won bill being made. They 
can even put Shin Saimdang on it.

> But why 13 zeroes? OK, ok ok (16 zeroes, ten quintillion!) is beyond 
> need, or grasp.
> But why not 12 zeroes (10,000 cubed), ie the western quadrillion?
> Has 13 some mystical significance? Lucky for some?

I think someone has miscounted the zeroes/places (and I hope it's not 

The article mentions an amount of 27 quadrillion won (26 billion US 

In the US system, that would be 27,000,000,000,000,000 (27 followed by 
15 zeroes; or, to put it more usefully, 2 followed by 16 places).

In East Asian 10,000-based numbering, that would be 2 7000 0000 0000 
0000 (2 followed by 16 places).

In mathematics and science, numbers followed by multiple zeroes are 
routinely written as a SINGLE DIGIT, zero through 9, and usually 
followed by a decimal point and some digit(s) afterward. Thus, 2597 
would be written as 2.597 x 10^3; 32,438 would be written as 3.2438 x 

27 quadrillion would be written as 2.7 x 10^16 (16 being not the number 
of zeroes, but the number of places following the first single 
digit—the 15 zeroes and the one 7).

16 places would be the fourth power of man (as in 만/萬, not humanity, 
though these numbers do represent the power of consumers). The fourth 
power of man would be kyŏng:
1st power: man [만/萬] = 10,000 ^1 = 1 0000 = 10,000 (ten thousand)
2nd power: õk [억/億?] = 10,000^2 = 1 0000 0000 = 100,000,000 (hundred 
3rd power: cho [조/兆] = 10,000^3 = 1 0000 0000 0000 = 1,000,000,000,000 
4th power: kyŏng [경/京] = 10,000^4 = 1 0000 0000 0000 0000 = 
10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten quadrillion)

27 quadrillion is 2.7 times "10 quadrillion" (1 kyŏng) so it's 2.7 

But most definitely it is sixteen places following the 2.

> I learn from Wikipedia (see below; sorry I don't know how to paste 
> characters)
> that Chinese has words for both of the above (12 and 16 zeroes).
> But otherwise I'm outnumbered, and can only shriek: OOOOOOOOOOOOO!
> Can anyone figure it out?

Let's just hope they fix the currency-zero issue by the time the 
economy gets to being one mole (6.02 x 10^23, give or take a few 
quintillion). And there is, of course, already a Korean word for this 
(used frequently at KAIST, I'm sure): 몰.

For reference, here's the original article from the Joongang Daily:
ㅡ It's getting tougher to count the zeros in talking about the Korean 
macroeconomy, and some statisticians probably wish the won were worth 
only 10 or 100 to the dollar instead of over 1,000. All those zeros to 
describe an economy the size of Korea's has forced a new numerical term 
into use: one gyeong, a unit of 10 quadrillion.
The Bank of Korea said yesterday that the sum of all transactions 
through domestic financial service companies reached "2.7 gyeong won" 
or 27 quadrillion won ($26 trillion) last year. Transactions in 
derivatives are also more than a gyeong's worth every year.
A Bank of Korea official said that when Korea's broadly defined money 
supply reached 1.3 quadrillion won, he had to refer foreign bankers to 
a dictionary to confirm to them that there was such an English word as 

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