[KS] Querry: good translation for pun 分 (size of logographs)

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Thu Jun 13 08:29:47 EDT 2013

Measurements are often a fascinating mirror of political and social 
history. The relative few changes we see in East Asia, and the fact 
that measurements were used nation-wide, and well, in a way even East 
Asia-wide, already tells us a big deal about cultural stability and the 
role of central governments there. In Europe, other than France and 
Great Britain with their early central governments and central 
administrative structures, such measurements where often different from 
town to town. Yet, a few things need to be considered for East Asia as 

In all three countries, China, Korea, Japan, it is usually pretty easy 
to convert such measurements in traditional units--such as pun 分 
(Chin. fēn, Jap. bun / bu)--into the metric system. One just needs to 
know what year or period a certain document or reference is from. There 
may well be some overlapping, that is, merchants, traders, scholars, 
artists and artisans may have continued to use an older system while a 
new one had already been proclaimed (the same way many Koreans now 
still use p'yŏng when talking about their apartment size, although 
p'yŏng was abolished a few years ago; in this case the unit name was 
also changed, obviously, while in earlier times just the value 
changed). It is usually not too difficult to find out what system was 
used if there is more than just one value given (by comparison, etc.). 
The only task is always to find out what system was used. 

Here is a blog posting that lists and briefly explains the changes to 
分 (when used for length) in KOREAN history, and that also explains the 
differences Jim found:

Two notes of precaution: 
(a) When looking at post-1902 texts from Korea it quite often happens 
that you may see Japanese measurements being used, also in Korean 
language texts (often same unit name, different value), (b) there are 
differences between North and South Korea also--as I noticed in the 
case of ho 號 (another of those multi-purpose characters), the 
traditional but still today used unit to measure paintings … can't say 
if that also applies to other areas and measurements. Interestingly, 
since the North is mostly producing its Agit-Prop works for the South 
Korean, Russian, and overseas Korean market, they now seem to have 
adopted the Southern system (at least in publications and sales 
catalogs). Money governs! Another great example of social-historical 
implications of measurement units--they are just so sensible and 
chameleonic, would not wonder if the units also shrink over time. 


Frank Hoffmann

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