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Tael

The tael (兩) was part of the Chinese system of weights and currency. There were many different weights of tael depending on the region or type of trade. In general the silver tael weighed around 40 g. The most common government measure was the Kuping (treasury) tael, weighing 1.2 Troy ounces. A common commercial weight, the Tsaoping tael weighed 1.18 Troy ounces of marginally less pure silver.

Silver currency as ingots were called sycee, but they were not denominated or made by a central mint and their value was determined by their weight in taels. They were made by individual silversmiths for local exchange, and as such the shape and amount of extra detail on each ingot were highly variable; square and oval shapes were common but 'boat', flower, tortoise and others are known. The local tael also took precidence over any central measure, so the Canton tael weighed 1.21 ounces, the Convention or Shanghai tael was 1.09 ounces, and the Customs or Haikwan[?] tael 1.22 ounces. The conversion rates between various common taels were well known.

Sycee were first used as a medium for exchange as early as the Qin Dynasty. During the Tang Dynasty, a standard bi-metallic system of silver and copper coinage was codified with 10 silver coins equal to 1,000 copper cash coins. Paper money and bonds were introduced in the 9th century. However, the tael was still the basis of the silver currency and sycee remained in use until the end of the Qing Dynasty. Common weights were 50 taels, 10 taels and 5 down to 1.

The word is still in use. In China and Taiwan it equivalent to 10 ch'ien (錢) at 37.5 g. In Hong Kong it is 37.8 g. In Shanghai silver is still traded in taels.



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