⟨ Object ⟩

Gancheng

The Traditional Chinese Steelyard.

Words / Phaedrus Lam
Illustration / Furze Chan
Translation / Ian Tsang

近幾年逛濕貨市場時,已經很少看見這種造型的傳統手杆秤。

在度量衡單位劃一的年代,「斤、兩」這些量度單位已然被淘汰,加上彈簧磅秤的盛行,隨手把菜和肉丟到磅上,指針自動轉向刻度位置;那比起傳統的中國秤,固然是方便得多。只是,彈簧磅秤並非十全十美,話說作為金屬材質的彈簧容易疲乏變軟,久用之下肯定失靈;這時候傳統秤的優點就變得明顯起來。

傳統的中國手杆秤,總是一根長木條,一端連著勾子或盤子,另一端連著秤砣。秤的形式由目的決定,通常是量食材的、量藥的,和量金器的用途最常見,外形上則不盡相同。而傳統手杆秤作為販夫走卒每日生計、家計的參照,裝飾自是不必要的,然而當你仔細端詳一把傳統手杆秤時,秤子上棕褐色的木柄,垂著一紅一白的棉線,端起貨物的銀色托盤閃閃生輝,本身就有一種使人愉悅的溫暖感。加上,現在還使用手杆秤的攤販主,年紀通常都有點大,往往在惦量刻度瞇起眼晴時,眉宇和額頭間都會浮起皺紋,流露出一份老派的帥氣。

During my visits to wet markets in recent years, I no longer see this type of traditional steelyard(杆秤 Gancheng).

In this age of standardized units for measurement, units of mass such as the catty or the tael have naturally become obsolete. This can also be attributed to the popularity of spring scales; its measurement needle points automatically to the graduation when vegetables and meat are placed on its top. Without a doubt, it is much more convenient to use than a traditional Chinese steelyard. However, a spring scale is not without its demerits. It is said that springs made of metal can easily soften due to fatigue, which are bound to malfunction after being used for a long time. In this light, the merits of a traditional steelyard become more obvious.

A traditional Chinese steelyard always comprises a long wooden beam, with a hook or a pan attached to one side, and a weight to the other. Its form is determined by its purpose.  It is most commonly used for weighing food ingredients, medicine or gold artifacts, with varying appearances among them. As what the peddlers refer to a daily basis for making a living, traditional steelyards obviously do not need any decorations. But if you take a close look at a traditional steelyard, you will see two cotton threads respectively in red and white hanging down from its brown wooden beam and its silver pan glistening while commodities are resting on its surface. It radiates an inherited warmth. In addition, peddlers who still use traditional steelyards are usually relatively advanced in years. They will often squint into the graduation, wrinkles forming on their forehead and between their eyebrows, revealing a dash of charm reminiscent of the olden times.