⟨ Object ⟩


The Traditional Chinese Steelyard.

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




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.