What is the difference between 公分and 厘米?

As far as I searched both of them mean centimeter, but which of them is correct in using centimeter in terms of size?

  • 1
    Some unit word in Chinese existed in ancient China, such as 斤, 里, 寸, like that pound and mile. The prefix 公 means common in Chinese, 公制单位 means metric units. The prefix is used to distinguish the international unit word from Chinese ones, like 公斤 stands for kilogram, 公里 for kilometer.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 12:18
  • Later the national standard replace the old name for uniformity. The new standard use the common prefix for almost all words in international system of units. e.g.: mm, cm、dm、m, km, are called 毫米, 厘米, 分米, 米, 千米, or B, kB, MB, GB, are called 字节, 千字节, 兆字节, 吉字节, etc.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 12:23
  • In ancient Chinese, the unit word of distance is 里, the unit word of weight are 斤 and 两 (1/10斤), the unit of length are 丈, 尺 (1/10丈), 寸 (1/10尺), 分 (1/10 寸). In modern times the prefix 公 were added before theme to represent international units, nowadays they are all superseded by the new standard referred above.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 12:31

2 Answers 2


In 1928, the government of the Republic of China introduced the metric system to China (read more). It translated "centimeter" into 「公分」.

Later in 1959, the government of the People's Republic of China standardized the measurement unit in mainland China (read more). It translated "centimeter" into 「厘米」.

So currently some elder people in mainland China still use 「公分」(like my grandparents on both sides), and the younger generation tends to use 「厘米」. For the same reason, Taiwanese would more often use 「公分」.

My advice is to use 「厘米」when you communicate with people from mainland China, and use 「公分」 with Taiwanese (Usually they can understand「釐米」, but it sometimes is confusing and ambiguous thanks to 「公厘」).

  • The metric system is "international standard" or rather "common standard". Different country uses different measurement units, when they work together on joint ventures where a common measurement system is needed, the default system will be metric. Just like US dollars in international trade and GMT in time zone. The other translation for metric system is 十进制
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 10:04
  • Since there's only one system, the metric system (十进制) is accepted as the international standard, 公制 (common system) can only refer to the 'metric system'. Unless the world agree to change the default measurement system from metric to other system.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 10:21
  • @TangHo the metric system is a measuring system which employs decimal as it's number system, but decimal does not represent metric system in any way, neither have I heard anyone use it that way.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 5:47
  • Oh, yes, I was thinking of ' the decimal system in the metric units' . Compare to the imperial units (16 oz in one pond, 3 feet in one yard). which may seems too random to other countries.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 6:20

Metric unit of length


  • 公里= kilometer(km)= 1000 meters
  • 公尺= meter(m)= 1/1000 km
  • 公寸= decimeter 1/10M
  • 公分= centimeter(cm)= 1/100M
  • 公釐= millimeters (mm)= 1/1000M

Mainland China:

  • 千米= 1000 meters= kilometer(km)
  • 百米= 100 meters
  • 十米= 10 meters,
  • 米= meter(m)
  • 分米= decimeter 1/10M
  • 厘米= centimeter 1/100M
  • 毫米= millimeters 1/1000M

Hong Kong prefers imperial system because it was formerly ruled by Britain. For metric unit, Hong Kong people mostly use 公里, 公尺, 公分, 厘米 and 毫米 (a mix of Taiwan and Mainland China measurement units)

Both 公分 and 厘米 mean centimeter, just 公分 is mainly used in Taiwan and 厘米 is mostly used in Mainland China.

  • No, in my ordinary life, many people (in Sichuan province, Southwest china) , mainly in the generation of my parents, use 公分 and young people understand it well. 分 is a traditional length unit, and 公 refers to the something standardized by the government, as in 公历 versus 阴历.
    – Huang
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 23:41
  • I don't care about the metric system (I was from Hong, living in Toronto, we mainly use imperial system) , It is the Taiwan and China government who decided what kilometer or meter should be translated into. doesn't mean the general public all use the same system. Just like the official language in Guangzhou is technically Mandarin, but most people still speak Cantonese.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:05
  • 1
    公 refers to the something standardized by the government-- No, it refers to "international standard" by the way, the really old school Chinese still use traditional Chinese units
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:08
  • yes. I'm wrong. 公 means that. And no offend, I just want to say 公分 is still widely used in here, though young people tend to use 厘米.
    – Huang
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 0:19
  • I was born and still living in Hong Kong. Both 公里and 千米was and is still commonly used but 米 is equally, if not more, common than 公尺(it actually depends on situation). 厘米is definitely more common than 公分in daily use. Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 2:08

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