Pyeong, and Old Habits Dying Hard

Dear Korean,

When Koreans talk about the size of their condos they talk in something called pyung, like fifty pyung or one hundred pyung. So far nobody has been able to explain to me what that is. Could you tell me what one pyung is in square footage?


Pyeong [평] is a unit of measurement that has been in use in Korea, until very recently. It is the traditional measurement unit that managed to survive in Korea the longest.

First, let's cut to the chase -- how large is a single pyeong? Here is the conversion of pyeong into square meters and square feet:

1 pyeong = 3.3058 square meters = 35.5833 square feet

Korea shared its traditional measuring system with other East Asian countries. One pyeong is a square whose side is six cheok [척]. One cheok about as long as a foot -- hence, one pyeong is fairly close to 36 square feet. A typical small apartment/condo in Seoul is around 27 pyeong, which translates to approximately 960 square feet, or 89.25 square meters.

Korea has left behind most of its traditional measurements in favor of the metric system, like most sane countries around the world. *Coughamericacough* Most traditional units of measurements can now only be found in traditional literature. But pyeong has been a gigantic exception: it has been commonly in use until July 2007, when Korean government decided that it was high time to adopt the metric system in all aspects of life. Other traditional measurement units that were discarded include don, i.e. 3.75 grams, which was the unit to measure the weight of gold. (Traditional units were not the only ones that were hit by the new regulations.  For example, electronics manufacturers were also banned from advertising their 40-inch television also.)

What ensued, lasting to this day, was high comedy:  instead of fitting to the round numbers in the metric system, Korean people simply began to opt for the decidedly non-round numbers that formed a round number in the old metrics system. For example, rather than building a condo that is 90 square meters, builders would build and advertise a 89.25 square meters-sized condo -- and everyone understood the number stood for 27 pyeong. 

Even better is what some A/C unit manufacturers did. Previously, A/C units in Korea were sold with a pyeong number associated with it also. That is, for example, a 18-pyeong A/C unit is enough to cool a space that is 18 pyeongs. Once the use of pyeong was banned, air conditioner manufacturers simply began to sell "18 Type" air conditioners -- a thinly veiled reference that the unit is enough to cool an 18-pyeong space.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at