What is a Chinese sword?
Everything you have to know about Chinese war sword, definition, history and typology
Stone and bronze swords have been around in China since ancient times. Many bronze daggers have been found in the tombs of Chinese kings from Zhou Dynasty (1000 BC), which is thought by experts as the peak of bronze-making in China.
Chinese swords have helped open up Japanese sword making industry particularly before and during Heian era (794-1185).
Chinese sword making
The Chinese have been casting iron alloys since 500 BC and exported their products to East Asian neighbors through sea trade.
The discovery and mining of iron revolutionized metal-working techniques. The first steel Chinese war swords were produced. Smiths found out that by combining two strands of steel, each of different carbon contents, a hard but resilient sword can be made.
The combination of two steel strands was the foundation of Chinese sword making. There were three ways to achieve this:
Twistcore or twist core
It is the process of putting metal bars of different degrees of carbon content on top of the other. The smith can mold these bars into one through heating and hammering. Because this process produces interesting shiny details on the surface of the blade, a talented smith can create beautiful traces on the sword.
Baogang or wrapped steel
It is the process of enclosing soft steel (lower carbon) with hard steel (higher carbon). The core alloy, to further strengthen the blade, can be a product of folding two steel strands or can be layered with iron.
Qiangang or inserted steel
It is similar to baogang except that the hard steel bar is sandwiched between two soft steel bars on each side. The smith can then produce the blade by heating and hammering the whole alloy.
Types of Chinese swords
Chinese swords evolved throughout the nation’s more than two thousand years of history. Here are some of the most famous Chinese sword types:
Chinese dao sword
Since the Bronze age up to now, it is the main weapon used in wushu championships. Its blade is straight to slightly curved, cant-hilted, and about a meter in length. A cord, tassel or lanyard is fitted to the hilt for decoration and practical purposes.
The dao sword is a true Chinese war sword. It was used by generals to repulse the Mongolian invasion in the Medieval Age. In recent history, militias lacking of proper firearms used it in Chinese-Japanese war (1937-1945).
Chinese butterfly sword
Butterfly swords, also known as butterfly knives, are a shortened dao with the length of the average human arm. They are used in pairs stored in a single scabbard in order to trick enemies. Because of their short length, they are easily concealed in sleeves and allow swift bladework.
These Chinese twin short swords have knuckle guards to protect the hand of the wielder from the sharp edge. They also served as a way to trap or lock the opponent’s sword.
A butterfly sword measures half a meter, and the blade is about 0.3 meter. To protect it from getting jarred and chipped, its single cutting edge is not wholly sharpened. From the base of the hilt to about midpoint of the blade is blunt; the cutting edge starts at the midpoint and right up to the tip.
Chinese changdao sword
Similar in appearance to Japanese long sword odachi, changdao means long knife and was an effective Chinese war sword against the cavalry.
The sword is about two meters in overall length, two-handed, and slightly curved.
It was first recorded to be used in 1560 as a Chinese weapon to fend off Mongolians from China’s borders.
Chinese dadao sword
The dadao, known also as Chinese war saber or great sword, resembles the German Großes Messer and the European falchion.
Based on an agricultural short sword, it measures about 0.7 to a meter in length. Its strength lies in its weight-forward balance that provides a strong striking force.
Chinese hook swords
The hook sword has the most exotic look among Chinese swords. The tip resembles a shepherd’s cane, the hilt is part of the blade with a leather wrap, and the hand knuckle is a blade extension that forms like a Japanese torii. It sometimes is called tiger head sword because of its look.
The Chinese hook sword is often unsharpened and used as a pair. It is proficient for deflecting the opponent’s sword.
Chinese Jian sword
The jian has been around for thousands of years. First used in 500 BC and cast in bronze, it was a versatile double-edged, straight-bladed, cut-and-trust weapon. When iron was mined, it was made of steel. The jian ornamental sword, which was used for religious purposes, was made from a precious chunk of jade.
The hilt of the Chinese jian swords can be an intricate sloping cross-guard or disc-shape. The pommel is attached to the blade rather than held on together with a nut.
The jian can be single-handed or double-handed, depending on the prevailing taste and practical usage of the time. It was an ideal sword for the foot soldier in both defense and offense: cleaving, deflecting, percussive cutting, and slashing.
How to collect Chinese swords
Today, thanks to films about Chinese history and martial art, there is a renewed interest in collecting battle ready Chinese swords. For instance, the rare 18th century jade-hilted Chinese sword called Baoteng sword was worth six million dollars in 2006 Sotheby’s auction.
You too can take part of the Chinese war sword collecting hobby. Here are our tips on how to collect Chinese swords:
1.) Be updated. Collecting antique Chinese swords is a very specialized field. Not only are ancient texts scant, the research into their making is also hard to come by. So always be on the loop for news by attending swords shows and museum antique sword exhibits.
2.) Learn how to appreciate Chinese martial art by attending tai chi swords workshops and watching wushu competition. In this way, you can appreciate the functionality of the Chinese sword.
3.) Join sword collecting community for information and transactions of Chinese rare swords.
4.) Always deal with well-reputed antique shops and dealers so that you would not risk your investment on counterfeits.
5.) Participate in antique swords auctions such as in Sotheby’s and Christie’s. This is where you can bid and buy the best Chinese swords collectibles.