I am frequently asked whether I can recommend good, faithful reproductions of Chinese swords.
I have long been a fan of Fred Chen's work, so here is a review on the Dynasty Forge "Qianlong Imperial Sword" made by him.
Some people may remember that I once started out selling hand-forged reproduction swords by Fred Chen between 2005-2008. (See a snapshot of Mandarin Mansion in 2007.) I still have a trusty 2005 saber by him that I use for cutting practice.
The "Qianlong Imperial Sword" that I am reviewing today was kindly made available by Dynasty Forge.
It is nice to see Fred Chen's latest work after all these years.
The Dynasty Forge Qianlong Imperial Jian
The sword came well-packed with a box within a box. My first impression was that Fred Chen really stepped up his game since I last dealt with his swords: The detailing is impressive with fine openwork while maintaining an overall sturdiness of feel.
The most spectacular aspect of the sword is, of course, the full set of gilt pierced metal openwork mounts. The guard is in the shape of a stylized cloud with a facing dragon in the middle. The pommel has a flaming jewel in the center and an outline that combines traditional Chinese design elements with European rococo: A stylistic mix that was commonly seen under the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, (1736-1796).
The elaborate scabbard mouthpiece and endpiece are also executed in beautiful openwork with a dragon on each narrow side. They grip the scabbard by means of extending stylized cloud collars.
The three scabbard bands are in the typical Longquan format: The upper band with the letters 龍泉 (Lóngquán) or "Dragon Well", the name of the famous sword-making town in Zhejiang province, China. The middle scabbard band has a chīlóng (螭龍) or "water dragon" sitting on a pierced plate. The final scabbard band shows a regular dragon from the side amongst foliage. The narrow bands on the back of the scabbard are all done in fine and tasteful openwork. All mounts are a good fit to the scabbard.
Suspension system. I replaced the mount (right) with a more accurate belt hook (now attached).
The only thing that I have any negative remarks on is the suspension system. Nicely done with two buckles for adjustment, but after all these years the two cords still lead to a strange fitting that seems best for wall-hanging. Historically, this was always a belt hook. I also don't like the non-traditional color of the suspension straps, which in this case should either be yellow or dark blue. Luckily, these are minor issues that are easy to fix by replacing the straps and adding a belt-hook.
The hilt consists of a nice, fluted hardwood grip of proper shape and size that provides a good grip. It is actual hardwood, and not some darkly stained softer wood because it's impossible to dent it with my nail. It has an imperial golden yellow wrist lanyard with white/blue cord, a style commonly seen at the 18th-century court in Beijing. The pommel is peened over the tang.
The scabbard is made of the same, dense hardwood as the grip and is a tight fit to the sword.
The blade is made with great precision, somewhat straighter and more precise even than most antiques. It is forge folded with a nicely controlled wood grain pattern over a high-carbon center plate. The pattern is brought out with polishing and a light etch. At the base is a brass symmetrical collar piece, called tūnkǒu (吞口).
Edge geometry is always a trade-off between a strong but blunter edge or a somewhat more fragile but sharper edge. Fred Chen understands this concept well, as seen on some of his sabers that have much support on their edges. On this sword, the trade-off was then deliberately made in favor of a sharper edge with somewhat less support.
Very good. There are tiny imperfections throughout which do not bother me at all, just signs of the piece being hand-made. This includes some very minor damage to the scabbard from mounting the fittings, some residue of the mold in some of the crevices of the mounts, etc. Similar imperfections are found on even the best of antique Chinese swords.
Numbers & handling
Overall length: 96.8 cm
Blade length: 78.9 cm from handle side of guard
Blade width: 29.5 mm (base), 26.5 mm (middle), 23 mm (tip)
Blade thickness: 6 mm (base), 5.5 (middle), 4.5 mm (tip)
Weight without scabbard: 874 grams
Point of balance: 17 cm from the handle side of guard
Dynasty Forge list price: Was $700.00 USD, now $490.00 USD
All the above dimensions are within the spectrum of antique jian that I am used to encountering. It is on the long side within that spectrum, but of fairly average weight for its size.
Compared to straightswords from other cultures, the jian is less heavily focused on thrust alone and is capable of delivering quite formidable cuts. With that in mind, this sword balances like it should: Quite fast and nimble considering its dimensions but still with enough weight in the tip to create good momentum for a powerful cut.
Often, modern makers put too much fantasy in pieces that are sold as faithful reproductions. The adjustments they make usually neither help the aesthetics nor functionality of the pieces at hand.
This Dynasty Forge "Qianlong Imperial Sword" is a welcome exception: Dimensions and balance are like an antique. The steel is beautifully forged and finely finished with a polish and light etch to bring out the details in the steel. The hardwood is actual hardwood.
The mounts exhibit the pleasing aesthetics you can expect from something actually made under the reign of Qianlong. The decorative elements used are beautifully shaped and period correct.
For its price range, it is perhaps the nicest Qing jian replica out there at the moment.
In a nutshell:
Good handling characteristics
Excellent price/quality ratio
Non-historical suspension strap
8.5 out of 10
Available at: Dynasty Forge