Language: Mandarin Chinese
Origin: Collector's jargon


The liǔyèdāo is the most common form of Chinese saber of the Ming and Qing dynasties. They come in many shapes and sizes: Some are nearly straight with only a very gentle curve, while others are more deeply curved. They come in narrow and wide varieties and display a large variety in blade design, with different configurations of grooves, bevels, and blade profiles. Some sabers that are of liǔyèdāo curvature have alternative names based on blade profile or cross-section.


A classic liuyedao of the 18th century A classic 18th-century liǔyèdāo.


Origin of the term

I have not been able to find the term mentioned in historical texts. It needs mention that most texts don't discuss blade specifics because they were largely up to the user, this is true for martial arts manuals as well as military texts on arms production and maintenance. One would expect sword making workshops to have had more specific terminology but as far as I know, none such information has survived and all traditions were cut off in the 20th century. Today, Liǔyèdāo is a standard part of the vernacular of Chinese sword collectors, both in China and abroad.


According to Jin Yiming's Single Defense Saber of 1935, narrow sabers with a gentle curve can be called miáodāo (苗刀) or "sprout saber", referring to the shape resembling a rice sprout.1 This may have been a historical name for at least some narrow liǔyèdāo but today the term is exclusively used for a large, narrow two-handed saber.

1. See: Single Defense Saber (單戒刀) by Jin Yiming (金一明). Published by, New Asia Press (新亞書店印行) Oct, 1932. An excellent illustrated translation by Paul Brennan is available here.


Some examples

17th century liuyedao

17th-century. Northern China. Notice the very gentle curvature and gradual widening towards the tip that is typical for northern Chinese sabers of this period.

17th to early 18th century liuyedao 17th to early 18th century. Northern China.

18th century liuyedao 18th century. Northern China. Mounts possibly late 18th to early 19th century but in the style of court work of the 17th century.

Liuyedao with naginata grooves 18th century.

A liuyedao of the late 18th century Late 18th century. Southern China.

Liuyedao of the early 19th century Early 19th century. Southern China.

Qing officer saber liuyedao Mid 19th century. Standard pattern Qing officer saber.

Standard pattern soldier's saber Mid 19th century. Standard pattern Qing soldier's saber.

Qing military saber circa 1900 Circa 1900. Standard pattern Qing soldier's saber from around the Boxer Rebellion.


Some rarer forms

Broad liuyedao17th century. An unusually broad liǔyèdāo.

FengchidaoAn 18th-century liǔyèdāo with clipped tip. By virtue of their blade shape such swords are also called yànchìdāo (雁翅刀) or "goose wing saber" among collectors.

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Typical Chinese hook sword, with seldom-seen fine silver wire overlay.

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With a golden damascened lock of the Indo-Portuguese type.


With the swirling arabesque motifs that are typical for this period.


Mounted on a custom hardwood stand


Very good example with a finely carved warrior scene.


Probably of Southern origin, with a straight blade and flaring tip.