From approximately the 5th to 3rd century B.C.
84.6 cm / 33.3 inch
69.8 cm / 27.5 inch
forte 6 mm
middle 5.5 mm
near tip 3.5 mm
forte 38.5 mm
middle 30 mm
near tip 26 mm
19 from guard (grip side)
Iron, steel, brass, hardwood.
Blade 18th or 19th century.
Fittings mid 19th century.
Scabbard and handle recent.
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A fine Chinese straightsword blade, of typical Qing form with a rather wide profile. It is of sanmei construction with a bright shining hardened high carbon edge plate laminated between two layers tough of forge folded steel. It is forged using straw ash flux, creating tiny pores between the layers of the gently meandering wood grain pattern. This is a fine piece of forging, with no flaws.
The Big Dipper
The center portion of one side shows the big dipper, beidou (北斗) in Chinese, a common decoration on Chinese jian.
In Daoism, the Big Dipper has four major roles:
1. The Dipper indicates the proper orientation for performing meditation or rituals through the apparent movement of its “handle” through the year.
2. The Dipper was believed to have strong exorcistic powers as a divinity of the North and of the underworld. In Daoistic Thunder Rituals (leifa), the thunder is summoned from the direction to which the Dipper points (called the Gate of the Vital Force, mingmen) in order to expel demons.
3. The Dipper is the recipient of invocations to ask forgiveness for one’s sins and to have one’s name erased from the siji or "registers of death"(死籍).
4., The Dipper opens the way to heaven (its seventh star is called Tianguan 天關 or Heavenly Pass) in both meditation and ritual.1
The Dipper, therefore, has a double nature: it is linked with life and death and is associated with the idea of passage, and also divides good from evil and grants punishments and rewards. All the symbols that represent the connection between unity and multiplicity are closely related to it.
On this sword in a more naturalistic fashion than is normal for these, actually resembling the constellation. Some of the brass inlays were lost due to polishing sessions -antique Chinese swords all tend to be well-used- but one can still see that there used to be meandering lines connecting each star.
The fine blade comes mounted in a complete set of 19th century brass fittings. All fittings decorated with bats around stylized longevity characters shou (壽). The word for bat is pronounced fu in Chinese, which sounds exactly the pronunciation of 福 which means: blessing; happiness; good fortune; prosperity. Together these elements make the pun fushou ( (福壽) or "a long and blessed life". Some wear and minor repairs to the fittings but overall in good condition. See pictures.
The newly made handle is carved with designs of dragons, and it repeats the longevity symbols on the fittings. The carving is nicely done. The scabbard is made of hardwood with a beautiful, deep color. This work is typical for a group of Chinese jian refurbished and sold by Alex Huangfu about a decade ago, of which this is an example.
The sword has very mature handling characteristics: At 732 grams it's not too heavy for a full-sized jian which can be 800-1100 grams. But because of the forward balance, it does feel more like the heavier ones without having much physical weight. Ideal for a practitioner that would like some more historical accuracy in his/her everyday training.
Notes to description
1. Fabrizio Pregadio (Editor), The Encyclopedia of Taoism, Routledge, 2008. Volume 1, Pages 224 - 225.
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Built around a beautifully forged blade, in full polish, revealing a burl grain pattern.
Presented by the local Dai nobility to a British customs officer in 1936.
With designs of four dragons in scrollwork around a "wish-granting-jewel"
A rather well-made example of its type.
Used to move imperial orders from the emperor’s quarters to the recipient.