Named so after the two ridges that are formed on the bi-fullered blade.
Base 6 mm
Middle 5 mm
Widest at tip 3 mm
Base 45 mm
Middle 54 mm
Widest at tip 63 mm
13 cm from guard
Steel, brass, wood, cotton
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Dàdāo (大刀) can literally be translated to "great saber", "big knife", etc. While the term has covered a variety of weapons through China's history, today it immediately brings to mind the iconic broad post-Qing military saber.
The idea behind its shape was to make the cutting edge thin for low-resistance on the cut while keeping the blade heavy enough for considerable cutting power. To do this, they made the blade flat but wide as to keep a considerable amount of steel, and thus weight, behind a very thin cutting edge. This flaring out gave the dàdāo its very characteristic shape. Designed for cutting through soft targets, it was an ideal setup in the age of modern firearms where soldiers wore minimum protection.
"When the Central Martial Arts Institute was established, those in the intellectual class each had their doubts, considering this to be an era of firearm warfare and that there is no necessity to encourage this antique and obsolete learning. But fortunately, due to many years of effort, Chinese martial arts has spread throughout the army so much that large saber units can be seen fighting the enemy. They charge right in, unstoppably advancing with bold shouts, like thunderclaps in the midst of a hurricane, causing the enemy to not be able to turn his horses around fast enough or have a chance to fire his guns. The blades rip open skin and sever fingers, hack off arms and pierce through chests, and within a mere ten paces, blood is already flowing enough to make a river." 1
-Zhang Zhijiang, Shanghai, Oct, 1932
The Marco Polo incident
One of the most famous uses of the dadao was during the so-called Marco Polo incident. It was in July of 1937 that the 29th Route Army lead by colonel Jí Xīngwén (吉星文) faced a Japanese troop force of 5600 men on the Marco Polo Bridge or Lúgōuqiáo (盧溝橋) in Northern China.
Jí Xīngwén's men numbered about 100, carrying their dàdāo alongside modern rifles and grenades. Among the Japanese were cavalry armed with katana. The Japanese crossed the bridge without permission to look for a soldier that had apparently gone missing on the other side.
Soldiers of the ROC raided the bridge, dàdāo in hand, and repulsed the Japanese losing all but four men. Casualties on the Japanese side are unknown but were high enough for them to retreat. This went into history as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident which in turn is seen as the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The event was a huge boost to the Chinese soldier's morale. The victory of the simple dàdāo over the mighty katana had great symbolic value.
A called The Sword March was written in to honour the valour of the 29th Army.
The dàdāo has since become a symbol of the Chinese post-imperial resistance fighters, and dàdāo that carry markings of the 29th army are now highly sought after.
Soldiers of the 29th army with their dadao.
A soldier checking the edge of his dàdāo. 1930's.
The sign says: ”廣東省女師送致第二十九路軍將士慰勞品“
“Guangdong Province Female Teachers send the warriors of the 29th Army relief goods.”
Notice the dàdāo in the left.
From: Chinese Martial Studies.
It is of typical form, with a wide blade that begins thick at the hilt and thins out as it gets wider, preserving good weight througout its length for powerful slashing. Two parallel grooves are cut into the upper section of the blade.
The brass guard with upturned "ram's horn" quillons is typical for Republican Chinese military issue dàdāo of the 1930's. The cast bronze was contaminated with what appears to be some lead, which is now part of the cast. Such contamination is often seen on cast brass military mounts of the late Qing to the early Republic.
The wooden grip is wrapped with dark blue cotton cord of a wide, flat braid.
In good, original condition with no recent repairs or restorations. Guard and hilt are tight. Some damage on the blade's edge, two larger nicks and two smaller nicks, possibly from field use. Also some signs of hits on the spine of the blade, the part ideally used for parrying. Some blemishes from rust but nothing serious and all stable.
Dating & attribution
While not bearing any markings of the 29th army, the piece we have here is identical to the dàdāo seen in use by them with the brass guard with upturned quillons and it is undoubtedly from the exact same period.
A nice example of one of the most iconic weapons of the 20th century.
1. Written by Zhang Zhijiang, Shanghai, Oct, 1932., published in the epilogue of "Practical Techniques for the dàdāo" by Jin Enzhong (金恩忠), 1933. Translation by Paul Brennan.
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