Hudiedao
Overall length

(right)
63 cm

(left)
63 cm

Blade length

(right)
50 cm

(left)
50 cm

Blade thickness

(right)
forte 14 mm
middle 10 mm
near tip 5.5 mm

(left)
forte 15 mm
middle 10.5 mm
near tip 5 mm

Blade width

(right)
forte 36 mm
middle 26.5 mm
near tip 14.5 mm

(left)
forte 36 mm
middle 26 mm
near tip 14.5 mm

Weight without scabbard

(right)
850 grams

(left)
846 grams

Point of balance

(right)
10.5 cm from guard

(left)
10 cm from guard

Origin

Southern China. Qing dynasty.

Materials

Iron, steel, brass, bronze, hardwood.

Dating

1850's - 1860's

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Introduction

The hudiedao (蝴蝶刀), are a type of double swords peculiar to the port cities of southern China. They are also known in the local Cantonese dialect as bat jam do or "eight cutting knives". (八斬刀, pronounced bazhandao in Mandarin) The type seems to have emerged in the mid 19th century, as a merging of typical Chinese fighting knife blades with handles inspired by western naval sabers and entering knives, their defining feature. They typically have half-hilts that fit in a single scabbard side-by-side and can be drawn as if they were one weapon.

Their blades come in several varieties, the most common among antiques are long, thick but narrow blades with a subtle back bevel and sharp tip. Another common type has shorter, wider but thinner blades with clipped tips. This is the type that is most popular today among martial artists. Several other varieties exist, among which sets with curved blades with raised back-edges, and several variations that follow blades styles of southern ethnic minorities.

My understanding is that the heavy, narrow type is capable of delivering heavy cuts and deep thrusts, making it a lot more lethal, As such, it was more likely to have been used by local militia and the military who were allowed to kill in some circumstance. The wider, thinner version now popular under martial artists is much more suited for disabling the opponent while trying to avoid killing him. I think this explains their continued popularity into modern times.

Although neither the name hudiedao nor bazhandao turns up in military texts, many units were listed that used shuangdao(雙刀) which could mean anything single edged. We know that parts of the Qing army were allowed to use their own regional variations of weapons, and it could well be that the shuangdao of the north was a double conventional saber -as seen in the regulations- but that of the south may have been at some point substituted with what we now know as a hudiedao, a weapon more adopted to combat in the confinement of ships.

A number of single, longer swords of identical shape have turned up with military markings attributing them to Green Standard Army units of Guangdong. I have one in my collection with markings attributing them to Green Standard Army units of Guangdong, in the 3rd year of Tongzhi, corresponding largely with our year 1863. Such single swords were usually used in conjunction with a rattan shield, as seen in period photographs.

Description

A very good and representative set of hudiedao, of the long and narrow type that is mostly associated with the Southern Chinese military.

The blades are long, slender, but very thick. Each weighs about as much as a standard full-length saber. Blades of good quality forge folded steel with an inserted high carbon edge that was heat treated to a high degree of hardness. One of the two is professionally polished by Philip Tom, showing all the details of its forge folded construction and the cloudy effects of the heat treatment. The other remains in "as found" condition but can also be polished, on request, to the same degree.

Some edge damage to the left weapon, a small and a larger nick from contact with another weapon. The right weapon's edge and back contours are all intact, but it does have some shallow cuts to the sides, also from impact of another weapon. Angle and placement of such cuts can give the martial artist interesting insights on how these were used.

Their hilts comprise of heavy bronze D-shaped guards of characteristic form, that were used for hand protection and up-close punching. The hardwood handles enclosed in the D-guards are carved with auspicious flower baskets, framed with a greek key pattern. The work is nicely done and in high relief. The carving had two functions, one to provide grip, another function was a talismanic; southern Chinese -like most sailing peoples- were known to be highly superstitious.

One of the handles is split on the flat side, a result of the wood drying out while the steel tang stays the same thickness. Despite the crack the handle of the right example, but hilts remain completely tight.

Conclusion

A nice, quality, representative set of southern Chinese butterfly swords.

 

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

A set of antique Chinese butterfly swords or hudiedao

Additional item content

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