Produced in the ordnance factory in Zengbu, near Guangzhou.
Base 12 mm
Middle 6 mm
At widest part 4 mm
5 cm from tip 3.5 mm
Base 12 mm
Middle 6 mm
At widest part 53 mm
5 cm from tip 30 mm
3.5 cm from base of blade
Iron, steel, wood, brass, cotton
Made in Zengbu (增埗)
From a German antiques trader
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A large Chinese two-handed saber called shuāng shǒudāo (雙手刀) in Mandarin. It has an impressively large blade, in good condition with no cracks or chips. One very small nick. Blade in original condition with signs of forge folding and an inserted high-carbon edge.
Where most Chinese two-handers have long, narrow blades that follow Japanese ōdachi in form, this piece breaks with that pattern. Instead, the large blade has a pronounced widening in its profile, reaching a peak around the center of percussion. This design feature seems inspired by the civilian niúwěidāo (牛尾刀) that emerged in the mid 19th century. Such blade profiles enable a thinner tip while retaining the amount of metal that is behind the edge for momentum, and increase the arc of the cutting edge in the last section of the blade. This makes them superior slicers against unarmored targets. The blade also has a narrow but deep groove near the spine, cut with precision. It terminates near the tip where it makes place for a sharp 23 cm long backedge. The spine has a prominent ridge.
The hilt consists of a long wooden handle wrapped with faded indigo blue cord, the typical binding for Qing military arms. It has a brass ferrule and large, flaring pommel that is also almost exclusively found on niúwěidāo. (It in turn is a somewhat exaggerated revival of a late Qianlong period transitional pommel form.) Unfortunately, the guard was lost on this example, but it was most likely a typical niúwěidāo-style guard as well.
A Manchu Banner lady, recognizable by her shoes and dress, and their child.
They are posing with father's swords, a classic military regulation pèidāo, a niúwěidāo,
and a large two-hander, very similar to ours.
Photographer unknown. Late 19th century.
Antique Chinese arms are rarely signed, let alone with a place of manufacture. But sometimes we get lucky.
Jūn Huǒ Jú zào
"Made by the Ordinance Bureau"
The Jūn Huǒ Jú
Jūn Huǒ Jú (軍火局), literally "Army Fire Bureau" can loosely be translated to "Ordinance Bureau".
It was an arms factory that was set up in the town of Zengbu (增埗), just east of Guangzhou (廣州) in the 13th year of Tongzhi, corresponding to 1875.
It produced among others small iron cannon, western gunpowder, "white powder" (白藥), mines and "foreign rockets" (洋火箭). In the 11th year of the Guangxu emperor (1882), Zhang Zhidong, governor of Guangdong and Guangxi urged to upgrade the facility to start to copy Western-style breech-loading cannon, which China had not yet been able to reproduce.1 It seems to have been in operation under that name until around 1909.
Apart from firearms, the factory apparently also produced edged weapons as becomes apparent from a number of swords with chiseled markings mentioning the factory.
For more information, see my glossary article: Jūn Huǒ Jú (軍火局造).
Blade is in pretty good shape. Some minor distortions in the edge contour due to sharpening. Point somewhat rounded. No pitting or cracks. Hilt firmly attached. Some fraying and other damage to the now fragile cord binding. Minor play in the pommel. The rear portion of binding is replaced with Japanese cotton cord. Guard is lost. See photos.
1. Zhao Erxun; Draft History of Qing (清史稿). Chapter 140. Published 1928.
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A very rare Chinese saber guard dating from the height of the Qing dynasty.
Of classic shape, with a leaf-shaped blade on a socket, connected by a cast bronze base.
A standard pattern Qing military saber, but with the rare addition of a label in Manchu.
With Tongzhi reign marks, corresponding to the year 1863.
A simple utilitarian weapon, probably made for rural martial artists or militia.