Unusual Chinese duanjian with fine gilt mounts and a blade of non-Chinese origin.
Sheathed 72.5 cm
Sword 68.4 cm
Base 7 mm
Middle 5.5 mm
5 cm from tip 5 mm
Base 34 mm
Middle 30 mm
5 cm from tip 25 mm
15.5 cm cm
(from handle side of guard)
Iron, steel, wood, brass, báitóng, copper, silver.
Longquan, Zhejiang, China
Late Qing / early Republican period
From a Scandinavian private collection
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Lóngquán (龍泉) is a town along the Ou river in Zhejiang province, China, known for both its celadon ceramics and its sword-making, which, after a short hiatus in the 20th century, continues until today.
In 1748, the 13th year of Qianlong, blacksmith Zhèng Yì Shēng ((郑义生) opened a shop in Lóngquán East Street called Qiān Zì Hao (千字号) or "Thousand Mark Brand". He used a traditional method of guàn gāng (灌钢), combining molten pig iron and wrought iron to make swords. The method resulted in sharp swords that do not rust easily.
In 1858 the Taiping Army was stationed in Lóngquán and needed a large number of swords and weapons. The fourth-generation grandson of Zhèng Yì Shēng, Zhèng Sāngǔ (郑三古)'s shop was overwhelmed by the surge in demand. The shop lasted until at least the Guangxu period (1875-1908).1
For more information, see the glossary article: Lóngquán (龍泉)
Notes to introduction
A Chinese duānjiàn (短劍) or "short sword" with a substantial, well-made blade. Of typical form with a triangular tip and flattened diamond cross-section. The hilt consists of a hardwood grip and mounts made of copper and báitóng (白銅). Scabbard, also of hardwood, fitted with a set of báitóng mounts with copper suspension bar. All mounts have tasteful cutouts, the suspension bands have the typical coin cutouts that are popular motifs mainly in Southern China.
The hilt form is quite typical and of a form that I think was mainly made in Lóngquán in the 19th century.
The scabbard endpiece is a recent replacement.
One side of the blade has extensive brass inlays. Very skilfully done.
From tip to bottom, it shows:
-The seven stars of Běidǒu (北斗), "the Big Dipper", also known as Ursa Major. A significant constellation in Daoism.1
-The text: Lóngquán chíjiàn (龍泉池劍) or "Dragon well pond sword".
-The character Qián (千).
Seven stars are a common feature on Chinese jiàn but usually shown as 7 simple dots. The work here is more elaborate and more true to the constellation's actual shape.
The words Lóngquán chíjiàn are interesting. We know of two examples marked Lóngquán yuān jiàn (龍泉渊劍) or "Longquan deep well sword". Yuān here also refers to the town's old name Lóngyuān. The character chí (池) has no such historical connotation with the town's name but again alludes to a body of water.
The dragon and the water undoubtedly refer to Longquan, "dragon well". And finally the character Qián (千) refers to the Qiān Zì Hao brand.
1. A sword of comprarable overall form was published by Alex Huangfu.2
Its markings include the words:
Lóngquán yuān jiàn
"Lóngquán deep well sword"
Qiān Zì Hao
"Thousand Mark Brand"
2. A fine pair of Lóngquán Daoist shuāngjiàn was sold at Mandarin Mansion earlier:
3. A sword of similar style was confiscated by the Japanese all the way up in Manchuria in the 1930s.3
Use of "fancy shortswords"
I can't write about a fancy looking shortsword without bringing up the following, most interesting passage that refers to their possible use. Adventurer William Mesny, who eventually became a general in the Qing army, provides us with a rare account of traveling duelers:
"Fu Hu Chün 副護軍. Second battalion of guards. This is an extra battalion of guards, all picked young Kuei-chou men, between twenty or thirty years old, real swashbucklers, good looking and lavishly decorated with scars obtained in battle or duel. Every other man of them has a Yüeh Ching, moon instrument (a sort of short handled like discular guitar) slung to his back and carries a dagger as well as a fancy shortsword at his side. These are duelists by profession apparently and also troubadourists of the mountains too. Each warrior has his fancy girl at home and an extra one or two in every town. Duelling and love-song singing is a sort of pastime with them when not engaged in the stern realities of actual warfare.
They fight duels with each other sometimes as soon as they are cured from former wounds as acts of revenge, called Pao Chou (報仇), and they sometimes take up each other's cause, as for instance in case of wrongful treatment of the weak and defenseless by the strong, or using might against right; this kind of protection or defense is called Pao Pu Ping (抱不平), and is much in vogue in Kuei-chou at this present time. Many young men learn the use of weapons and take a great deal of physical exercise so as to accustom themselves to hardships with a view of avenging some one's wrongs. Some or many such are now enrolled in the ranks of our Fu Hu Chün, the second battalion of General Liu's guards. Nearly all these young men have a servant to do their camp work for them, to act as squires to knights of olden times. Soldiers of the guard battalions all hare the characters Ch'in Ping 親兵 Body-Guard, Garde du Corp, sew on front and back of their uniforms, whilst ordinary soldiers have the word Yung 勇, which means Brave of Knight. It is usually from the ranks of distinguished Yung the Ch'in ping are recruited; all-being picked men as often for their good looks as their martial qualities, as may be easily perceived on parade." 4
-William Mesny, 18 March 1905.
The above narrative of traveling, dueling heroes with guitar-like instruments almost reminds of Zorro of Western pop culture. It shows that there was a fairly large, unregulated market for "fancy shortswords" that were actually put to use. The fact that they had these instruments and even servants shows that they were not poor, which explains the quality of some of these that exceed militia- and military-grade weapons of the same period.
It is quite rare to find a Chinese sword of which the maker is known, but the overall style of this sword and the mark qián 千 in this case leave no doubt: It was made by the Qiān Zì Hao workshop in Longquan, Zhejian, China. The shop was active from 1748 to at least circa 1900. This shortsword seems to be made in the later period, last decades of the Qing to possibly even early republican period.
It is not just a showpiece, but has a good quality blade, well-forged and suitable for use.
1. See glossary article Běidǒu (北斗)
2. See Alex Huangfu; Iron and Steel Swords of China. (皇甫江; 中国刀剑). Jinan, Tomorrow Publishing House, 2007. Page 225.
3. See the first image in an article by Ben Judkins; Through a Lens Darkly (24): Captured Chinese Swords and Traditional Weapons. Published online, 2014.
4. Mesny's Miscellany, 18 March 1905.
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Once belonging to William Fraser (1784-1835), a British civil servant.
Once belonging to William Fraser (1784-1835), a British civil servant.
Inspired by uchigatana brought into Vietnam by Japanese refugees.
With silver overlay on iron even continued on its hilt.
Fine Mindan dha with a scene from the Ramayana on its blade.