Silver overlaid Chinese hook sword
Overall length

112.5 cm

Blade length

71.5 cm

Blade thickness

Base 3.2 mm
Middle 3.6 mm
At apex of bend in tip 3 mm

Blade width

Base 37 mm
Middle 35.5 mm
Hook width 119 mm

Crescent blade

31 x 3.6 cm
Middle 4.5 mm thick

Spike

Length 22.6 cm
Base 57 mm thick
Widest part near tip 4.2 mm
 

Weight

1012 grams

Point of balance

10.7 cm from base of blade

Origin

China

Materials

Steel, silver

Dating

Late 19th to early 20th century

Price on request

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Description

A single Chinese hook sword. Of the classic form, with a long double-edged blade with hook, back spike, and a crescent moon blade attached to the grip section by means of two bars. The bars are forged onto the moon blade, and riveted on the tang. The grip scales are missing.

Such swords are scarcely covered in the literature, probably because they were purely civilian weapons. They are mostly seen in the context of martial artists, who advertised their skills and made some money on the side through street performances. Often, they were also available to be hired as guards, for example, to protect a residence or trading caravan. During times of war, martial artists often served in irregular armies and militia.

 

Hedda Morisson sword dancer

"Sword dancer"
Photo by Hedda Morrison, 1930s
Harvard Yenching Library

 

Silver overlay

Very unusual is the fact this piece is decorated with fine overlay in silver over cross-hatching. It has flaming borders along all edges, and stylized wave designs on all tips except the hook. On either side of the hook is a dragon chasing a flaming sacred jewel. On the crescent moon is also a dragon on either side.

Four figures on the left side of the blade can probably be identified as the "Four Great Beauties" (四大美女) of Chinese folklore. They were allegedly so beautiful that one, Xi Shi, made fish forget how to swim, Wang Zhaojun made the birds forget how to fly, Diachan eclipsed the moon, and the last, Yang Guifei brought flowers to shame.

The one on the top is probably Avalokiteshvara (Guānyīn, 觀音), Bodhisattva of Compassion. The other three are some of the Heruka or wrathful deities of East Asian Buddhism. These are considered enlightened and fierce protectors, known as "Enlightened Kings" (明王) in Chinese. The second from above is easily identifiable as Trailokyavijaya (Xiángsānshì, 降三世明王) or "The King of knowledge having conquered three worlds." The third, sitting on a lotus, is probably Yamantaka (Dàwēi déjīngāng, 大威德金剛) "The Defeater of Death" while the fourth, standing figure is Kuṇḍali (Jūntú lìmíngwáng, 軍荼利明王), dispenser of the nectar of immortality.

 

Comparables

This is the only Chinese hook sword I have seen with this kind of silver overlay. It is more commonly seen on a group of late tourist curio quality jiàn, with the difference that the overlay is more precise than what is usually seen on those. The nature of the work much resembles that seen on an officer's sword we sold earlier, see: Silver overlaid pèidāo.

 

Conclusion

An impressive Chinese hook sword with seldom-seen silver overlay, probably a presentation piece.

Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword
Chinese silver overlaid hook sword

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