While Japan has long been viewed as the world's leading producer of superior quality swords, China played a critical role in its success. Historians believe that Japan received the technology needed to produce swords like the katana and wakizashi from its neighbors in China. Ancient Chinese swords reached Japan through the Korean Peninsula, at which point Japanese swordsmiths analyzed and improved the designs. In this post, we're going to take a closer look at traditional Chinese swords, revealing the history of swordmithing in this region and how it paved the way for Japanese swords.
Two Types of Chinese Swords
Countless swords were produced in Ancient China, but they all fall under one of two categories: jian and dao. Since the region's early days of swordsmithing, China has classified its swords as being either jian or dao. The former consists of straight, double-edged swords, whereas the latter consists of curved, single-edged swords (usually produced during the Song dynasty and later periods). Of course, jian and dao are simply styles of swords; they aren't specific types of swords.
27 to 43 Inches Long
Although there are exceptions, most traditional Chinese swords -- both jian and dao style -- were about 27 to 43 inches long (70 to 110 cm). Considering the Japanese katana was usually around 23.5 inches (60 cm), traditional Chinese swords were relatively long, thus requiring more materials to produce.
Iron and Steel Chinese Swords
Some of the first Chinese swords were made of bronze. Like other bronze swords, they were made by smelting bronze and pouring the liquid metal into a cast mold. It wasn't until China's Warring States period (475 to 221 BC) before iron and steel were used to make swords. This revolutionized the region's swordsmithing art, allowing for stronger, more versatile swords that were easier to produce.
The Dao Was Preferred
Normally, Chinese warriors preferred dao-style swords over the jian. This is because the dao had a single edge, allowing warriors to thicken the opposite side to make the sword stronger and less susceptible to breakage. The dao was often used in conjunction with a shield, with warriors holding the dao in one hand and a shield in the other. The jian, on the other hand, featured a double-edged blade, making it more difficult to maintain and lowering its overall strength in the process.
In addition to using swords for battle, Chinese warriors also used them for ritual dances. Known as sword dances, they originally began as military training exercises but later transitioned into an acrobatic dance performed by dozens or even hundreds of swordsmen at once.