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What Is the Chinese Dao?

March 02, 2018

What Is the Chinese Dao?

The dao is a traditional Chinese sword originating during the country's Shang Dynasty ( 1766 BCE to 1122 BCE). It's considered one of the four primary weapons used during in China during this period, with the other three being the gun, spear and another sword known as the jian.

Characteristics of the Dao

Like other traditional Chinese swords, many different versions of the dao were produced. The size, shape, style and aesthetics varied depending on the swordsmith and the time during which it was made. With that said, most dao featured a sabre-like design with a single-edged curved blade.

The dao's curvature wasn't as prominent as other curved-bladed swords like the katana, however. As shown in the photo above, it featured just a slight curve towards the tip of the blade. Historians believe this curvature allowed warriors to thrust the dao more easily.

How the Dao Was Used

The dao was used primarily by Chinese warriors on the battlefield. With its moderate length blade, it proved instrumental in defending against enemy attacks. Furthermore, the dao was particularly popular among warriors on horseback. They could easily draw it from the sheath, engaging opponents at a safe distance.

History of the Dao

Some of the first known uses of the dao date back China's Bronze Age in the Shang Dynasty period. Back then, these swords were either straight or slightly curved and made of bronze. Of course, bronze swords were not only difficult to produce due to the sheer amount of resourced they required, but they were also susceptible to damage. Towards the end of China's Warring States period, however, Chinese swordsmiths began making the dao out of iron and high-carbon steel, the latter of which proved particularly useful in creating strong, durable blades.

There were other swords in China during this time, however, including the jian. The jian was used primary as a self defense weapon, though, whereas the dao was a more versatile weapon used for both attacking and defending. The jian gradually faded from popularity, and by the end of the Three Kingdoms period, it was replaced with the dao.

Today, the dao is used in a number of Chinese swordsmanship and martial arts practices. And because of its historical significance, it's also a popular sword owned by collectors.

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