The jian is a traditional Chinese sword with origins dating back to 7th century BCE. This era, known as China's Spring and Autumn period, introduced a variety of new swords and blades, one of which is the jian.
With its long history, the jian has seen countless changes over the course of several centuries. Traditionally, however, it was designed as a medium-sized, one-handed, double-edged sword. Blades used in the shorter versions of the jian measured approximately 18 inches (45 cm), whereas longer versions measured up to 31 inches (80 cm).
Later, two-handed versions of the jian were developed. Rather than being used as a weapon, however, they were used for Chinese martial arts.
Components of the Jian
The jian was designed with many of the same components found in other traditional Chinese and Asian swords. There was a guard (hilt) separating the blade from the handle, protecting the user from self-injury. Most guards used in traditional Chinese jians were shaped like a pair of wings, either pointing up or pointing down. A few jians, however, were designed with disc-shaped guards.
Swordsmiths also crafted the jian with a pommel at the tip of the handle for added balance. This pommel created a more secure handle by preventing it from sliding through the warrior's hands. Furthermore, the pommel itself could be used as a weapon. Warriors would strike their opponents using the pommel at the end of their jian.
Benefits of the Jian
The jian was a formidable weapon on the battlefield for multiple reasons, one of which being its high-end construction. At the time of its inception, most swords were made of cast bronze, making them susceptible to damage. The jian, however, was designed with forged steel. This made it superior to most other swords and bladed weapons of its time.
The jian was also relatively lightweight when compared to other swords. A typical jian with a 28-inch blade weighed just 1.5 to 2 pounds (700 to 900 grams). And because the jian was a one-handed sword, it allowed warriors to hold a shield or another weapon. As a result, wielding the jian offered improved mobility when compared to larger, bulkier swords.
While typically not used as a weapon today, the jian remains a key element of China's culture. Practitioners of Chinese martial arts like talijiquan train almost exclusively with the jian. Of course, the jian is also a popular item among sword collectors.