General Qi's saber

Tang swords Part 2

Tang sword fittings

Question 1

Question 2

Chronology Table


Wooden surface grain pics

Heat-treatment Patterns Part 2

Da Dao Part 2

Ridged Cross-Sections

Main Page

Ming Cavalry / Infantry

Qianlong Repro

Sui sword fittings

Qing Imperial Jian

Photo3 Page

Chronology Table on 2500 years of Chinese sword technical development

Note: For the article below ONLY, the terms are standardized as follows:
1) Swords refer to jian
2) Backswords refer to dao with no curvature, ie it is straight
3) Sabers refer to dao with curvature

For other webpages of my websites, I have used the term "swords" to refer to all the 3 categories of jian, backswords and sabers.

Late Spring and Autumn to Early Warring States (500BC - 350BC)
1) Non-laminated bronze swords are well developed at this time. Appearance of the earliest laminated bronze swords where they utilize bronze with higher tin content for the cutting edges and bronze with lower tin content for the spine. It results in a sword with harder cutting edges and a more flexible spine to absorb shock

2) Extensive use of copper sulphides as anti-corrosion coatings on the bronze swords

3) Earliest iron and steel swords also appear, made by the earliest and most basic forging and folding techniques

4) World's earliest book on alloys, "The Artificers' Record" is written, with an explicit statement on the percentage composition of the metals used in the Chinese bronze swords

Middle and Late Warring States (350BC - 221BC)
1) Steel swords get longer to 1 meter or slightly more, with longer handles for 2-handed use (though there are a few swords excavated that range from 1.2 to 1.4 meters)

2) Bronze swords also become longer to about 80 cm plus (earlier swords before have an average length of 60 cm and below)

Qin (221BC - 207BC)
1) Bronze swords become even longer, reaching over 90 cm in length and the handle is extended to be long enough for 2-handed use

2) Use of chromium oxide as a anti-corrosion protective coating on the bronze swords. This process originates way back from 700 BC. This invention was long lost for 2000 years before modern similar processes were developed during our era in 1937 and the 1950s by Germans and Americans respectively

3) The manufacture of steel swords that are 1 meter or longer is continued

Early to Middle Han (206BC - 0 AD)
1) Longer steel swords of length 1.2 meters or more are common

2) Introduction of bronze backswords, followed by steel backswords. Steel backswords are as long as their steel double-edge counterparts

3) Differential heat-treatment implemented on steel blades. This was to become a standardized process for the construction of Chinese blades for the next 2000 years

4) The prototype process of forging and folding sword blanks to improve the quality of the steel is further developed. This particular process of forging and folding the sword blanks was to be perfected by the Middle Han (known as the "refinings" process) to become a standardized process for later blades for almost 2000 years

5) The introduction of ring pommels on bronze and steel swords and backswords

6) Earliest introduction of the tunkou (metal collar at the forte), made of bronze or copper

Middle to Late Han ( 0 AD - 220AD)
1) Bronze swords and backswords, as well as steel swords are completely replaced by steel backswords

2) Forge-welding / lamination (using higher carbon steel for the cutting edge and lower carbon steels for the core or sandwich plates, depending on the design) introduced, a standardized process for later Chinese blades for almost 2000 years

3) Perfection of the forging and folding process resulting in blades being graded as thirty, fifty, and one hundred "refinings". The higher the number, the better the blade's quality. This is the "refinings" process mentioned earlier. It was also most likely transmitted to Korea

4) Earliest bronze and steel backswords exported to Korea and Japan

5) Use of white rayskin on the weapons' handle-grips introduced on Imperial Regulation blades

Early Three Kingdoms to Late Sui Dynasty (220 - 618)
1) Continued use of the highly advanced "refinings" process

2) Use of clay for differential heat-treatment introduced; we do not know specifically when --- it was invented sometime between 200BC - 500AD

3) The development of the ridged cross-section (known later to the Japanese as kiriha-zukuri and shinogi-zukuri) in the backswords, probably sometime between 100AD to 300AD.

4) Introduction of the Sassanian/Persian style suspension mounts on Chinese backswords

5) Probable introduction of Damascus wootz steel for use in swords from India or the Middle-East

Tang (618 - 907)
1) Swordmaking continues to progress in the Tang, maintaining the steady progress ever since the Han Dynasty

2) Use of ring pommels discontinued in the Middle Tang

3) Earliest use of disc-shaped guards to better protect the hand introduced in the Middle Tang

4) Mass importation of quality Chinese blades to Japan in the Middle Tang

5) Migration of Chinese and Korean swordsmiths to Japan where they transmitted their skills. Japanese smiths learn from these smiths the processes of:
a) forge-welding / laminated construction
b) ridged cross-sections (consisting of 2 variants known to the Japanese as kiriha-zukuri and shinogi-zukuri)
c) differential heat-treatment using clay
d) repeated forging and folding of sword blanks to enhance the quality of the steel ("refinings" process)

Song (960 - 1279)

1) Technical quality of Chinese weapons reaches a new high under Emperor Shenzong, a continuation from the Tang. Multiple weapons quality assessment bureaus are setup. A manual on weapons manufacture and quality control, "Weapons' Laws and Methods" is compiled and distributed to the relevant government bodies

2) Under Emperor Shenzong, the horse-chopping backsword, or "zhanmadao", a heavy 2-handed backsword used by anti-cavalry infantry is introduced in 1072AD. (If Song dimensions are exactly the same as the Tang, this backsword should be slightly in excess of 1.2 meters) This weapon is stout and massive to chop through heavy armour and continued to be in use in the Ming and Qing dynasties

3) Use of ring pommels reintroduced

4) The importation of top quality, expensive and luxurious Japanese blades and Damascus wootz blades (from the Arab world??) to China as collectors' items, works of art

5) Near late Song and after, Mongols invade Japan twice, continental blades (ie Chinese, Korean and other makes) are perceived by the Japanese as stouter, compared to their own native blades, prompting them to forge blades with thicker backs and bigger points

Yuan (1279 - 1368)
1) The use of the Turko-Mongol saber is introduced into China, where it became the ancestor of the willow leaf and goosequill sabers (liuyedao and yanmaodao) of the Ming and Qing dynasties, used by civilians and military men alike

2) Use of rayskin to act as protective and decorative scabbard wrapping introduced

Ming (1368 - 1644)
1) In early Ming, the process of making twist-core Damascus steel is transmitted to the Chinese sword-making world, most likely from Indonesia and the Southern Philippines (thanks to Philip Tom's hypothesis)

2) Use of clay in differential heat-treatment is not as common as in the Tang, smiths seem to prefer the non-clay method

3) Mass importation of Japanese sabers to China in the early Ming

4) Revival in the use of the ridged cross-section (a specific type known as shinogi-zukuri to the Japanese) in Chinese sabers, spurred by exposure to Japanese sabers used by the pirates

5) By the middle-to-late Ming, technical quality of Chinese sabers made for northern border soldiers has
been compromised by inferior workmanship, resulting in these sabers being of poor quality. General Qi Jiguang specifies higher standards to bring quality up

Qing (1644 - 1911)
1) New achievements and progress in sword-making (and various types of handicraft such as works in wood, glass, metal, jade, porcelain etc) achieved under Emperor Qianlong, a great improvement compared to the decline in the Middle Ming

2) Under him, a most comprehensive document titled "Illustrated Regulations for the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Qing Dynasty" was compiled, and it records and standardizes various characteristics of the sabers worn by the various ranks of civil and military officials, amongst other things

3) A comprehensive document titled "Weapons Workmanship Standards" is compiled (probably around the same time as the above document) and stipulates the manufacture and quality control of Chinese sabers, polearms etc

4) Occasional use of the ridged cross-section seen on Qing period sabers

5) Appearance of the oxtail saber (niuweidao) in the late Qing, where it was used exclusively by civilians and not by the Qing military

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