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Thread: Age of jian and dao

  1. #1
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    Age of jian and dao

    I came across this sentence somewhere and I wonder if it is true:

    "So there is the jian, a two-edged sword, over 2500 years old and the dao, the sabre, even a few centuries older."

    Can anybody comment on this??

    thanx

  2. #2
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    It's about right.

    During the Shang Dynasty, the main hand-to-hand weapons were ge (dagger-axe), battle axe (fu, yue) and spear. The classic knives/daggers were 20-40cm long, single or double edged, with animal-head pommels. These knives and daggers aren't usually called jian/dao (although technically the single-edged ones are dao). There are also some other single edged knives, but still short, about 30cm blade + tang. These are called dao, but whether or not you'd call it a sword, I don't know.

    Jian looks like it appears early Zhou (i.e., Western Zhou), so more than 2500 years ago. Short, often 40-45cm total length, but conventionally called swords. Eastern Zhou (later Zhou), you see longer jian, 70cm long and over (and still see short jian).

    These are all bronze. Iron and steel replace bronze for weapons during the Han dynasty, but were used alongside bronze for a long time before that. Earliest iron/steel weapons in China appear about 600BC, and most jian were steel before Han.

    (Source: Yang Hong, Weapons in Ancient China)
    "In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.

  3. #3

    Lightbulb

    Quote Originally Posted by Ynze Waterlander View Post
    "... and the dao, the sabre, even a few centuries older."
    Hey Ynze,

    Wow, Timo sure encapsulated a whole lot of pertinent information in just a few sentences! As far as the jian following the dao... it is my understanding that the reverse is true. Well, in terms of fully developed swords and not just by definition: knives or daggers. Now, with the arrival of the completely evolved Chinese "sword", it was the dao that followed the jian, in the light of historical progression. China was not unique in this regard, as worldwide, stabbing/thrusting swords predated cutting swords. Yes, I mean real swords, therefore true sabers, not cutting sword-like-objects such as the Egyptian khopesh, who had the adze/axe as it's origin (really more of a sickle than a sword). IMHO, I would emphasis a differentiation, when speaking of true swords and that the double-edged sword is the root of all other sword variants, like the saber. I am curious, who made this assertion and what is your aim, in verifying it's validity? There is a heck of a lot of good source material out there to research.

    Cheers all!



    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, Jon
    Last edited by jonpalombi; 11-24-2010 at 09:16 PM.
    "A wise person aspires the study of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy teacher, an unlucky person finds yet another student... in the guise of a genuine Master. Sadly, a fool cannot tell the difference either way." Anecdotes of The Unknown Swordsman

  4. #4
    Gentlemen, forgive my ignorance; when you say dao, do you mean "dao" as a general word for all Chinese single edged knives, or "dao" as the single edged, curved Chinese saber? Did that specific type of saber exist 2500 years ago in China?
    "The relationship between West(Occident) and East(Orient) is indeed an example of a relationship of power and domination. Orientalism is thus a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and the Occident. It is a Western style of dominating, restructuring and building hegemony over the Orient.İt is an accepted grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness, into the general culture."
    From "Orientalism" by Edward Said

  5. #5
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    Further to the previous two posts, yes, the sword-dao appears later than the jian. That is, the single-edged long sword appears after the double-edged long sword. (For "long", we could say over 60cm in overall length.)

    The earliest long sword-dao I know of are early Han, bronze ring pommel dao, some with flat-sided blades, some with ridged blades. These were followed shortly (or preceded by?) steel ring pommel dao. These early sword-dao are straight, not curved. Earliest sabre-dao (i.e., curved sword-length blades) I know of are Song. All Han and Tang sword-dao I know of are straight, so I'd expect the majority to be straight. (I'd be interested in pointers to any notable exceptions.)

    The dao that predate jian are knives, the larger ones being about the size of large bowie knives. These are curved.

    There are also single-edged cutting polearms roughly contemporary with the earliest jian that could be called "swords". These look like bronze socketed naginata blades. Technically, these are dao.

    Dao that are unambiguously swords appear to be early Han and later, both bronze and steel. Earlier dao are knives, polearms, or large knives. Some would describe the last, bowie-sized dao, as "swords".
    Last edited by Timo Nieminen; 11-24-2010 at 09:24 PM. Reason: early sword-dao are straight, not curved
    "In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.

  6. #6
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    Thanx for the reactions.

    I think the question was about what we might say jian (sword) and dao (saber).

    If I understood it all correctly looking at both weapons from a more modern perspective (length etc) the jian/sword is the oldest and in its earliest sword form is over 2500 years old (pre-qin?/qin?). The dao (saber) is aprox. 2200 years old. (Han)

    cheers.

  7. #7
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    That's basically it. Jian are pre-Qin.

    Just two points:

    1. If you're not willing to call a straight sword a "sabre", then the Chinese sabre is newer.

    2. This is just the Chinese part of it. There are earlier Central Asian swords. Some Persian long double-edged swords look very much like long Han jian (don't have dates at hand at the moment).
    "In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.

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