China's Legendary Swords

Discussion in 'Military History' started by crobato, Jul 21, 2007.

  1. crobato
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    China's most legendary swords are the ones made by Ou Yezi and his pupil, Ganjiang during the Warring States era.

    The most important context of this was the Wu-Yuet war. This was the war where Sun Tzu served as an adviser to the King of Wu (Helu or Holu). In here was also one of the most famous kings in Chinese history, the Yuet King Goujian.

    The story of Goujian is repeated in every Chinese school text book. After his kingdom was defeated by the Wu, Goujian and his family was allowed to live and rule the defeated kingdom of Yuet. On the outside, he appeared to dutifully complied but inside, he had to continously remind himself of the bitter defeat of his nation by insisting on sleeping only in hay over cold ground and eating bile every day until his nation was able to exact its revenge upon the Wu.

    The land of Yuet is renowned for its swords, no one other than Ouyezi is most renowned. Between him and his pupil Ganjiang, these swords were made.

    1. Longyuan
    2. Taia
    3. Gongbu
    4. Zhanlu
    5. Yuchang
    6. Shengye
    7. Juque
    8. Chunjun
    9. Ganjiang's Yang sword
    10. Moyie's Ying sword.

    http://www.universalswordsman.com/

    uYezi was the most famous swordmaker in all of Chinese history. He was active during the Spring and Autumn Period. According to stories in the Yue Ju Shu he made a set of three swords for King Zhao of Chu (r.515-489 B.C.) and a set of five swords for King Goujian of Yue (r.496-465 B.C.). There are stories concerning a couple of these swords that attribute to them nearly magically qualities.

    The first set of swords was made for King Zhao of Chu. Legend tells us that Zhao sent his advisor Feng Huzi, who was an expert on swords, to seek out OuYezi and place an order for three swords. OuYezi was living in a mountainous area in the state of Yue called Longyuan. It is said that he chose the spot because it offered quiet solitude and the availablity of superior natural resources. OuYezi set up his forge there because he thought the seven natural springs that surrounded the spot resembled the seven stars of the Big Dipper, a good omen.

    It took him two years to make the three swords. The were forged from iron ore from Mt. Ci Shan, sharpened by stone from Liang Shi Keng and quenched in water from Jian Chi a mountain spring next to a thousand year old pine tree.

    The three swords were named Longyuan - "Dragon Well", Taia - "Peaceful Relative or Tai Mountaintop", and Gongbu - "Work Deployer". The story goes that when Feng Huzi returned with the swords the king was greatly pleased. Feng Huzi described the swords this way. Long Yuan’s shape seems to be reaching for a lofty mountain and arriving in an abyss. The distinct coarse pattern which fills Gong Bu’s surface, seems like endless flowing water. This sword is called Taia, its pattern is as towering and thriving as waves of flowing water.

    n another story we are told that the combined forces of the states of Jin and Zheng had surrounded and held captive a Chu city for three years. When King Zhao received the Taia sword he climbed to the top of the gatetower and waved it in the air as a signal to launch a counter attack. This succeeded in rousing the morale of his troops who managed to break the seige. Afterwards King Zhao asked Feng Huzi, "how is it possible for a sword made out of mere metal to have such a spirit?" Feng Huzi responded that "When the spirit of the metal sword combines with the spirit of a great king, the miraculous is possible."

    The Taia sword was also the source of inspiration for "Taia-ki" (Annals of the Taia Sword) a letter written in 15th century Japan, to Ono Tadaaki, head of the Itto school of swordsmanship by his spiritual teacher, Takuan Soho, a Zen Buddhist monk. Takuan counted among his other students the famous swordsmen Munenori Yagyu and Miyamoto Musashi. The Taia-ki uses the Taia sword as a metaphor for realizing the correct mindset to become the ultimate warrior.

    It is mentioned in The Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Quan, that the first emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) owned the Taia sword and archaeologists today believe that it may have been buried with him. Though the outer portions of his vast tomb have been partially excavated, uncovering an army of literally thousands of terra-cotta warriors wielding bronze weapons, the main burial chamber, which was finally pinpointed in 2003 using an electromagnetic survey, has yet to be opened.

    Five Swords for the King Yue

    The second set of famous swords that OuYezi cast was a group of five made for King Ganjiang of Yue. These swords were forged on Mt. Zhanlu and took three years to complete. The swords were named ZhanLu - "Wholesome Land or Dark and Clear" (again presumably named in recognition of the place where he worked), Yuchang - "Fish Intestine or Hidden in Fish", Shengye - "Defeater of Evil", Juque -"Giant", and Chunjun - "Pure Harmony".

    In 494 B.C., as a sign of supplication after he was defeated in battle, King Goujian of Yue sent three of these swords, Zhanlu, Yuchang and Shengye, to King Helu of Wu, who was a collector of swords. However the Zhanlu sword deemed that the king of Wu was not a man of good character and so made "its own way" to the state of Chu where King Zhao found it lying beside him one morning when he awoke. The king of Chu called Feng Huzi who explained that the sword was one of the five made for Goujian by OuYezi. When it had been made, Mt. Chijin had burst open to reveal its deposits of tin, and River Ruoye had dried up to show its bed of copper ore; the rain god had sent rain to wash the ground, the god of thunder had pumped wind from his bellows, the flood dragon had carried the furnace, and the Emperor of Heaven had filled it with coals. The great swordsmith Ou Yezi, who knew all nature's secrets, had beaten and tempered the metal a thousand times to fashion the five swords. This Zhanlu sword was therefore priceless. When asked to explain how it came to Chu, Feng Huzi said "The sword is made from the essence of all metals and the spirit of the sun that gives it intelligence. It can choose to help a man of kingly character or flee from a man of poor character".


    The ZhanLu Sword

    The ZhanLu sword appears several more times throughout history... During the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.), The ZhanLu was owned by famous general (or Judge) Zhou Chu who treated it as his most treasured possession. During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), a descendent of general Zhou Chu presented the sword to the famous war hero Yue Fei to be used on the battlefield against northern invaders.

    Some of the various descriptions of and traits applied to the ZhanLu sword include the following... it shimmered in the daylight and glowed in the evening. The sun, moon, and stars seemed to have lost their brilliance in it’s presence. Made from the essence of all metals, it contains the spirit of the sun. Drawn it gleams with life, sheathed it demands respect. It was reputed to be so sharp that dipped into water it could be withdrawn perfectly dry. It was also said to be able to roll up and extend at will. These references led to the sword being called Zhan Lu Shen Jian - "Magical Sword ZhanLu".

    Just after Goujian surrendered, King Helu of Wu died, as a result of an infection to a wound he received in battle. Helu's son Fuchai upon taking the throne of Wu had the Yuchang and Shengye swords along with nearly three thousand other swords entombed with his father. To ensure the secrecy of the location of the tomb, Fuchai had the thousand workmen on the project killed. Legend tells us that just after completion of the tomb a white tiger began appearing on the hillside where the tomb was located. The spot located near Suzhou City in Jiansu Province has since been named Hu Qui or Tiger Hill.

    Nearly three hundred years later the first emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) who owned and loved the Taia Sword, sent out a group of men to find Helu's tomb and bring back the swords. They did a vast amount of digging but were apparently unable to locate the entrance to the tomb. The hole they left behind has over the years filled with water and is now known as the Sword Pond. In 1955 the pond was pumped dry and after some digging the entrance to the tomb was discovered. However it was not opened for fear that the Yunyan pagoda that was erected on top of the hill, that is already unstable and leaning like the famous Tower of Pisa, would collapse.


    Ganjiang and Moyie Swords

    Ganjiang was a swordmaker who made two very famous swords during the Spring and Autumn Period. Some sources say that Ganjiang and OuYezi had the same teacher, while others claim that OuYezi was Ganjiang's teacher and his wife Moyie was OuYezi's daughter. Either way Ganjiang is the second most famous swordmaker in the long history of China.

    According to the stories, in 494 BC when Goujian the King of Yue was about to be taken prisoner by the forces of Wu he sent three of five famous swords that he'd had made by Ou Yezi to the King of Wu, a collector of swords, an act of submission. It is said that the King of Wu was so impressed that he ordered Ganjiang to make him a sword. To make these weapons Ganjiang collected the iron essence of the Five Mountains and the metal efflorescence of the valleys of Six Unions. He attended upon Heaven and waited upon Earth; Yin and Yang shone together; the Hundred Spirits approached and observed; the Chi of heaven descended; but the essences of metal and iron did not melt, sink and flow. Ganjiang recalled that when his teacher had this problem it was because the essences of Yin and Yang were not in harmony. Ganjiang determined that he needed more Yin essence. He asked his wife Moyie to cut her hair and clip her fingernails and once these were thrown into the furnace the transformation began to occur. To add to this Yin essence Moyie had also gathered three hundred maidens to work the bellows and stoke the charcoal. The metal and iron melted and Ganjiang was able to produce two swords, a Yang sword that he called Ganjiang which had a tortoise shell pattern and a Yin sword that he named Moyie which had an eel-skin texture. (It has been suggested that the afore mentioned tortoise shell pattern is just another way of describing the diamond pattern which adorns the Sword of Goujian, King of Yue.) Ganjiang presented the Yin sword Moyie to the King of Wu who was greatly pleased.

    In most cases this is where the story ends.

    However in some versions of the legend the King of Wu discovered that a pair of swords had been produced and Ganjiang had kept the Yang sword for himself. The king was so outraged that he had the swordmaker killed. Moyie who was pregnant at the time raised her son to hate the man who'd killed his father and it was her wish that when he was old enough he take the Ganjiang sword from its hiding place within the hollow of a thousand year old pine tree and kill the king.
     
    #1 crobato, Jul 21, 2007
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2007
  2. crobato
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    Historical evidence.

    The Sword of Guojian

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_of_Gou_Jian

    The Sword of Gou Jian (越王勾踐劍) is an archaeological artifact of the Spring and Autumn Period found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Renowned for its sharpness and resilience to tarnish, it is a first-level protected artifact of the People's Republic of China currently in the possession of Hubei Museum.

    http://www.universalswordsman.com/

    The Sword of Guang, King of Wu

    The only extant weapon attributed to Ganjiang is the Sword of Guang. Guang was a prince from Wu, with greater aspirations. Not content to be general of the armies of Wu, Prince Guang had his cousin King Liao slain so that he could ascend the throne. Some versions of the tale have the assassin drawing a sword which lay hidden in a roasted fish, the king's favorite dish, to cut down the king thereby associating Prince Guang with the famous Yuchang - Hidden in Fish Sword. After his ascension Prince Guang took the name of King Helu. This sword which was still exteremly sharp when found was unearthed in the 1990's. It now resides in the Suzhou Museum.

    The third is the Spear of Fuchai, who was the king of Wu and Goujian's enemy.

    http://www.chinese-forums.com/showthread.php?t=4819

    Wu Fuchai spearhead 吴王夫差矛
    The inscription is 吴王夫差自乍用矛 (Wu King Fuchai personal spear)
    Near the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, 500 BC.
    29.5cm long, 5.5cm wide.
     
    #2 crobato, Jul 21, 2007
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2007
  3. crobato
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  4. DarkEminence
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    It would be perfect if the Heaven Sword and the Dragon Saber actually existed (from Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber by Jinyong). Not broken, of course :D
     
  5. Roger604
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    How about those Qing dynasty swords. Are there pictures of them on the internet?
     
  6. crobato
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    I am sure there are. The Qianlong Emperor is said to be a major devotee of swords---probably to China's own overall detriment, since he reemphasized the use of swords in the military, to the detriment of using firearms. Nonetheless he is said to have a pretty good collection and Qing Dynasty swords, which are daos with a saber like design (goosequill and willowleaf) are some of the finest made in the world.

    It would be interesting if the archeologists are able to open both the tombs of Helu and Shin Huang Di, to find the other legendary swords including the Taia.

    Another legendary sword but some people doubt it really existed is Guan Yu's Green Dragon Crescent Sword, otherwise known as the Guan Dao. Its not really a sword but more of a halberd. You can see this weapon in any image of Guan Yu, which is celebrated as a deity in many temples. This weapon also shows up in various anime and video games that is related to Guan Yu's character.

    Historically, the swords in the Three Kingdoms period are more likely to be straight singled edge dao, so in a way resemble more like the Japanese swords except being straight. Beautiful bronze jian stopped production in the early Han period.
     
  7. crobato
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    I find it quite interesting that the Japanese word for sword itself is 'ken', which is actually the onyomi for the Chinese 'jian' which is double edged. Whereas all the famous Japanese swords like the katana are "to", which is the onyomi for the Chinese "dao", which is single edged sword. Before dao was introduced to Japan, at a certain very early part of their history, jian may have been introduced first. If the legendary sword Kusanagi ever existed, it is most likely to have been a bronzed Jian.
     
  8. crobato
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    Recently in popular culture, there appears to be some sword called the Zanbato that is becoming well known thanks to shows and games like Rurouni Kenshin; Bleach; Naruto; and not the least Final Fantasy 7 (the Cloud Buster). This is a sword with an enormous length and size, with a two handed handle to match that is at least a foot long.

    Oddly enough this type of sword does not appear in Japanese history or in general usage. However, it does have historical precedents---in China.

    The word Zanbato is actually the onyomi for Zhanmadao, or horse cutting sabre. Zan = Zhan, ba = ma, to = dao. At the time of the Song Dynasty, AD 1072, the heavy knight cavalry formations of the opposing Jin Dynasty were boasted as being unstoppable.

    The Shenzong Emperor presented the sword to his court, and after following favorable comments on its workmanship and strength, ordered the mass production of the sword to arm the Song armies. However using the sword requires a specialty and it should be noted that the sword's weight gives it a disadvantage against man on man fighting. Against cavalry it was superb. It was intended to cut down both horse and rider in one stroke, and chop through the opponent even with significant body armor. It was probably the first of the big dao, popularly called by collectors as "choppers".

    The handle is generally about more than a foot long, usually about 15 inches, while the blade is over three feet and in its original specs, 115cm. The blade is generally straight with a curve on the end, though the design may have altered somewhat in later centuries.

    To use the zhanmadao, requires specially trained commandos that has to hold the sword in the back, in a kneeling or crouched position, waiting and standing in front of a cavalry charge. This must have required a lot of steel nerve. Then the sword will be swung in one big stroke against horse and rider, usually chopping the horse legs off, and rendering the fallen rider vulnerable if he is still alive to the next falling blow. Through a heavily specialized weapon, it also proved rather lasting, as the Song would also use them against the Mongols, the Yuan against their fellow Mongols, the Ming, and right down even to the Qing.

    The famous general and hero of the Song Dynasty, General Yue Fei are noted for his troops that use the zhanmadao.

    Japanese traveling to China at that time may have been witnessed to such "chopping" events, then brought the stories home, and perhaps even some swords as souvenirs, creating the legendary "Zanbato". But the conditions in Edo era Japan would have made the use of such sword in general warfare to be impractical.
     
    #8 crobato, Aug 22, 2007
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  9. crobato
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    The Taia-Ki or Annals of the Sword Taia or the Unfettered Mind, the Writings of a Zen Master to a Sword Master by Takuan Soho.

    http://www.angelfire.com/extreme4/kendo/TheUnfetteredMind.pdf

    Here the Zen master finds the metaphor for the Unfettered Mind as the Taia sword, which in Chinese means "No Equal Under Heaven".
     
  10. crobato
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    Bonnie Liao wrote this at the HFsword forums. Its a great reference to Chinese sword naming.

    http://www.hfsword.com/bbs/viewthre...BD%A3%2B&sid=721942bbf77755cbb5de45651eb520a3


    "Name of Chinese Sword 中国剑命名 by Bonnie Liao


    Name giving of swords is time-honored in Chinese history. Examples can be traced back as early asKun Wu Dao (Kun Wu, a mountain mentioned in ancient books for best iron ore) of Emperor Mu Wang in Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century - 256 B.C.), Xing Gou Dao (Rejuvenate the Country) of Emperor Wu Di in Jin Dynastry (265 - 420),Shen Su Dao (Magical Tactics) of King Fu Jian in Qian Qin Dynasty (351 - 394), Ding Ye Dao (Stabilize the Enterprise) of King Gao Di in Southern Qi Dynasty (479 - 502). There are also many wide spread legend of jian, some of which made by Ou Ye Zi in Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 B.C.), namelyJu Que (Big Fault), Long Yuan (Dragon Abyss), Tai Er (Tai Mountaintop), Sheng Xie (Defeat the Evil) and many others. Together with propagation of scholars and literati, naming swords has exerted a tremendous influence.

    The earliest record of naming objects with regards to", Tian Di Ren" meaning heaven, earth and human " is found in - Shi Ji - Feng Chan Shu. It says "Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor made three treasured Ding (a ancient cooking vessel with two loop handles and three or four legs) in the images of heaven, earth and human. Ding represents the sign of forever-secured country. Heave, earth and human, on the other hand, symbolize that the power of emperor was granted by the heaven. Kings and emperors of all dynasties therefore love to use heaven, earth or human as the first character of names for their weapons.

    Patterns of Long (dragon) and Feng (phoenix) are also highly regarded because it means auspicious omen as well as honour. Long, moreover, is the symbol of absolute and ubiquitous powers. In order to indicate the sharpness and invincibility of swords, Shen Feng (holy edge) is also used.

    As important as giving name to each person, a meaningful and well-put name is able to reflect the characteristics and spirits of a sword. There are a lot of great legends of dao and jian with significant and unique names, which cannot be missed.

    By the end of Spring and Autumn Period and beginning of Warring State (475 - 221 B.C.), Wu Yue brone jian was in its prime. One highly skilful and most well known swordsmith is Ou Ye Zi. Requested by Yun Chang, King of the Yue, Ou Ye Zi made five jian. The first is namedChun Jun (Pure and Even), the secondZhan Lu (Black Soil), the thirdHao Cao orPan Ying (Coil Melolonthoid), the forthYu Chang (Fish Intestine), and the fifthJu Que (Big Fault).

    One day, a state guest named Xue Zhu, an expert of jian, came to Yue palace. The King Yun Chang asked him to examine those swords made by Ou Ye Zi. First, they took a look at Hao Cao (also named as Pan Ying). Xue Zhu said shortly, “This is not a fine sword. Fine sword should reflect beautiful colors. But Hao Cao is overshadowed, its rays perished, its spirits died.”

    Then they looked at Ju Que. Xue Zhu said again, “This is not a fine sword. Fine sword should have iron harmonized with tin where momentum looks like clouds and mist. Now the light of this sword has vanished.”

    Next they took up Yu Chang. Said Xue Zhu, “Fine sword should have unity and coherence in pattern, absolutely without countercurrent from the beginning till the end. Now Yu Chang is entirely reversed its head to tail, which is against the rule. Whoever carries this sword will kill his king while being a minister, or murder his father while being a son.”

    Yu Chang later presented Chun Jun. After carefully examined, Xue Zhu could not help praising that, “its rays are like those of the rising sun, its glamour is so profound that it looks like a fresh blossoming lotus on the Xiang river. Look at its patters, which look like brilliant stars in milk way; look at its lights, which look like water overflows from a pool; look at its colors, which look like shining ice melting away and lights of daytime. This should be Chun Jun."

    Finally, Yu Chang took out Zhan Lu to Xue Zhu, who claimed loudly, "My God! It harbors essence of refined iron and pours out spirits of purified tin, its rare temperament connects to divine souls. Whoever carries this sword can charge and kill his enemies. "

    As a legendary swordsmith, Ou Ye Zi has another three well-known swords made withGan Jiang also on the request from King of Chu, namely Long Yuan (Dragon Abyss), Tai Er (Tai Mountaintop) andGong Bu. King of Chu was greatly pleased but a little confused why they were given these names. Feng Hu Zi, the minister who delivered the request, told the king, "If you wish to know why Long Yuan, look at its shape, which seems like reaching lofty mountain and arriving in abyss. If you wish to know why Tai Er, look at its pattern, which is as towering and thriving as waves of flowing water. If you wish to know why Gong Bu, its distinct coarse pattern is filled with surface till ridge, which seems like endless flowing water. "

    During Three Kingdoms period (220 - 280), King ofWei, Cao Pei ordered his royal craftsman to forge three fine swords -Fei Jing (Flying Shadow), Liu Cai (Flowing Brilliance) andHua Ting (Figured Iron). Historical records indicate Fei Jing is named because the rays of the swords are like shooting stars.

    More recent examples of names must be the private swords of Emperor Qian Long in Qing Dynasty, who is regarded as one of the greatest sword lovers in history. According to collections and historical records preserved in Forbidden Cities Museum, Qian Long placed orders of totally four batches of imperial dao jian with inscriptions.

    The first batch took 10 years to complete from 1748 till 1757. There are thirty Dao and thirty Jian, sixty swords in total. These swords are mostly three ci in length (1 chi = 1/3 meter) and weight twenty-three to thirty-one liang (1 liang = 50 gram). All of them are given names, such as Yue Sheng (Rising Moon), Shuang Ming (Crystal Frost), Ning Bing (Congealing Ice) and etc.

    The second batch of ten swords completed in 1779 with names of Han Feng (Cold Edge), Liu Guang (Flowing Lights), Fei She (Flying Snake) and others.


    The third batch of another 10 sword was finished in 1793. Some of the names are Tu Mang (Pouring Rays) and Yan Hong (Hid the Rainbow).
    The last batch of 10 jian came out in 1795. Some of them were named Qiu Shuang (Autumn Frost), Su Ding (Foged Iron), and Hui Ting (Waving Thunderbolt). In general, sword in the second to the forth batches weight 18 liang.

    Chinese is one of the most complicated but beautiful languages on earth, which is also the best to describe and name ancient Chinese sword with unpredictable and unique pattern."
     
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