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Changdao: Uncovering its Characteristics and Historical Legacy

Written by: David Mickov
Updated: November 5, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Changdao, also spelled as Chang Dao or ChangaDao, is a Chinese two-handed sword developed and used to defeat the Japanese pirates (Wokou) of the 15th century. It is said to have very similar characteristics to the Miaodao sword.

In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of the Changdao sword and explain how it is different from other types of Chinese weapons. Here, we will review its terminology, its history, and how it evolved to the modern version we know today. You will also learn where to find it online, and then we’ll see how it compares to its Japanese version.

Characteristics of the Changdao

Changdao Swords with Details
A 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) long Changdao sword and its details – Credits: WikiMedia

The Changdao sword is sometimes called the “Chinese katana” because this sword was inspired by the Japanese katana. However, the Changdao sword is larger in size and closely resembles the Japanese Odachi or Naginata swords.


The blade of the Changdao is very long. The blade’s overall length can go from around 4.2 to 5.2 feet (1.3 to 1.6 meters). This is much longer than the blade of most Chinese swords. The Changdao sword blade is longer than later Chinese swords. This is because it was made for various practical uses, as guns were already available at the time.

The Changdao is a single-edged two-handed sword. This means that only one side of the edge is sharpened and used for slashing.

The modern Changdao has a spherical pipe as the backbone of the blade, while the first Changdao swords most likely didn’t have them. This characteristic is shared with the Miaodao and is the main reason for the lightness of the blade.


The handle of the Changdao is 1 to 1.5 feet (30 to 35 cm) long, making it a little bit bigger than all other Chinese swords. This large handle allows the user to employ it as both a spear and a sword, which is why Changdao swords were used in the front lines of the Duck formation.

In addition, the handle of the Changdao is always wrapped. This gives the sword much better grip and power.


The guard of the Changdao is circularly shaped, offering protection to the wielder’s hands. The design of the guard is directly influenced by the Japanese art and style of making swords.


The scabbard for the Changdao is made out of wood material. It is slightly longer than the typical Chinese scabbard and, therefore, slightly heavier, weighing around 0.66 to 0.88 lbs (300 to 400 grams). The total weight of a sheathed Changdao is about 3.7 lbs (1.7 kg).

Length & Size

Sheathing the long ChangDao
Sheathing the long Changdao sword can be quite a task – Credits: WikiMedia

The total length of the Changdao sword is 3.9 to 5.9 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) and can reach a length of as much as 6.5 feet (2 meters)! 

The extensive length will make this sword very powerful for both long and short strikes. It was used to defeat many Wokou with their Japanese swords (Wokou are pirates who raided the Chinese east coast, particularly along the Yellow and Bohai seas). This was under the leadership of General Qi, who used the Changdao on the frontlines.


The Changdao weighs around 2.6 to 3.3 lbs (1.2 to 1.5kg). However, it is still a very light sword, despite its size and status as a long saber.


The Changdao is a saber with a very slight, soft curve. The curve starts at the neck of the sword (located above the guard), where the balance point is, and goes all the way to the tip of the blade. It has a Japanese-styled curve, giving sword users numerous ways to kill with slashes and stabs.


Changdao sword
Changdao, a two-handed long Chinese saber – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

In Chinese, Changdao means long saber or can even be translated as staff saber.

The Changdao was often used as a general term for two-handed longswords during the Ming dynasty. It was also the name of a type of weapon that was used to fight against horses. This is where the confusion stems from with the terminology of this sword.

Historical archives state that the Changdao sword was used in the battle against the Japanese pirates. Led by General Qi’s innovativeness, both the Japanese and Chinese Jian weapons informed the creation of this sword.

The modern term for this sword is Miaodao. Fencing in China became very popular during the 1920s, and the Miaodao became a national symbol. Consequently, the Miaodao essentially became the new Changdao.

ChangaDao Swords may be hard to find online

A Changdao with black background
Search for ‘Miaodao’ when finding Changdao swords online – Credits: Samurai Swords Store

If you are looking to buy a Changdao, which may be available on the market, search for a Miaodao sword instead.

You might find a few hits from the term ‘Changdao’ here or there, but the modern term for this sword is Miaodao. That is why you will mostly see a Changdao under the name Miaodao. 

To get as close as possible to the Changdao, consider looking for a longer and bigger version of the Miaodao with a wrapped handle.

Is ChangDao the Modern MiaoDao?

Yes, Changdao is the modern Miaodao. The Changdao is the original sword used to defeat the Wokou (Japanese pirates) and was also created in this period. The Miaodao is a very similar sword, with only a few differences. 

Both Miaodao and Changdao share a similar history. However, the Miaodao, made in the 1920s, was crafted with more modern traits.

This is how they differ from each other:

  • Edge & Blade – The Changdao is a two-handed sword with a single edge, whereas the Miaodao is called a “two-edged sword.” Both have full tangs.
  • Backbone – The backbone of a modern Changdao sword is a spherical pipe, while the first Changdao swords probably didn’t have them. The Miaodao shares a similar characteristic and is the main reason why both blades are so light.
  • Handles – Changdao handles are always wrapped. The modern Miaodao, on the other hand, has a handle made of polished wood. The wrapped handle makes the sword much easier to hold and gives it much more power.
  • Length – The length of the Changdao sword is 3.9 to 5.9 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters). It is much longer than the Miaodao, reaching only 4.5 feet (1.4 meters).
  • Weight – Since the Changdao sword is longer than the Miaodao, it makes sense that it weighs more than the Miaodao.

The length and size are the biggest differences between the Changdao and the Miaodao. The Miaodao is a modern invention that is slightly shorter to fit its needs.

When it comes to curved Chinese swords, Changdao is first. That is why you may notice that Changdao is sometimes referred to as the Chinese katana (because it was made when China opposed Japan). The Changdao, however, has been somewhat forgotten as the new term, Miaodao, has taken over.

History of the ChangDao

During the Ming dynasty, Japanese pirates often troubled the people near the coast. When the court told Qi Jiguang to fight the Japanese pirates, he led his army in multiple attempts against them. However, the Japanese pirates used swords called “katanas,” which were very dangerous, and many soldiers of the court lost their lives in these battles.

In order to overthrow the Japanese pirates, General Qi Jiguang shifted his attention to learning about weapons. He took the best parts of both the ancient Chinese ritual swords known as Jian and Japanese swords to create a new style of weapon called the Changdao. This sword was much stronger than expected and proved a powerful opponent against the Japanese Katana.

Duck Formation and the Changdao
Two Changdao swords used on both sides of the Duck Formation – Credits: ChineseLongSword, YouTube

Despite what most people think, General Qi’s creation of the Changdao had less to do with defeating the Japanese pirates and more to do with supplementing his tactical ideas, such as the Mandarin Duck formation. General Qi didn’t want to try to win in a fair fight against the Japanese warriors. That only happens in martial arts movies, not in real life.

General Qi was also in charge of up to 100,000 troops on the border during the battle against the Mongols. The Changdao was so efficient in battle that up to 40% of his commandos carried it around the Mongol border. The Changdao was used until the late Ming dynasty. 

Later, people would often compare the Changdao to the Japanese Odachi or Nagamaki, which is very similar to the Changdao.

Sources Cited
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