Chinese Dadao Sword: A Collector’s Guide
A large, cleaver-shaped
We’ve compiled a guide for
Characteristics of the Dadao
The dadao varied greatly in size and shape throughout Chinese history, but the most known is the Republican dadao of the post-Qing armies. Here are the unique characteristics of the
Type of Metal
Because of its size, the dadao is durable even though it did not go through a complex
The typical Republican dadao has a broad blade, which is thickest at the hilt and thins out as it gets wider. The blade flares out towards a clipped tip, giving the
Length and Weight
The overall length of the dadao may range from 78 to 94 centimeters, with its blade length around 50 to 70 centimeters. Most of the time, the blade tip is 3 inches or 7 centimeters along a slant. The
Even though it is large and heavy, it generally has a good balance. For instance, a Republican dadao with a blade length of 50 centimeters may have a point of balance around 13 centimeters from the guard. On the other hand, a variety with a blade length of 60 centimeters may have a balance point around 18 centimeters from the hilt side.
Unlike the disk-shaped tsuba of the Japanese
Facts About the Chinese Dadao
The dadao reminds us of the iconic broadsword Chinese post-imperial resistance fighters used. Here are the things you need to know about the Chinese dadao:
The term dao refers to a single-edged
Unlike the straight, double-edged jian swords, the dao is a single-edged
The early uses of the term dadao referred to large bladed weapons on polearms.
During the Ming and Qing dynasty, various weapons, including the large bladed weapons on polearms, carried the name dadao. It included the horse-cutter zhanmadao, the weapon Chinese armies used against the invading Jin cavalry.
The Green Standard Army also used several types of dadao, including the polearm kuanren dadao and the long saber changren dadao. Dadao also referred to a large and heavy guandao the Chinese soldiers used for strength training and testing.
The Chinese bladesmiths did not rely on high-quality steel for the dadao.
Unlike regular dao swords, the dadao swords have broad and thick blades, making them durable without using advanced techniques or high-quality steel. On the other hand, the Chinese sabers, in general, were eventually modeled on the Japanese swords. It is likely because the samurai swords made in Japan during the Ming dynasty were very high quality.
The Chinese dadao also reminds us of the Nepalese kukri.
The dadao may not be a sophisticated
Compared to the dadao, the kukri is relatively small, lightweight, versatile, and can even function as a survival knife. The dadao was too heavy, so Chinese soldiers slung it across their backs. On the other hand, the Gurkhas slung their kukri on the sides.
Sword Is Used For
In Chinese martial arts or kung fu, practitioners often use the tai chi sword or jian and the taiji dao in training. However, some also use the dadao in solo practice forms, applying the Chinese long saber techniques in fighting against the spear.
Since the dadao has become a symbol of Chinese resistance, ones that carry any markings of the 29th Route Army are now highly sought after by collectors. Still, a modern-day dadao replica makes a great addition to the collection.
History of the Chinese Dadao
We mostly recognize the dadao of the 20th century, but its general shape has earlier origins. It is interesting how it developed to the size and shape we know today.
In Song Dynasty
From 960 to 1279, several varieties of dao with different shapes and sizes became popular. The infantry soldiers favored the pu dao, also called shuang shou dao. There are some disagreements about the appearance of the early pu dao, but it generally had a blade length equal to its handle length. The blade design of the pu dao is similar to the later dadao, but the former had a longer handle.
In Ming Dynasty
From 1368 to 1644, martial arts training methods became very refined, so variations in the dao shape continued to appear. The 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms mentioned the kandao, which means chopping saber or chopping knife. Even though we do not know what it looked like, the term kandao is likely an alternative name for the dadao.
In Qing Dynasty
From 1644 to 1911, the Chinese military used many different types of dao of various lengths. The predecessor of the Republican dadao generally had a large blade that widened gradually, and its cutting edge was straight for most of its blade length.
It also featured a widened tip section as well as S-shaped quillons. Some 19th-century civilian dadao featured inscriptions, suggesting that a local military unit used them to protect their town.
In the Republican Period
The dadao played a role in the significant events during the Republican period in China, from 1912 to 1949. In 1933, Yin Yuzhang described the dadao as kandao or cleaving saber in his saber techniques manual. Chinese armies continued to use the dadao, along with their firearms.
The Warlord Period
Warlords rose to power during the 1911 Revolution, which ended China’s last imperial dynasty. Some of these warlords were highly trained officers who commanded a personal army, and their soldiers used the dadao in fighting over power.
The warlord period in China spanned between 1916 and 1929. The Chinese word for warlord is junfa, which also became associated with violence and usurpation of civil authority.
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident
On July 7, 1937, the Chinese forces clashed with the Imperial Japanese Army at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing. The Japanese army demanded entry to the town of Wanping to look for a soldier that had gone missing. However, the Chinese garrison refused, and the two sides began firing.
Chinese Colonel Ji Xingwen and his 29th Route Army used the dadao along with their modern rifles and grenades. The victory of the Chinese dadao over the Japanese katana made it a symbol of Chinese resistance.
Sino-Japanese War and World War II
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident even started the second Sino-Japanese war, from 1937 to 1945, when China began a full-scale resistance against the territorial expansion of Japan. The Sino-Japanese war contributed to the course of events in World War II, as China held down many Japanese troops on its territory.
The dadao is one of the most iconic weapons of the 20th century, associated with civilian militias and revolutionaries. The Chinese soldiers used the dadao as close combat weapons during the war, and these swords remain relevant in Chinese martial arts.