Chinese Jian Swords: History, Construction, and Use
What’s in this article?
Jian, the double-edged
Let’s know more about the history of the jian
Types of Jian
The defining feature of the Chinese jian
Duan Jian (Short
As the name suggests, the duan jian is a short jian
Chang Jian (Long
The chang jian refers to a long
Shuang Jian (Double Jian)
The shuang jian is a set of two jian swords that fit in a single sheath or scabbard. Most of them are short swords, usually with elaborate hilt designs. They became popular in the 18th century and served as good souvenirs for tourists. However, their quality also varied from well-made weapons to solely decorative pieces.
Tuanlian Jian (Militia Jian)
When the Chinese people organized themselves in a militia called tuanlian, they also used jian swords to defend their villages. These swords had a simple appearance, a thick and heavy blade, and iron mounts. Some of them had an overall length of more than 75 centimeters and blades of around 60 centimeters.
Characteristics of the Jian
Modern-day jian swords are similar to Qing dynasty designs, but their characteristics vary depending on the practitioner.
Chinese swordsmiths used both hard and soft steels to create battle-ready jian swords. Hard steel can be brittle, so it matters to produce a
Generally, a swordsmith could wrap the hard steel around a softer core of steel, or he could twist both hard and soft layers of steel and then hammer them together. In some cases, he would first create a thin blade of hard steel, then sandwich it between soft steel cups for the length of the blade, resulting in a wide spine or face of the blade.
Regardless of the method, the blade would undergo a differential hardening process to strengthen the cutting edges without making the whole blade brittle. Generally, the blade is quenched or rapidly cooled by pouring water on the cutting edges.
Length of the
The length of jian swords varied according to the stature of the practitioner. To get the ideal blade length, hold it in a reversed holding position or fanwo. Place your arm down along the side of your torso while the jian rests outside your arm, with its tip pointing up. The standard-length jian should be level with the top of the ear.
Historically, Northern Chinese were generally taller than Southerners and used relatively long and narrow blades. Their jian swords were usually 15 centimeters longer than arm length. On the other hand, Southern Chinese used shorter swords, averaging arm length. However, the jian used in taijiquan, the tai chi
Weight and Balance
There is no standard weight for jian, but the Chinese swordsmiths produced well-balanced blades for battles. The proper weight allows the practitioner to perform several techniques without making extra effort to wield the
Ideally, the center of balance should be no more than 10 centimeters up the blade from the handguard. However, heavier swords are well-suited to techniques that involve thrusting or chopping. Generally, some improve the
Parts of the Chinese Jian
Many special terms distinguish the parts of the jian
The front edge or qianren starts from the tip, extending 6 inches downward. Warriors used this portion mainly for attacking since it is razor-sharp.
The middle edge of jian or zhongren is less sharp and thicker. It had varied uses like chopping, cutting, or diverting.
The jian root refers to the 6-inch portion at the bottom of the blade. It was usually unsharpened and served as a defense against an opponent’s blade.
A jian blade has seven parts:
1. Edge (jianren)
The jian blade has a double edge, both sides identical. They are the sharpest and thinnest part of the blade. The upper edge is called shangren, and the lower edge is called xiaren. Regardless of the
2. Tip of the Blade
Battle-ready jian swords had a sharpened tip, unlike the jian swords used in dance performances and decoration. The term jian jian’er refers specifically to the tip, while jianfeng includes the top two inches of the blade and the tip.
3. Face of the Blade
Sometimes called jian mian, it is the face of the blade.
4. Ridge or Spine (jianji)
The jianji or jianbei is the convex part of the blade, though it will flatten out toward the tip.
5. Blood Groove or Fuller
The fuller runs most of the length of the blade, making it lighter without compromising its structural integrity. It is also called a blood groove due to the old belief that stabbing creates a suction effect on the blade, making the
Some jian swords during the Qing dynasty featured a ricasso, which is the unsharpened part of the blade before the
The tang is the unsharpened part of the blade covered by the hilt. Battle-ready swords have full tang blades, in which the tang extends beyond the handle through the pommel. The tang generally has the same width as the blade. However, most jian swords had relatively wide blades and narrow tang compared to straight swords of other cultures.
Also called jianjing or jianbing, the jianba is the handle of the jian
They are often engraved, studded with gems like jade, or feature gilt silver decorations. The hilt fittings consist of the handguard called hushou, which prevents an opponent’s
There are two kinds of tassel: the duansui, which is half the length of jian, and the changsui, which is as long as the
The wen jian, the straight
However, the wu jian, or martial arts
Chinese swords usually had wooden scabbards, but metal scabbards doubled as a blocking weapon. Historically, the sheath of the jian included luxurious ornamentations to display the rank and wealth of the owner. Some designs featured dyed shagreen, stained stingray skin, or even colored lacquer. The sheath usually had bronze or brass fittings. Generally, a good sheath had a key that would eject the jian automatically.
History of the Chinese Jian
The most popular types of Chinese swords are the double-edged, straight jian and the single-edged, slightly curved dao. In the West, the dao
Early jian swords had double-edged, straight blades but were made of copper. Many believe that they originated from the time of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who started to rule in 2697 BCE. However, copper is a relatively soft metal, so these swords could not hold an edge and would break easily.
In Zhou Dynasty
From 1046 to 256 BCE, bronze-made jian swords became popular. During the Spring and Autumn period from 770 to 476 BCE, China entered a time of turbulence, so the swordmaking of jian swords was highly developed. People carried them to show their high status, and the fighting principles of jian, still used today, were widely studied and practiced.
During the period, it had become known that when bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, consisted of higher amounts of tin, it became harder but also more brittle. Hence, the
In the Warring States period, from 475 to 221 BCE, many vassals competed for supremacy and used stronger, sharper swords. The metallurgy and metal-working techniques improved, which allowed the production of long jian swords with sharp edges. During this time, the amount of tin in the center of the blade is lower, giving tensile strength to the body, and higher at the edges, allowing sharpness.
In Qin Dynasty
Before the Qin dynasty emerged as a major power in China, it was the state of Qin, one of the many feudal states during the turbulent period. Qin armies used iron jian swords in defeating various states, so many people believed that their success was due to the iron
From 221 to 207 BCE, the Qin dynasty saw the perfection of bronze jian swords, as they became longer, narrower, and thinner. Jian swords of more than 100 centimeters in length were discovered in this period.
In Han Dynasty
From 206 BCE to 220 CE, swordsmiths began making jian swords from steel, often with longer and narrower blades and featured jade carvings on the handle. The uses and significance of the straight
The type of jian indicated the rank and abilities of each government officer and played a role in official ceremonies and sacrificial religious rites. The Chinese even viewed the
In Tang Dynasty
From 618 to 907 CE, the steel jian
In Song Dynasty
From 960 to 1276, swordsmiths created Long Quan jian, also called Dragon Spring jian. The Chinese believed that these dragon swords could slice through ten large nails at a time. The Song dynasty ended with the Mongols conquering Chinese territory and founding the Yuan dynasty. This mixing of cultures influenced the
In Ming and Qing Dynasties
The Chinese conquered the Mongolian ruler and established the Ming dynasty. However, the Manchurians also invaded and formed the Qing dynasty. During these periods, swordsmiths used steel and other alloys to make swords, and Chinese martial arts developed to their highest level. Several martial arts groups used jian swords, similar to the ones used today.
Names of Jian Swords
The Chinese often gave their swords some names commonly indicating their owner, origin, or use. For example:
Long Quan jian – Name for a
Kun Wu jian – A jian derived its name from the mountain where the ore used in making the
Han jian – A jian
Mo Xie or Gan Jiang jian – A jian
Taiji jian or tai chi
The Chinese Jian vs. Japanese Swords
Both Chinese and Japanese swords are treated with respect and are symbolic of their respective cultures. Here are some of the characteristics that make them unique on their own:
Type of Steel
Chinese swordsmiths used high-quality steel to create their swords. Depending on its use, modern-day jian can be of carbon steel, high manganese steel, damascus steel, or spring steel. However, stainless steel swords are solely for decoration. On the other hand, Japanese swordsmiths created samurai swords from specific high carbon steel called tamahagane.
The Chinese jian swords were originally differentially hardened, usually using water to quench the cutting edges. On the contrary, the Japanese swords are clay tempered, in which the blade is insulated with clay, creating natural hamon or temperline patterns.
The length of the Chinese jian varies depending on the stature of the practitioner. By contrast, Japanese swords are classified based on their blade length. The blade length itself sets the katana, a long
Blade Shape and Function
The Chinese jian is a straight
Use in Battle and Martial Arts
The Chinese jian
Also, the jian