Many sword enthusiasts fixate on Japanese swords, and for good reason. Japanese swords are associated with exceptional craftsmanship, and the rich history is as intriguing as the beautiful weapons themselves. But it’s time to explore the contribution that the Chinese have made to the history of swords, as today we will be taking a look at the history of the Jian sword.
The History of the Jian Sword
The Jian sword is perhaps the most well-known of all of the Chinese swords, and was developed sometime around the 7th century BCE, during the legendary Spring and Autumn period during which a rich array of beautiful weapons were developed by expert Chinese craftsman. It’s associated with the Shang dynasty, as it was first used around this time.
It’s considered an ornamental sword as well as a functional one, and has been given the nickname, “the gentleman of a hundred soldiers” for its incredible efficiency. Much like the samurai swords of Japan, Jian swords were associated with social status, as they were carried by emperor, although many artisans of the time also carried one. If you carried a Jian with you, people knew that you were a person of means.
The iconic Sword of Goujian was a Jian sword, and it’s been a topic of Chinese folklore for centuries, which has a lot to do with its enduring popularity in modern day. Being a double-edged sword, it serves more purposes than single-edged models, which allowed for more functionality and usefulness. In ancient times, sword craftsman would test the efficiency of the blade on bamboo, rice straw or saplings, as was part of the tradition.
Today, the Jian is used for martial arts training, as its use in combat has understandably declined over the centuries. Still, it’s an enormously popular weapon that many collect in China and in the rest of the world.
What Makes the Jian Unique?
Like many swords that have endured for centuries, the Jian has seen some adjustments over the years, particularly to its length. Shorter Jians are about 18 inches long, with longer ones being 31 inches long. The earliest versions were single-handed, although nowadays the double-handed design is standard.
Some particularly clever design elements found their way into the Jian early on, including a pommel at the end of the handle for balancing purposes, and an ornamental yet highly useful guard in the shape of wings or a disc, intended to protect the wearer. Decorative tassels were usually reserved for members of high-ranking classes in society.
Early on, Jians were made from bronze, but the material switched over to steel once it was an easily accessible material, due to its superior strength and resilience. There are some ornamental Jians made from jade, which were unlikely used for combat, but were seen as luxury items worthy of displaying to visitors.
The forging technique used to produce a Jian is remarkably similar to that of a katana, and many sword historians believe that these methods were borrowed directly from Japan as swordsmiths commonly traveled to and from the country. What this means is that the Jian is a uniquely strong sword, and a capable one at that, having two edges that allow for easy cutting, slashing, and chopping.
Advantages of Jian Swords
The Jian maintained a reputation for being the weapon of choice for centuries for a number of reasons. One obviously relates to the fact that it is a more effective sword in terms of its capabilities. It’s also a highly versatile sword. Being more lightweight than many alternatives, soldiers typically preferred it for battles as the arms were less likely to get fatigued. As it was originally one-handed, it allowed for easier and more intuitive maneuvering.
Jian Swords Today
As we said earlier, Jians of today are typically used for martial arts training, as they are no long used in battle. But they remain highly sought-after swords, being ornamental and carrying much historical and cultural significance. You can find a beautiful Jian sword made using the same expert craftsmanship that set it apart from other weapons centuries ago and display it in a way that allows others to enjoy its unique beauty.