MathildeHK at the Lian g Yi Talks – February edition – Zhongping Dao: Ancestor of the Japanese Sword -Chinese and Japanese swords by Hing Chao

You are curious about Chinese and Japanese swords,

You want to discover the main Japanese  swordsmiths,

You want to know more about the Ken and the Tashi,


Hing Chao and his Zhongping Dao, Feb 4th, 2015, Liang Yi Museum, picture@MathildeHK

On Tuesday, February 3rd, I went to the Liang Yi Talk to attend a lecture on Japanese swords, held by Hing Chao

Hing Chao is an expert and leading researcher in Chinese martial studies, trying to fight for the revival of ancestral traditions. He discussed how Chinese cultural concepts shaped Japan’s warrior tradition, both from a technical point of view in terms of sword-making and swordsmanship, as well as from philosophic and ideological perspectives.

The lecture was focusing on a period going from the 3 Kingdoms period  to The Tang dynasty and dealt with the first Zhongpindao swords or long blades made in iron.  Zhongpindao swords appeared during the late 4 th century BCE China. They were burial objects, not for warfare then , adorned with inscriptions and a ring-pommel which was purely decorative.

450px-Chinese_swords (2)

Chinese swords from the Warring states to Song Dynasty,

Hing Chao explained the recent reconstitution of the blade Zhongpindao. He stressed the very few number left nowadays and the difficulty to source and document them.

1 Was Japan producing swords during the 3 kingdoms Period?

Earliest bronze swords are known to appear around 320 BCE, under the Qin Dynasty,  in China and only few examples are to be found in Japan at the same period.  However, some blades from the same period were excavated in Kyushu, Japan, in  1984. That discovery of 300 pieces of bronze swords in Japan allows to believe that some craftsmanship went from China to Japan quite early on.  The two main access to iron blades were: official gifts and trade with China.

Some swords were diplomatic gifts to Japan, or luxury goods manufactured  for the ruling classes in  China and given to Japanese princes or lords on special occasions. Trade was  also strong between Yamato court and China. Hing Chao quoted some documents of trading activities back then. Why was Japan importing blades? Mister Hing Chao underlined the lack of iron in Japan, along with the little technology in use.

2 The rise of exportation from China.

During the 6th and 7th century, the taste for bronze blades increased. The Chokuto, a single edged sword,  and  the Ken, a double edged straight blade, came on the market with high successes. By the end of  the 7 th century, their length changed  and they get shorter.

At the same moment, Korea and Japan started to forge their own swords. During the Heian period: 794 -1185,  Hing Hao drew our attention on the emergence of swords made in Japan. Some names of Swordsmiths appeared, such as : Naminoshira Yukimasa or Yasutsuna of hiki. Amakuni Yasutsuna  is one of the legendary smordsmiths who supposedly created the first single-edged longsword, named Tachi,  with curvature along the edge in the Yamato Province around 700 AD.

3 Why did Japanese create swords during the Tang Dynasty?

Japan developed swords during the  7-10 th centuries, along with the world of the Samouraï. It came along with the rise of  a warrior class. In that perspective, Japanese developed curves and weapons to use on horseback. Furthermore, the wars and the Conquest of Emishi, 774-812, made the need for precise and efficient weapons more vivid: the partisans of Emishi fought with blades that were better than Japanese’s.

What is the Chinese legation on Japanese blades?

At first, it seems the main Chinese heritage was cultural : samurai spirit- honor – bushi represented the ideal of someone who serves his country to death. It rose during western Zhou, and was the highest type of honor.

The second Chinese heritage was in the sword making methods:
the way the sword was sharp edged on both sides was certainly Chinese and passed from China to Japan. However, fine polishing was a Japanese trend. Nomenclature and techniques seem to come from china.



Hin Chao, Hong Kong


Interesting links on Japanese Sword History:

The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords by Nakayama Kokan. Translated by Kenji Mishina.
Originally in Japanese as “To-Ken Kantei Dokuhon”.


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