The civilization of ancient China has developed renowned martial arts and battle techniques. A predominant example of such arts is Kung-Fu. The Chinese army was a very successful force commanded by the Chinese emperor in the Asian continent. It checked the power of many other nations in Southeast Asia. The weapons used by the ancient Chinese army were masterpieces of engineering, which evolved throughout the history of China.
The Chinese army predominantly used four classes of weapons, which were the Dao, Qiang, Jian and Ji.
The Dao (saber)
In ancient China, the Dao was one of the most widely used weapons. ‘Dao’ was a term that referred to any kind of long weapon. As a result, the Dao could be classified into many different weapons. A common Dao appeared like a short spear that was used in hand-to-hand combat and was not thrown at the opponent like a normal spear. Most of the Dao were long weapons that had blades mounted on their long shafts. Sometimes the Dao were similar to long swords; they had blades attached directly to their handles. The Dao was in many ways similar to the ‘saber’. The blades of these weapons, even today, are considered as masterpieces by the iron smiths of the Chinese civilization.
Usage by the Chinese Army: The Dao was basically used by the army of ancient China in hand-to-hand combat. The weapon was put to use in combat to cut, slice, chop and even hack. The evolution of the Dao started in the Bronze age. It was regularly used by the troops until it was replaced, temporarily, by the Jian during the Zhou dynasty of Western China (11th century BC – 771 BC). However, the Chinese started realizing the importance of the cavalry during the end of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) and the Jian did not meet the requirements of the cavalry. The Dao, thus, regained its importance in the beginning of the Western Han Dynasty. The Chinese cavalry started using a long Dao, that had a single sided blade mounted on its long shaft, while the infantry started using the broadsword which was also a type of the Dao. The Dao class weapons remained an important part of the Chinese arsenal till the 20th Century AD.
The Qiang (spear)
The Qiang, which was a type of spear, was another important weapon of the Chinese army. The Qiang class of spears were believed to have evolved from the prehistoric spear that was known as the ‘Mao’. The common Qiang could be described as a spear that had a long staff, and had a steel, iron, or bronze mounted tip.
Usage by the Chinese Army: The ‘Mao’ was a weapon that was used since prehistoric times. It was upgraded, according to the need, into many types of Qiang class spears during the Shang Dynasty (17th century BC – 11th century BC). At that time, the Qiang had a bronze tip. By the end of the Zhou Dynasty of Eastern China (770 BC – 256 BC), it was replaced with a steel tip. This weapon was so effective, that by the end of the Western Han Dynasty, the Qiang had replaced the Chinese halberd known as the ji. The Qiang was used by the Chinese army for long distance combat that involved throwing these spears, even after firearms were introduced by the Qin Dynasty.
The Jian was the king of weapons in ancient China. Not only was this sword used for a very long time, but, it was also one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese craftsmanship. It was also often known as the ‘sovereign of blades’. The Jian was used by all, including the cavalry and the infantry, irrespective of the functions that the regiment performed. It was often considered as the primary weapon of the ancient Chinese civilization.
Usage by the Chinese Army: The Jian was popularized during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty that ended in 256 BC. Some of the greatest Jians were said to have been crafted during this period. Some of the greatest literatures of the warfare of swords, Yue Nu Jian and Jian Dao, were written during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 25). The importance of the Jian on the battlefield started declining during the Han Dynasty of Eastern China.
The Ji (halberd)
Ji is a weapon with a steel or bronze tip mounted on the end of a long shaft, next to which is attached a curved blade. Because of the attachment of the curved blade, the weapon can be used to both stab and slash. The shaft of ji used in chariots is longer than those used by infantry and cavalry. When two curved blades are attached on opposite sides of the tip, the weapon is referred to as double ji.
Ji was first used during the Shang Dynasty (17th century BC-11th century BC), when it was made of bronze. It was popularized during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC-256 BC), when it was made of steel instead. By the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), it fell out of use in war, and by the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589) it was replaced in its entirety by qiang (spear). Afterwards, it was used only as a weapon carried by ceremonial guards and as a weapon for martial artists.
The four basic weapons of ancient China are no longer used in combat but some of them, like the Jian, are used for ceremonial purposes. Martial arts institutes across China have re-developed the techniques of using these weapons. Today, there are very few of these weapons in existence. However, once upon a time, the four basic weapons of ancient China, established the supremacy of one of the biggest and most ancient civilizations of Southeast Asia.