Ten famous swords in China's ancient times

Updated: 2011-02-16 10:43

By Yang Ping (

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In ancient times, China had ten famous swords. Accounts of the swords are often found in ancient books or ancient legends, like the Records of the Grand Historian(Shiji),Lost History of Yue(Yuejueshu),Works of Lie Zi, andAnnals of Wu and Yue. Of the ten swords, some really existed in history, while some are merely products of people’s imaginations. Nevertheless, Chinese sword culture, as represented by the ten famous swords, symbolizes the Chinese nation’s moral integrity and righteousness.

The sword of delicate elegance: Cheng Ying

Ten famous swords in China's ancient times

It is said that Cheng Ying was a long sword without a blade. Strangely enough, it projected a shadow upon the wall in the dawn or the evening, when an alternation between daylight and darkness occurred. This was the very sword appreciated by Lie Zi, as was recorded in theWorks of Lie Zi. It was made in the Shang Dynasty (about 1600-1100 BC) and later owned by Kong Zhou, a man from the State of Wei during the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC). Cheng Ying was a sword of delicate elegance.

The sword of majesty: Chun Jun

Ten famous swords in China's ancient times

Chun Jun is a sword of majesty, and also one possessed by Gou Jian, the King of the Yue State in the Spring and Autumn Period. According toThe Lost History of Yue, Gou Jian, the King of Yue, once invited Xue Zhu, an expert at appreciating swords, to come recognize and appreciate some valuable swords. Of all the precious swords presented to him, Xue appreciated only one, called Chun Jun. He advised the King not to exchange this sword with others even for a combination of a thousand good horses, three rich towns, and two big cities, reasoning that it was a unique joint creation of man and Heaven. The King followed his advice and treasured it. Today the sword is kept in the Hubei Provincial Museum.

The sword of bravery: Yu Chang

Ten famous swords in China's ancient times

Yu Chang was a sword of bravery. According to theHistory of Assassins, a chapter of theRecords of the Grand Historian, also known in English by the Chinese nameShiji, when King Liao of the State of Wu, was enjoying some food served by Zhuan Zhu, a cook dispatched to assassinate the king. Hardly had he heard an eagle flying down to him when a sword came out from the fish he was going to eat. With the sword, Zhuan Zhu wasted no time in pointing it at King Liao. Although Liao’s well-trained guards protected him with weapons, the sword still successfully reached him and stabbed into his heart. Therefore, Yu Chang was a sword of bravery.

The swords of love: Gan Jiang and Mo Ye

Ten famous swords in China's ancient times

Gan Jiang was the sword of a husband named Gan Jiang; Mo Ye was the sword of his wife, named Mo Ye. Like the inseparable couple, the two swords, one male and the other female, were not able to be separated. The husband, Gan Jiang, a blacksmith, was given a request to make a sword for the king. As the time of delivery drew near, Gan Jiang got more worried, for his fire was still not hot enough to forge the metal, and he feared he could not make the sword in time. Having understood the reason for her husband’s distress, the wife shed tears and knew that her husband would be executed if he could not deliver the sword on schedule. She decided to save her husband by throwing herself into the fire, thereby heating it enough to make the sword. When the husband got to know what she intended to do, he could not stop her, only to hear the wife saying, “we can meet again.”

After her wife’s death, the husband Gang Jiang finally made two swords. He named the two swords Gan Jiang and Mo Ye. Putting the sword Mo Ye aside for him, he gave the sword Gan Jiang to the king. The news that Gan Jiang left the other sword for his own use got to the ears of the king, who was outraged and decided to execute him. “How can we unite?” asked Gan Jiang as he was being arrested. All of a sudden, the Mo Ye sword turned into a beautiful dragon. Afterwards, the Gan Jiang sword possessed by the king also disappeared.

Six hundred years later, in a remote small town, the sword saw the dragon in the lake and immediately turned into a dragon—and they united again! The next day, the people in the town saw a new couple settle there. The husband was an excellent blacksmith, who only made agricultural instruments for people while steadfastly refusing to anyone, whether or not they asked, to make valuable swords. When he was at work, his wife would cool him with a fan and wipe sweat from his body. Therefore, Gan Jiang and Mo Ye were two swords of love.

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