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18. Imperial Qianlong period Chinese carved jade mounted duan dao sword with Daoist symbols circa 1780

( ID: cc1267 )

Overall length- 55 cm

Blade length- 36 cm

Weight- 1.07 lbs

Price on request

An important Chinese duan dao short sword, this object dates comprehensively to the 18th century and represents an idiosyncratic short sword, indicating influences across multiple centuries of Chinese art. Dating to the mid-late 18th century, this short sword features an early Qing or late Ming period blue-grey, carved jade single piece hilt with the original iron and silver damascened bolster, retaining almost the entirety of the damascene.

Indicating the importance of the hilt, an entire sword was fashioned around it with the cross guard made specifically for the hilt, which can be seen by the delicate raised beading outlining the profile of the bolster. The blade is fashioned in proportion to the hilt, creating a short sword rarely seen in Chinese culture. This form of intermediate-sized short sword is known through a high quality example in the Palace Museum in Beijing and illustrated in the Palace Museum catalog of Armaments and Military Provisions (2008: Nr. 160) and is larger than the traditional trousse dagger and shorter than the peidao worn by courtiers and warriors of the Qianlong period court. Duan dao, or short swords, were also illustrated in the Ming Dynasty period, Wu Bei Zhi where they are termed duan dao, indicating a longstanding tradition of short swords, though rarely in such luxurious mounts or quality of workmanship.

Chinese swords or daggers with Chinese jade hilts are known but uncommon. Trousses are the most common type of object with jade hilts of similar form, though of more slender proportions than this hilt. There are only a limited number of jade hilts with carved decoration and fewer such are mounted on sabres, short swords, or jian straight swords. The Metropolitan Museum has two such trousses of Imperial lineage from the Heber Bishop collection (Acc. Nr. 02.18.736a, b) and from the George Cameron Stone collection (Nr. 36.25.989a–g). The Heber Bishop collection trousse’s carved hilt is the closest in form and style to the example we offer, though the color of the jade of our example indicates an owner of idiosyncratic taste as the blue-grey color would have been of great interest to a true connoisseur of the stone and was prized in India as well, where only a few blue-grey jade hilts are known.A most prominent example of a blue-grey jade hilt of a diminutive horse head khanjar was auctioned by Sotheby's in April 2016 and featured Chinese flaming pearl motifs (illustrated in Hales 2013 no. 85). Other known Chinese swords with carved hilts are found in the Metropolitan Museum, specifically a jian straight sword from the Collection of Giovanni P. Morosini, presented by his daughter Giulia (1932 Acc. Nr. 32.75.308a, b), though these are of the more common green color.

The hilt carving of a single, scaly dragon chasing the wish-fulfilling jewel traverses the hilt vertically and around the hilt radially. The head of the dragon is near the pommel with the tail rising up to meet the head at that point. The beast holds two pearls in two of the visible feet. Surrounding the head of the dragon are flowing clouds. The form of the dragon and cloud scroll forms can be seen in an analogous jade carving in the Metropolitan Museum’s Heber Bishop Collection (acc. Nr. 02.18.390) where the openwork construction typical in Ming period ornamentation has a similar decorative coda as this hilt. The linear form of the carving itself has stylistic similarities to another object in the Heber Bishop collection (Acc. Nr. 02.18.335), which features similar cloud forms in a mottled jade medium and is dated to the Ming period.

However, recent research has also indicated that the hilt may be older than Ming, especially due to the use of the particular greyish-green-blue color, which was prevalent on jades made during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Therefore further supporting a Yuan-Ming period dating of the hilt is that the hilt bolster is from the original mounting and the use of silver damascened iron as a technique points to an early manufacture date, 16th- early 18th century. The decoration includes a central lotus form on each side with flowing tendrils around it of high-quality workmanship. This form of works comprised of silver over iron is more predominant on earlier Chinese arms and inspired by Tibetan and Mongol work, which continued silver damascened iron late into the 19th century. In China, as a form of high quality decoration, silver damascened iron fittings ceased to be popular in the 18th century judging by the prevalence of extant examples from the 18th century onward all of gilded copper or brass fittings and some of gilded and chiseled ironwork in the Sino-Tibetan style. The hilt is drilled straight through with hand tools to support the mounting of the full length iron tang of the blade.

The crossguard is very well formed and appears to reference other forms of carved jade, building stylistically on the early carved jade of the hilt. The craftsman may have ultimately saw the workmanship on this sword to be an extension of the carved jade hilt and so was inspired by ornamental jade plaques with wider, more open carving. such as those of the Ming and early Qing period, circa 1700, examples of which can be found in the Heber Bishop collection at the Metropolitan Museum (see acc. Nrs. 02.18.570 dated to Qianlong period; 02.18.552 dated to Qianlong period; 02.18.530 dated to Qianlong period; 02.18.572 dated to Qianlong period; and 02.18.574 dated to the 18-19th century). All of these examples are closely detailed in Kunz (1905), which remains the definitive compendium on the Bishop Collection. The fittings of the scabbard are likewise formed in a manner that is idiosyncratic on Chinese sabers, especially in the hanging mechanism, which takes the form more from European swords with a hanging half ring in the upper portion of the fittings. The rounded form of the fittings is a style called yuanshi and began to be popular in the mid 18th C., as they appear in the Huangchao Liqi Tushi of 1759, providing the regulations for court and military dress and arms as of the mid-Qianlong reign (Pu Jiang The variegated chiseled guard indicates 18th C. workmanship as well. Moreover, its overhanging decorative openwork carving is also more inspired by open decorative jade carving than what would have been contemporaneous closer carved Sino-Tibetan gilded iron or brass fittings.

The scabbard is covered with black tinted rayskin, which displays some old losses but otherwise does not detract from the overall appearance of the sword. The blade is quite heavy and thick with the originally gilt copper tunkou decorated to match the decoration on the inside of the cross guard. The form of the blade compares with Japanese katana blades termed naginata-hi with a long-running fuller and dorsal back bevel to the blade which widens out into a thickened point, as can be seen on this sword. On Japanese and some Chinese blades of this form, there is a thicker fuller which runs a third of the way and a thinner fuller which runs a longer length. On this sword, however, there is a single fuller.

Finally, the blade displays on both sides a collection of five chiseled depressions in the form of a cross with the larger depression nearer the cross guard. Termed a quincunx and as a decorative element is rarely seen in Chinese arms. This uncommon decorative element may have astrological or mythological associations, the most likely being a representation of the Wǔdì — Five Deities, also Wǔfāng Shàngdì ("Five Manifestations of the Highest Deity"), Wǔfāng Tiānshén ("Five Manifestations of the Heavenly God"), Wǔfāngdì "Five Forms Deity"), Wǔtiāndì ("Five Heavenly Deities"), Wǔlǎojūn ("Five Ancient Lords"), or Wǔdàoshén ("Five Ways God(s)") (Little and Eichman 2000; Sun and Kistemaker 1997). These are the five main "horizontal" manifestations of the primordial God, and with the Three Powers, they have a celestial, terrestrial, and chthonic (or underworld) form. They correspond to the five phases of creation, the five constellations rotating around the celestial pole, the five sacred mountains, the five directions of space (their terrestrial form), and the five Dragon Gods which represent their mounts. These Five Deities are often presented in quincunx form in the Chinese traditional religious cosmology of the Wǔfāng Shàngdì with the Yellow Deity (the Four-Faced God) at the center of the universe, emanating the other four cosmological deities of directions and seasons (Sun and Kistemaker 1997, pg. 121). The Daoist symbolism of this sword makes it one of the very few swords of this level of quality with Daoist symbolism known to exist, though Little and Eichman (2000) illustrate two swords with Daoist symbolism, including an early Daoist Ming Dynasty Yongle period jade handled sword in the collection of the Staatliches Museum fur Volkerkunde Acc. Nr 19-5-2.

Sword comes with a custom made fitted case, early 20th c.


Private California collection.


Hales, R (2013). Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime's Passion: London

Kunz, G. (Ed.) (1906). The Bishop Collection. Investigations and Studies in Jade. New York; Privately Printed by the De Vinne Press. Accessible at

National Palace Museum, Armaments and Military Provisions (2008) Complete Collection of Treasures. National Palace Museum

Little, S., Eichman, S. (2000). Taoism and the Arts of China. University of California Press.

Pu Jiang et al., eds., Huangchao Liqi Tushi, or "Illustrated Regulations on the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Dynasty", Palace Edition of 1766. This version is based on a manuscript of 1759. This can be accessed at:, with the full set of regulation digitized at:

Sun, X, Kistemaker, J. (1997). The Chinese Sky During the Han: Constellating Stars and Society.Brill: Leiden


Photo #1 of 18. Imperial Qianlong period Chinese carved jade mounted duan dao sword with Daoist symbols circa 1780
Photo #2 of 18. Imperial Qianlong period Chinese carved jade mounted duan dao sword with Daoist symbols circa 1780
Photo #3 of 18. Imperial Qianlong period Chinese carved jade mounted duan dao sword with Daoist symbols circa 1780