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23. Chinese Beiyang Army Nine-Lion General’s Sword, circa 1920

( ID: cc1272 )

Overall dimensions: 94 cm

Blade length: 76.2 cm

Weight: 3.7 lbs

Price on request

An exceptionally rare sword and one of a handful known in private and institutional collections in China and the United States, the Nine-Lion sword is considered to be the highest-ranking Chinese Beiyang Army General’s sword. Chinese Beiyang period (1912-1928) swords are some of the most interesting and highly decorated swords of the 20th century. These issue swords, called Lion Swords, were produced in a variety of grades of similar quality and workmanship, with slight variations, and entirely were distinguished in terms of ranking due to the number of lions carved in three or two-dimensional form on the handle and scabbard fittings. Most commonly found are Five-Lion swords where the grip has two lions: one for the pommel and one along where the thumb sits along the handguard; two lions sittings astride the upper scabbard fittings; and one along the middle fitting. Seven-Lion swords have an additional two lions on the scabbard chape. The Nine-Lion sword, as this example, has an additional lion along the chape and another along the middle fitting, creating an exuberantly ornate sword. The regulations governing the distribution of these swords were published in the Zhengfu Gongbao (Government Gazette) on March 1, 1920 and approved by Jin Yunpeng, Premier of the Republic of China (1919-1920). It listed who was allowed to receive a lion sword. It further noted that the Seven- and Nine-Lion swords could only be approved by the President of the Republic, while the Three- and Five-Lion swords could be approved by the heads of the services, such as the Army or the Navy. Nine-Lion swords of this rank are known to exist in only very few collections but no others in the United States to our knowledge.

Most notably, the one that is visible to the public is in the institutional collection of the Beijing National Museum, where the sword of Cai E is preserved. Indicative of the level of those who were allowed to carry these swords, Cai E was a Chinese revolutionary leader and warlord who eventually became an influential warlord in Yunnan, and is best known for his role in challenging the imperial ambitions of Yuan Shikai. Few other Nine-Lion swords are known as they were made in limited numbers and most were destroyed as part of the Cultural Revolution where their historical association with China’s pre-Revolutionary period was ill-appreciated. Now, there is a re-appraisal of the warlords and generals who carried these swords and their importance in Chinese history, and swords of this type are associated with some of the most momentous historical events in pre-WWII China. The sword remains in good condition, with all of the fittings and lions present, and much of the original gilding remaining. The grip, likewise, retains almost all of the original covering and triple twisted wire, and the inlaid glass eyes for the lion-head pommel. The blade has a number of dark spots and some pitting but retains its original form and shape with a deep fuller on both sides running around three-quarters of the length of the blade. The scabbard has since been painted black over the chrome covering, and one of the lions is now missing the very end of the tail. The sword retains its original general grade golden yellow knot, an exceptionally rare accouterment in its own right.

Overall, an exceptionally rare sword from an important period of Chinese history dating to the period 1915-1920.

Provenance:

Private American collection since 1945

References:

Zhengfu Gongbao (Government Gazette). 1 March 1920. No. 1453

 
Photo #1 of 23. Chinese Beiyang Army Nine-Lion General’s Sword, circa 1920
Photo #2 of 23. Chinese Beiyang Army Nine-Lion General’s Sword, circa 1920