Sunday, February 3, 2013
Ten Famous Swords in China's Ancient Times
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, and Annals 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
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 the Works 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
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 to The 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
Yu Chang was a sword of bravery. According to the History of Assassins, a chapter of the Records of the Grand Historian, also known in English by the Chinese name Shiji, 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
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.
The sword of integrity: Qi Xing Long Yuan
Legend has it that this sword was the joint work of two sword makers, Ou Yezi and Gan Jiang. In order to make it, they brought stream water from Cishan Mountain to the seven ponds around the sword-making fireplace. Because the seven ponds were shaped like the seven stars of the Big Dipper, the sword was named Qi Xing (seven stars). If you look down the sword, it looks ethereal and profound, as if you are in a high position overlooking a valley where a huge dragon lives, which is why the sword was also named Long Yuan (an abyss with a dragon).
According to the Annals of Wu and Yue, another factor that made this sword famous was a fisherman whose name is unknown. He saved Wu Zixu’s life. In order to express his gratitude to the fisherman, who refused to tell his name, Wu sent him the sword, Qi Xing Long Yuan. The fisherman sighed and said, “I saved your life because you are a loyal official of the country, not because I wanted your reward. Now that you think I am a man longing for profits, I have to show my nobleness with this sword.” With these words, he committed suicide with the sword. Therefore, Qi Xing Long Yuan was a sword of integrity.
The sword of prestige: Tai E
According to the Lost History of Yue, the valuable sword Tai E was naturally made in the State of Chu. The King of the State of Jin, which was the strongest state then, was not happy about this and attempted to take possession of the sword by invading Chu. Besieged by the troops of Jin, the King of Chu was told to surrender and give the sword to Jin. Otherwise, his country would be doomed the next day. Instead of giving out the sword, the King of Chu, with the sword, led his army to defend his country.
It was a matter of minutes before Chu would be wholly occupied by Jin. On the verge of defeat, the King of Chu let out a long sigh and said to the sword: “Tai E, Tai E, today my blood will be offered as a sacrifice to you.” With these words, he took out the sword. The moment the blade was out, a miracle occurred: the soldiers of Jin were frightened into disarray, and killed with no one left alive. Surprised at this, the King of Chu asked: “Why was the sword so powerful?” and an advisor told him that its magic power was drawn from his own inner power—the courage to stand firm before a formidable enemy. Tai E was thus a sword of prestige.
The sword of sovereignty: Chi Xiao
In the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), there was a young man who liked to talk big. One day he got a rotten steel rod and told people that it was a sword he got from an immortal living in Nanshan Mountain, and named it Chi Xiao, always carrying his “sword.” He also boasted that he was the incarnation of a red dragon from Heaven, and that he had known Emperor Qin, who, according to him, was the incarnation of a white dragon. He even said that the incarnation of the Emperor had turned from a white dragon into a white snake wandering around Feng Xize, claiming that he, with more magic power now than the Emperor Qin, would replace him as the emperor.
People all around knew that he was a braggart and did not believe his nonsense. However, people’s distrust toward him changed after what happened one night. On that night, a few dozen young people, including the braggart, carrying his sword, went to the town of Feng Xize to do some apprentice work. On the way there, they were confronted by a huge white snake. Terrified by it, no one dared to move. It was the braggart who volunteered to kill the snake, chasing it into the woods. The others waited for him to return, but he did not come back that night. Finally, they returned home, believing that he had become the supper of the snake.
The next day, people found the snake killed and the young man lying nearby. His rotten steel rod had been replaced by a glittering sword, with two characters on it reading: “Chi Xiao.” Astounded by this scene, people realized that what the braggart said was all true. The young man was Liu Bang, who later defeated Emperor Qin and founded the Han Dynasty. The sword Chi Xiao was the one he used to kill the snake and lead battles in his revolution against the emperor. Hence, the white dragon was replaced by Liu’s red dragon, and Chi Xiao became known as a sword of sovereignty.
The sword of kindness: Zhan Lu
Zhan Lu was more like a pair of eyes than a sword. Black in color, the long, unmarked sword gave a sense of kindness and benevolence, rather than sharpness. Like Heaven’s deep and discernable eyes, the sword watched the behavior of kings. If a king had moral integrity, then the sword would be with him and his country would be prosperous; if the king didn’t have moral integrity, the sword would leave him and his country would fall apart. Upon finishing the sword, Ou Yezi could not help shedding tears, for he finally realized his lifelong dream: casting an unparalleled strong sword without a murderous appearance. Benevolence knows no enemy. Zhan Lu was a sword of kindness.
The sword of divinity: Xuan Yuan
The sword Xuan Yuan was made for the Yellow Emperor by immortals with copper from Shoushan Mountain, and later passed on to Emperor Yu of the Xia Dynasty. On one side of the blade were carved the sun, the moon, and the stars; on the other side mountains, rivers, and trees. On one side of the handle, know-how of farming and husbandry was recorded; on the other side, policies of unification were described. Xuan Yuan was a sword of divinity.
By Yang Ping found here