Chinese "niuwei paidao" | Mandarin Mansion

Chinese "niuwei paidao"

Presented is a short Chinese curved saber with clipped tip, probably dating from the mid 19th century. By lack of a better term, I've baptized it niuwei paidao or "oxtail-shieldsword" because it shares characteritics of both types of weapons: It has a dramatically widening blade with an accelerated curve near the tip, much like a niuweidao or "oxtail saber" while being of the same size and weight of a paidao or "shield sword". Another typical feature of these late paidao is the hilt comprising of a D-shaped knucklebrow with hook on the back. On this example, the D-shaped construction is made of iron. The handle is kept together with two bronze ferrules, one engraved. It is retaining its original hilt wrap. It has a good distal taper, giving it pleasant handling characteristics.

All its features combined make it an excellent close quarters cutter, designed to go through thick layers of softer materials like leather and / or clothing. It was possibly used alongside a rattan shield, or on its own. The hilt was used to hit with when the opponent got too close to cut him. The prong at the back could be used to flip the blade around in the hand in order to easily strike with the hilt, or cut with the blade positioned along the underarm. These techniques are still common in some schools that use the hudiedao. Because of their optimization for use in close quarters, such as the confines of a ship, short sabers with D-shaped knucklebrows were the edged weapon of choice in naval warfare all over the world. I have a hunch that this might also be a naval sword.

Overall length: 60.5 cm / 23.8 inch
Blade length: 48.3 cm / 17.2 inch
Thickness: forte 7 mm, middle 3 mm, near tip 2 mm
Blade width: forte 38 mm, widening to 77 mm.
Weight without scabbard: 750 grams

The official name may have been kandao where kan means "to chop" and dao is any single edged tool or weapon, which seems to fit the description of this blade nicely. We find this term in lists of equipment and period dictionaries, but because none of them are illustrated there is no way of being sure what they looked like and whether this is one of them.

The quality of the blade is excellent throughout. Precise lines, grooves and bevels, no forging flaws of any consequence. No nocks or cracks. It is in recent polish, leaving some patches of pitting so the polish didn't need to go too deep. A mild etch revealed its boldly contrasting layers. The blade has two very well cut grooves on either side. The steel is of qiangang construction with a high carbon edge plate forged in-between layers of softer iron and steels. The back of the blade is decorated at the forte with bamboo-like sections. We find variations of this decoration more often on Chinese single edged weapons, and they might represent the qualities of bamboo: strength and resilience, which you'd want in a blade as well. The clipped tip has another interesting feature in store: a sharp serrated backedge. I know these particular serrations only from a very rare class of early saber, the yanchidao which are basically liuyedao with a clipped tip. Most of these tend to date from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is then very interesting to find the feature on this completely different type of weapon, made by a smith who was probably well aware of the history of Chinese swords and combined elements old and new in the making of this one. The combination of these features might well have be a one-off.

An exceptional dao of a unique form, possibly representing a high-end naval weapon made on commission.