This simple question, has puzzled the minds of Chinese sword enthusiasts. There are still many, that maintain Han Jian was rather clumsy and heavy. Unfortunately, they are misleading by merchandize of current sword sellers.
If one really want to recreate authentic Han Jian, in additional to serious study of ancient records , we should base our understanding of the weight on real Han Jian from surviving specimens.
So we are referring to the real Han Jian in our discussion here, and not included “Han Jian” like merchandize much available on the market today.
In the year 219 AD, Crown Prince of Wei, Cao Pi, wrote a celebratory memorandum on the completion of nine precious Jian, Dao and Dagger.
This memorandum is one of the most valuable ancient record of the weight and length of Han Jian and Han Dao.
In this article, unit of measurement is converted from Han Dynasty units to
modern metric and imperial units.
Note: It is unclear whether weight measurements were blade only or including hand guard, pommel, hilt handle and cord wrapping.
We assumed weight measurements were for the blade without fittings.
An abridged version of memorandum:
On the 24th year of era of Jian An (219 AD),
Crown Price of Wei, commissioned
three treasured Jian made with one hundred refinements.
First Jian I named “Fleeting shadow”
Length 101.64 cm (40”)
Weight 480.5 g (1 lb 0.95 oz)
Second Jian I named it “Flowing rainbow”
Length 101.64 cm (40”)
Weight 465 g (1 lb 0.4 oz)
Third Jian I named it “Glorious edge”
No mentioning of length and weight on the third Jian.
Crown Prince of Wei
commissioned three treasured Dao
First Dao I named “Spirited Treasure”
Length 105.51 cm (41.5”)
Weight 837 g (1 lb 13.5 oz)
Second Dao I named “Sunset Glory”
Length 104.78 cm (41.3”)
Weight 899 g (1 lb 15.7 oz)
Third Dao I named “White Beauty”
Length 104.06 cm (40.96”)
Weight 635.5 g (1 lb 6.4 oz)
These measurements were highly reliable for the following 3 reasons:
Cao Pi himself was an excellent swordsman and study under different instructors when young and record one of the most accurate fencing encounters between himself and the commander of the elite guards.
There is no reason for Cao Pi to record other than the true weight and length
of his newly commissioned treasure.
He was the crown prince and he had nothing to sell to anyone, just record how excited he was with his new treasures.
The measurement make perfect physical and geometrical sense.
When we compare Cao Pi's measurements for his Jian and Dao,
we observed that the Jian and Dao were of similar length
Jian 101.64 cm, 101.64 cm (40", 40")
Dao 105.51 cm, 104.78 cm, 104.06 cm (41.53", 41.25", 40.97")
The weight of Han Jian were much lighter than the Han Dao
Jian 480.5 g , 465 g (1 lb 0.9 oz, 1lb 0.4 oz)
Dao 837 g, 899 g, 635.5 g (1 lb 13 oz, 1 lb 15 oz, 1 lb 6.3 oz)
Given the similar length of a weapon, the thickness determines the weight.
Jian in general is thinner than Dao, it is because the thickest part of the Jian is at the central spine. To thin out to the edge of the blade to make a sharp edge, a Jian only have HALF of its width to thin to a sharp edge.
If the Jian spine is too thick, than the edge cannot be very sharp.
The thickness part of the Dao is at one side, and have the full width to thin to a sharp edge rather than half of the width as in Jian.
Dao can therefore be made thicker and therefore much more heavy and still very sharp on the single edge.
These two weapons are build differently and are handled differently.
Surviving real Han Jian and Han Dao provides collaborating material evidence.
Take the following well preserved Han Jian and Han Dao:
Han Jian # 1
Eight sided blade,
Total length 100 cm (39.37"),
blade length 87 cm (34.25"),
weight 491 g (1 lb, 1.3 oz)
Han Jian # 2
Six sided blade,
Total length 120 cm (47.24"),
Blade length 96 cm (37.79"),
Weight 672 g (1 lb 7.7 oz)
Han Jian # 3
Four sided blade,
Total length 105 cm (41.33"),
Blade length 86 cm (33.85")
Weight 500 g (1 lb, 1.6 oz)
Han Dao # 1
Total length 112 cm (44.09")
Blade length 94 cm (37")
Weight 791 g (1 lb, 11 oz)
Han Dao # 2
Total length 127 cm (50")
Blade length 105 cm (41")
Weight 1270 g (2 lb 12 oz)
For Jian, if the important functioning parameters such as
hardness, flexibility and elasticity
are to remains the same
The lighter the Jian it is, the harder it is to forge.
If the Jian is made heavier, of course it will increase the hardness etc. but the increase in weight will greatly hamper the agile handling of the Jian.
As we know, if we maintain the same weight of a Jian,
when the point of balance is closer to the hand guard,
the more agile it is the handling.
when the point of balance is away from the hand guard,
the striking power will increase.
The optimal Point of Balance is determined by the geometry of the blade.
Han Jian have a POB from the hand guard, around 20 cm.
but due to its superb craftsmanship, it is still very light weight, agile and has excellent handling.
Real Han Jian is a perfect amalgamation of beauty and function,
They were legendary and were truly the zenith of Chinese Jian
This article is translated from the original Chinese article by Mr. Lau Zai To
Mr. Lau is one of the foremost collector and expert in Han Jian and we are in debt and benefit from his pioneering research work.