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January 22, 2016

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The finest swordsbecame legends

THE Sword of Goujian, discovered by archaeologists in 1965, is a rare weapon that survived from the Spring and Autumn period (771-403 BC), a time when swords were highly prized, documented in historical records and honed by sought-after craftsmen.

The Goujian is nearly 56 centimeters long and weighs 875 grams. It shines with dark rhombic patterns, decorated with blue crystals and turquoise. Engravings on the blade attest to its royal ownership.

Due to the scarcity of metals and the paucity of experienced blacksmiths, swords of distinction became the stuff of legends. Many of the most celebrated swords were forged by two famous swordsmiths, Ou Yezi and Gan Jiang, who are said to have been taught by the same master.

Gan and his wife Mo Ye were both masters of sword forging. They produced a pair of swords for the king. To ensure Gan made no similar sword for a rival, the king killed the craftsman when he presented one of the swords. Gan anticipated his fate and left the second sword at home so that his son could take it up years later to exact revenge.

The swords were named after the couple to commemorate them. A few ancient texts from the same period recount the tale, saying the swords were later buried in today’s Fujian Province. The popular resort Mogan Mountain, in today’s Zhejiang Province, was also named after the couple because they were said to have worked in the region.

Ou Yezi, another sword-making master who pops up in ancient texts, is said to have forged a few legendary swords for various kings, including Goujian, king of Yue, in what is today northern Zhejiang Province. That might be how the Sword of Goujian came to be.

Another sword he made for the same king is called Yu Chang. Yu means “fish,” and cang is interpreted as either “intestine” or “hiding.” Some scholars say the name refers to the intestine of a fish because the blade has a pattern similar to those intestines, while others say the name refers to the fact that the dagger was small enough to be hidden in the bowels of a fish. The dagger was said to have been used in assassination attempts on the king. In one tale, it was hidden in a fish by an assassin disguised as the cook serving the dish to his sovereign.

Ou also made the Long Yuan, or “crouching dragon,” sword. Commissioned by a king to make the best sword in the world, he searched the country for a good source of iron and found it in what is today Longquan in Zhejiang. Ou is recorded as making three swords there.

His forging skill are still celebrated today in Longquan, which is still famous in China for making swords sought by martial artists and used in adventure movies.


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