Here is a "da dao" sword typical of those issued to the Chinese military c. 1930's. These swords were used extensively by the Chinese Red Army against the Japanese.
The sword is 33 inches in total length. The blade is 22 inches long, 3 ½ inches wide at its widest point near the tip, and ¼ inch thick near the guard, tapering towards the tip. It weighs a bit over 3 lbs. The blade is laminated, and this is an uncommon feature meaning that real smithcraft was inolved in making this particular sword. It is known that these swords were made from good quality recycled railroad tracks. The tracks were torn up to prevent the Japanese army from using them. Railroad workers used blacksmith forges to produce vast quantities of da daos, so unlike virtually every other Chinese sword, it is not hard to find "real" antique da daos outside China. The
The da dao is thought to be a recreation of a sword from the Ming dynasty era begining in the early Qing era. The da dao's that immediately preceded the military da dao you see here originated with the secret societies of North China called "da dao hui", and these same societies were involved during the times of the Boxer Rebellion. The secret societies were destroyed in Hebei and Shandong provinces around 1937 to 1939.
The Chinese soliders who carried the da dao practiced daily and many became quite accomplished martial artists. The sword itself was not very useful against Japanese machine guns, but when ammunition ran low on either side, hand-to-hand combat was next and the da dao performed well. The sight of an army charging with these heavy weapons was said to be terrifying. In 1933, Chinese soldiers defended the Great Wall against Japanese advances using the da dao. The da dao gained noteriety in the outside world in 1937 when the Chinese forces charged and defeated a superior Japanese force in what has become known as the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident".
China in the early 1900's before and after WWII was a highly volitile and dangerous place. The da dao was often carried by police who used it for public execution after apprehending and giving a brief "trial" to a suspected criminal. This sword thus became a very strong symbol of the "Wil to Power" and terror that acccompanied it.
Some interesting background on the da dao can be found here.
On the guard, with drooping quillions, are the symbols which translate as:
China Work Clothes Red Army
and on the reverse,
16th Road Army