Dao Glaive (China)

 Chinese Qing dynasty glaive (halbert, pole arm)

Code:  CH2

This is a Chinese Qing dynasty glaive (halbert, pole arm) . The hilt is hollow and suitable for attachment to a long pole. At some time in this weapon's history, the blade was remounted on this hilt; they are not of the same age. It could be carried by horsemen and used with deadly effect while riding through dismounted infantry. Or the glaive could be used as a defense againts cavalry, the hook able to pull a man from the saddle or to trip a horse.

This weapon was probably collected by one of the various legations during the Boxer Rebellion. Trophies such as this were taken as a remembrance of the "great adventure."  This glaive is tentatively identified as a variant of the Quan Dao (guandao), a classic Chinese polearm.

This information was confirmed by an ethnographer and edged weapons expert, Jim McDougall, who also opined, “Chinese martial artists used most dramatic looking weapons and theatrics to impress the foreign powers present as well as to intimidate and appear menacing.”  This sword certainly appears very menacing.  Heavy and sharp (on the convex side), the blade is 21 inches long, and the sword 27 inches in length overall.

The shape of this blade is a variant of the "eagle guandao" with the tip meant to represent the sharp beak of the birds of prey.

Chinese pole arms

The heft of this weapon is significant, far heavier than modern guandao used, for example, in Wushu martial arts. It is possible that this guandao was used for training and testing rather than combat.  To be considered a for military officer position, candidates had to pass both written and physical exams.  Among the physical fitness tests was the ability to wield a very heavy guando. The weights were standardized by the imperial military.  The symbols on the brass device, discussed below, can be interpreted as a representing designation or qualification for a military rank. (see reference, below)

A brass device is affixed to the blade (on each side) as shown here.  It is in the shape of a plum blossom, a symbol for courage and hope (the plum flower is blossoming in winter, despite the cold).   The plum shape, along with the symbols identified below, confirm this surely as a Chinese sword with some ritual or formal use.

Brass emblem on Chinese pole arm blade

The Symbols

These symbols are all from Daoist (Taoist) belief and match those used during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  They appear in textiles, paintings, woodwork and like this, as devices, marks or engravings on weapons.

Starting from the top right in the picture above:

  • The Bat is used as a symbol of luck (“good fortune”, “vast happiness”) because it has the sound “fu” just as the word for luck. This figure often appears on weapons such as straight swords.
  • The Deer, a symbol of longevity and prosperity when used in this context (a  soldier) means “glory”.  It also symbolizes official emoluments, because the character for deer, lu, sounds like another character meaning “salary”.
  • The Peach, a classic symbol of longevity.
  • A Golden Pheasant, representing literary refinement.  The golden pheasant also corresponds to a grade in the Qing administration and military, before the formation of the Republic. The silver pheasant is one of the symbols used in Mandarin squares (textile emblem on "official" dress) to denote an administrator of the 5th rank.
  • The Gold Ingot, meaning money and fortune.

It should also be noted that the plum is also a more recent symbol for the Republic of China (Taiwan), and so the blade may be associated with the time of the warlords in the earliest days of that region.  However, the identification as a re-mounted polearm is more supportive of its existence at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, with the creation of the blade far earlier during the Qing Dynasty.

References (partial list, to be updated:

Professor Ma Ming Da (馬明達), “The Military Examination System in the Qing Dynasty”.

Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo, "Survey of Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals".