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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 23 Oct, 2016 10:51 pm    Post subject: Yuan Dynasty Scabbard & Suspension         Reply with quote

For most westerners, knowledge of the Yuan Dynasty is confined to two figures: Marco Polo, who travelled to China during the very beginnings of the dynasty, and Kublai Khan, grandson of the great Genghis Khan, who Marco Polo met during his travels. For Chinese people, the Yuan Dynasty represented the first time all of China was ruled by emperors who were foreigners. The only other time this would happen during Chinese history is when the Qing Dynasty overthrew the Ming in the mid-17th century.

The other day, I was browsing through a book that has artifacts from the Hunnan Provincial Museum. One of the artifacts was a beautiful vase from the Yuan Dynasty, with the same blue and white colours that would later become ubiquitous to Chinese ceramics during the Ming Dynasty. Of particular interest is the fact that one side of the vase shows a soldier whose scabbard and suspension are clearly in view. As someone who knows nearly nothing about Chinese arms and armour of the time, I thought this image would be of interest to those wanting to know more about the arms, especially those people who might want to commission a scabbard for a jian. So, I took a few photos of the vase, one of which I have attached here.



As you can see from the photo, the scabbard itself seems to hang nearly horizontally. The scabbard is attached to the belt by a two point scabbard suspension. On European swords, this is most commonly found on long swords; however, the size of the scabbard on the vase suggests that it is intended for a single-handed jian. Of importance is the placement of the suspension strapping. The top strap seems to be affixed to the front of the scabbard (the side of the scabbard that faces away from the wearer) while the lower strap seems to be affixed closer to the back of the scabbard. Notice that there appears to be some sort of chape on the end of the scabbard, although its exact shape is unclear.

I hope this image does indeed show a scabbard. It looks like it to me, but the object might be something else. If anyone has an alternative interpretation, please let me know.
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2016 2:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two strap attachment points on the back of the scabbard was usual (and was usual both before and after Yuan). The thing on the front of the scabbard might be a decorative end piece of the suspension strap.
"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2016 10:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Two strap attachment points on the back of the scabbard was usual (and was usual both before and after Yuan). The thing on the front of the scabbard might be a decorative end piece of the suspension strap.


That brings up a good question: how much variation do we find in Chinese scabbard and suspension systems? I know this question might be a bit broad, so let's say focus it from Song to the end of the Ming Dynasty which roughly overlaps the high middle ages, late middle ages, and renaissance.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2016 11:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The most common arrangement is a throat piece, two metal fittings holding the suspension rings/loops, and a chape. Sometimes the throat piece holds the first ring/loop. The styles of the fittings vary a lot, with suspension rings/loops being on big ornate P-mounts through to simple rings. Sometimes, both suspension rings are on a single steel/iron strip (still secured to the scabbard by two bands). But disregarding style variations, the two rings/loops on the back edge of the scabbard is normal, from Tang through to Republic.

Sometimes, there is a further metal mount between the lower suspension point and the chape.

You can't see it in the scabbards, but from art, it looks like both suspension rings being attached to a single point on the belt is the most common, but attaching to 2 points of the belt is also seen.

Short swords often have no suspension rings, and were worn tucked through a belt/sash. Sometimes they have a single suspension ring at the back edge or on the front (or back?) flat of the scabbard, often on the throat piece.. Rarely, this single ring suspension is seen on longer swords.

Very rarely, one can see scabbard slides in use on Ming and Qing swords. (This was the standard suspension before twin P-mounts which became usual during the Tang Dynasty IIRC.)

I have seen a couple of examples where the 2 suspension rings were on opposite edges of the scabbard. Whether that was the original position, or whether one was switched around during a restoration, I don't know.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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