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Russel Foxtrot





Joined: 03 Jan 2007

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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 12:23 pm    Post subject: Sword production in China         Reply with quote

Hey again.

I've read a few internet articles that state that states categorically that Chinese swords were pretty much the best the world has ever known for a large part of history (I'm sure many would say the Europeans never surpassed them) and of course try to capitalize on the legend of Japanese swords and their production by claiming that Chinese smith developed the precursor technique. I'm fully aware of the techniques the Chinese developed for producing cast iron and then then "steel" from it , their long lasting politically unified government probably being conducive to this. But of course carburized iron, and to an extent, steel were known in the west according to history. Can anybody offer me any information about any Chinese sword-making techniques or the metal used for the blade itself which meant that it was substantially different and so better than any other swords from history, mainly before the advent of the European Renaissance?
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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 12:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

)I would go so far as to say that anyone calling a particular sword "the best" has no grasp on swords and/or weapons in general. Weapons evolve around different needs on the battlefield. They don't just spring up because some culture had particularl bright craftsmen or a certain civilization was SMARTER than one another (ala "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond). Cavalry dominted much of the crusade era combat in europe and the parrelel edged sword (type Xa and XI particularly) were quite popular. Swords go narrower and more pointy (if you'll pardon my naivity(sp?) Laughing Out Loud ) in order to respond to changes in armor and how to best counter them.

I'm sure that the same basics hold true in other cultures. No one sword is better than another. Swords are not created and crafted by idiots. If that was the case, I'd think that swords in general wouldn't exist based on the complexities and intricacies inherent of the weapon.


Hope I helped (not trying to be mean spiritied of course Happy )


Oh and if anyone finds something wrong with what I said above, It probably is! I'm certainly not an expert so feel more than free to correct me!
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Russel Foxtrot





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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 3:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And I suppose swords vary a lot. Were the Chinese more aware of steel, as we know it today, than the Romans or say the Europeans before homogeneous swords made an appearance in the 8th and 9th centuries? I've always wondered if the early Chinese processes of decarburizing cast iron, to arrive at what many Chinese historians term as "steel", were any better than that which existed in the west of forging a blade from iron in the presence of some carboniferous material.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 4:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It would also be ludicrous to say that Chinese swords were uniformly "superior." We have solid metallurgical evidence that Chinese swords varied considerably in quality. Most importantly, the straight-bladed jian of the officers and cavalrymen generally had better-quality metals and were worked with more meticulous care than the common soldiers' curved dao.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2007 4:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An important factor often ignored in this type of discussion is the effect of economics. Good steel could be made in Europe quite early, however apparently it was too expensive to make large amounts of homogenous steel swords. So a lot of swords until the early medieval period were cr@p iron, which was much cheaper, and some only had steel edges to save on expensive steel. Better a cr@p iron sword, then no sword.

I don't know anything about chinese steel through history, but if they managed to make steel quite efficiently, then they could have more high quality swords (not better then the high quality swords of Europe, but just in larger numbers). If that's the case, then the swords on average would be better (in terms of material properties that is).
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Sun 08 Apr, 2007 5:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen has hit the nail squarely on the head.

The Chinese did develop large scale iron works quite early on, and had a precursor form of the blast furnace and cast iron about 1100 CE, as I recall. A quick search turns up this comment:

http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/Fate/Fate.html Preface:

"The history of China's ferrous metals sector parallels the history of the whole Chinese economy. Iron was a relatively late introduction to China, with a true Iron Age beginning around the sixth century BC, long after the Iron Age of the West; but the Chinese developed the ability to cast iron almost as soon as they knew about it at all. Moreover, steel production did not lag behind that of iron. By the sixth century AD China was producing steel by an ancestor of the Siemens-Martin open hearth process. Iron and steel were widely applied in China long before they were in Europe.

There is still great uncertainty about the long-run trend in China's output of ferrous metals from the tenth or eleventh century AD. It is uncertain at what point Europe took over from China as the world's leading region in their production. In Don's judgement China had `the world's largest and most efficient iron industry' until around 1700, but after that point an `extraordinary sequence of technical improvements' brought down the price of iron dramatically and was a leading factor in the British Industrial Revolution. The central theme of this book is the way in which the iron industry in different parts of China was affected by this severe challenge from the outside world after the late eighteenth century. "

This doesn't mean that Chinese steel was better than the best made elsewhere, it doesn't mean that Chinese swords were necessarily made of the best steel China had, and it certainly doesn't reflect anything about sword design. But, there was more good quality steel in China than anywhere else in the Middle Ages.
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 08 Apr, 2007 7:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
and of course try to capitalize on the legend of Japanese swords and their production by claiming that Chinese smith developed the precursor technique
There is this pervasive myth of "superior" Japanese steel. From what I understand, Japanese steel was actually metallurgically inferior. The folding process was actually a necessity to remove the impurities. I pretty sure that the pattern welded steel of the viking era is probably better than the steel used in all but the very best Japanese katanas.
As to China, that I can't tell you...

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Eric Myers




Location: Sacramento, CA
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PostPosted: Sun 08 Apr, 2007 8:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
Quote:
and of course try to capitalize on the legend of Japanese swords and their production by claiming that Chinese smith developed the precursor technique
There is this pervasive myth of "superior" Japanese steel. From what I understand, Japanese steel was actually metallurgically inferior. The folding process was actually a necessity to remove the impurities. I pretty sure that the pattern welded steel of the viking era is probably better than the steel used in all but the very best Japanese katanas.
As to China, that I can't tell you...


But the same argument is made about the viking pattern welded steel, that it was actually a technique to remove impurities from the material being worked.

Eric Myers
Sacramento Sword School
ViaHup.com - Wiki di Scherma Italiana
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 08 Apr, 2007 8:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually I meant to say it was the Japanese Iron that was poor quality... And yes wether pattern welded or folded, its done to remove impurities. I'm just saying that the public at large has this comception of Japanese steel being superior to European steel, and that just isn't the case...
A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 08 Apr, 2007 9:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Though it sounds as though the article is mostly talking about Chinese steel production, it's worth elaborating more on what Grayson said. It's misleading to call any one type of sword "superior" because a swords value or usefulness as a weapon is largely based on context. Of course, all swords were made with the intention of causing harm and killing other human beings, and all are capable of this, but that doesn't mean that there are not better swords for certain situations.

There is a huge range of factors that come into play when selecting the best sword for a given context. Is the sword going to be used in a tight military formation, or is it going to be used in a looser one? Is the sword more biased towards cutting? Thrusting? Does it try to compromise and do both equally well? Is it designed for dealing with light or no armour? Mail? Plate? Is it intended for use on horse or on foot? Is the sword meant to be used in one hand or two? Can it be used with either one or two hands, and if so, how well does it work for both? Is it a straight blade or a curved one? Is it designed for military usage, or is it specialized for duelling? Does it have one cutting edge or two?

As this list of questions indicates, there is no single best sword for all situations. Swords are, by nature, specialized weapons, and each one has certain characteristics emphasized at the expense of others. Keep in mind then that any time statements are made about this sword or that sword being "the best", the people making the statement do not understand how context influence the desirable characteristics for any given sword.
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Russel Foxtrot





Joined: 03 Jan 2007

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PostPosted: Mon 09 Apr, 2007 12:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I suppose economics and centralization are bigger factors. The Romans are said to have used steel in large numbers of their swords even though there is speculation that it was purely accidental. The impression I get is that in the large scale Chinese metalworks, smiths were fully aware that they were producing steel from the Second Century BCE? However I think this stems from the fact that while Chinese metalworking was centralised, Roman metalwoking wasn't and I'm adamant, like many others, that in Europe it was long known that adding carbon produced better iron or even pure steel. Of course this is the view of many historians but their seems to be some sort of contention between two views that don't always acknowledge each other. Can anybody tell me how well steel was known in ancient Europe and when it became prevalent?
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Duosi Ji





Joined: 05 May 2007

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PostPosted: Sun 06 May, 2007 8:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

http://www.amazon.com/Weapons-Ancient-China-Y...amp;sr=1-1

There is this book that surveys the Chinese weapons down the centuries, might offer some insights in the general qualities of Chinese weapons. I think that it should cover metallurgy, but I can't be sure how detailed it gets. (And I think it should be in English). But I haven't read it, so I can't guarantee anything.
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