Unlike the dao (刀), which has a single-sided blade, the jian (剑) is the name of the two-bladed Chinese sword which has been used in China for over 2,500 years.
When thinking of Chinese swords, people are most familiar with the extremely flexible swords we’ve seen in Chinese martial arts schools, which are used mainly for the study of martial arts forms. However, this style of sword has a proud history in many battlefields throughout history. While the modern form of the sword is often flexible, at times this was a rigid and robust blade, which was wielded with two hands.
The earliest jians were much shorter than the swords we know today. As forging techniques improved ever-longer blades were produced; over time, the jian blade grew from 28 cm to 46 cm long. Early examples of these larger two-handed jians had bronze blades, but as forging techniques continued to evolve, iron and steel became the norm.
During the Warring States Period (501 BCE — 350 BCE) the jian came to be widely used on the battlefield. However, there are earlier records of jian use within the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BCE -446 BCE), and the jian may even date back further before this period.
The ancient Chinese were masters of both sword forging and the creation of metal alloys. One of the most famous techniques which allowed for the evolution of the jian into its longer form was the combining of two or more bronze alloys of differing hardness, forged into a single blade. This allowed for the forging of a jian with a more flexible interior of softer metal, with an exterior of harder metal intended to receive and maintain a sharp edge. This technique was refined over time, and continued to be applied as forging shifted from bronze to iron and steel construction.
During the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE — 206 BCE), China continued to hone their forging techniques and to refine their system of using metal alloys for the creation of longer swords. At the beginning of this period, the use of a jian was more focused on stabbing than cutting, taking advantage of the sharpened tip of the sword. It has been speculated…