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Introduction to the Chinese Daggers

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: October 9, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Chinese dagger is a weapon that has been used in China since ancient times. It is much shorter than the Jian sword. Its use changed over time from being a frequently used weapon for chariots to a tool for ceremonies and rituals.

In this article, we’ll talk about the different kinds of Chinese daggers and what they have in common. Then we will go over how it is best used and some of the best Chinese daggers available to own. We will finish by explaining its long but almost unnoticed past.

Types of Chinese Daggers

The biggest difference between a Chinese sword and a dagger is its length and size. The Chinese dagger is a small weapon that can be placed on belts and used as a backup weapon, but it serves more as a ceremonial piece. There are different types of Chinese daggers.

Dagger Axe

Chinese Dagger
Chinese Dagger Axe [Source]

The dagger-axe is a pole weapon used in China from the time of the Erlitou culture until the Han dynasty. It has a blade in the shape of a dagger attached to a straight wooden shaft by its tang. The first dagger-axe blades were made from stone, but later versions used bronze.

Jade/Shang Dagger

Chinnese Old Dagger
Jade Dagger from the Shang period

The jade dagger is a non-utilitarian tool (meant more for show than use) that has been around since the middle to late Neolithic period. It is also the oldest type of jade weapon and the most familiar artifact, used for the longest time.

This is the most used Chinese dagger. It is called Shang because it is in the Shang period that the inscriptions started (something that this dagger clearly contains).

Shaolin Double Daggers

Shaolin Double Daggers
Shaolin Double Daggers

The Shaolin double dagger is a classic Kung Fu weapon. It was made to be a backup weapon or part of the Shaolin hidden weapons, like the rope dart, chain whips, chopsticks, and so on. At a time when many people who knew Kung Fu worked as bodyguards, it was advantageous to have small weapons that they could hide.

San Ku-Chu

San Ku Chu Dagger
San Ku Chu Chinese Dagger which looks like the Sai Japanese Dagger

The San-Ku-Chu was an old Chinese dagger that later influenced the Okinawan, Japanese, and Sai daggers. It had a long, thin blade with a U-shaped cross-guard at the back and was only used to thrust. Not only did the guard protect the user’s hand, but it also helped trap enemy blades.

Modern Chinese Dagger

A Modern Chinese Dagger
A modern 38cm long modern Chinese Dagger

In modern times you might see a shortsword or a short Jian that will have a dagger added to his name. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a dagger since it doesn’t correspond to the original characteristics of the Chinese dagger. Still, because it is lightweight and short-sized, it is placed in this category, and we can accept it as such.

Characteristics of the Chinese Dagger

Ceremonial Dagger with Details
Chinese Ceremonial Dagger with Dragons [Source]

The Chinese dagger has very distinct characteristics. It is usually very short and has a lot of engravings and fittings on the guard, blade, and handle.

Length & Size

The ancient Chinese dagger is usually under 1.1 feet / 35 cm long. The first daggers, or only the blade on the dagger axe, were also around this size but could go up to 1.5 feet / 45 cm. This gave it enough length to be deadly when it struck a vulnerable location.

Weight

The usual weight of the Chinese dagger is around 0.55 to 0.66 lbs / 250 to 300 grams. This makes it a lightweight tool on your waist or even concealed inside your clothes for hidden attacks. The weight heavily depends on how many fittings it has and from what material it is made.

Blade

The blade of the Chinese dagger makes it deadly. It is short and razor sharp to be able to pierce through anything. It is usually double-edged and is 0.65 to 0.82 feet / 20 to 25 cm long. The blade is broad at the guard and narrows down towards the edge.

Handle & Guard

The handle of the Chinese dagger is around 0.3 to 0.5 feet / 10 to 15 cm long. The handle can be made from any type of material because it is used for functional purposes (historical assassinations) and in big ceremonies. However, if it is a ceremonial dagger, the handle usually has many shapes and forms and can be very heavy.

The guard is minimal and isn’t very useful for protecting the fingers. It can have a lot of shapes and forms, like a cloud, bat, or dragon, which can make the dagger heavier and harder to use.

Usage of the Chinese Dagger

Ceremonial Dagger rotated
Chinese Dagger meant for Ceremonial purposes [Source]

The Chinese dagger is a small weapon that can be used one-handed but is usually dual-wielded. It can also be used to be thrown at any type of target. It is more of a ceremonial object than a weapon that can do actual damage in striking. 

Ceremonial

The Chinese dagger was used in ceremonial acts. It started as a very handy weapon but became the greatest ceremonial tool in nearly any type of ritual. Prominent emperors had daggers engraved with the most costly materials to represent power and authority.

In today’s age, there are still some ceremonies where a Chinese dagger can be given as a gift or placed in one’s home to bring luck and power to the family.

Martial Arts & LARP

Shaolin Master with two Chinese Daggers
Shaolin master dual-wielding Chinese Daggers [Source]

The Chinese dagger is one of the eight weapons used in most Chinese martial arts. Although it is a small weapon, an experienced Shaolin can use it in multiple ways.

It can be seen in Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and many LARP matches. Usually, an experienced Chinese dagger user will use it as a dual weapon while making traditional Chinese martial art moves, such as jumping and crouching.

Collection

Every sword enthusiast knows the immense value of a small weapon, like the dagger. Owning a Chinese dagger represents a piece of art, history, tradition, and culture. Having one in your sword collection is a must for showing off and possibly placing in a glass presentation box.

Best Chinese Daggers Available Online

Acquiring an antique Chinese dagger is actually very hard and might be very expensive. Most often, the Chinese daggers you will find online will be modern types. They are something in-between a Jian shortsword and a Chinese dagger. 

These are some of the best ones that we’ve found that might be of use to you:

Best Overall – Han Dynasty Dao Chinese Dagger 

Best Overall Chinese Dagger

This dagger was made in Longquan, one of the most important places for making swords during the Song dynasty. The blade is made of 1045 and 1065 high-carbon steel that has been folded 3,800 times. 

Brass was used to make the hilt, guard, and fittings, while wood was used for the scabbard and grip. The sword comes in a wooden box with a cleaning kit.

It is 1.4 feet / 44 cm long and weighs around 0.77 lbs / 350 grams.

Best for LARP – Chinese Jian Folded Steel Dagger

Best on for LARP Chinese Dagger

This Chinese Jian dagger is perfect for any type of LARP situation. You will be carrying it in your belt and showing the very beautiful red color both on the handle and the scabbard. 

The blade is folded 13 times, making a beautiful fine-grain pattern with 8,192 layers. It has a high-quality scabbard made of ebony wood, silk cord wrappings, and high-quality fittings made of engraved alloy.

Its total length is 1.6 feet / 50 cm long, and weighs around 1.3 lbs / 500 grams.

Best Premium – Jade Lion Chinese Dagger

Best Premium Chinese Dagger

The Damascus steel blade of the Cold Steel Jade Lion Dagger is hand-forged and has a subtle swirling pattern. The highly detailed guard and pommel are made of nickel-silver. 

Real ray skin and a green cord are wrapped around the wood handle. The handle and scabbard are both made of rosewood, and the scabbard is covered with highly polished ray skin the same color as the handle. 

When sheathed, it has an overall length of 1.8 feet / 55 cm and weighs 1.1 lbs / 500 grams.

Best On a Budget – Chinese Jian Dagger

Best on a Budget Chinese Dagger

This Jian dagger is made of folded steel and is ready for battle. It is perfect for training in Chinese martial arts. The blade is heated, tempered, and cooled in oil to make it as strong and hard as possible. It comes at a low price and closely represents the antique Chinese dagger.

It is 1 foot / 30 cm long and weighs a 0.44 lbs / 200 grams.

History of the Chinese Dagger

Chinese Bone Dagger
Chinese Dagger Axe [Source]

The origin of the Chinese dagger can be traced back to 5600 BC. Many bone dagger axes have been found in this era in the entirety of China. As time went by, Jade daggers started appearing and were upgraded to another type of weapon.

That is why the Chinese dagger might be one of the oldest weapons that China has ever used. They were inexpensive to make and were added to long polearm shafts to make the dagger axe. When the dagger axe started to be used in ancient times, China became the biggest victor in the chariot battles. The dagger even continued in the Zhou dynasty period too.

In the late Shang dynasty period, the Jade or Shang daggers were created and used as backup weapons, but they were primarily used in ceremonies. 

Dagger Axe rotated
Ancient Chinese Dagger Axe 

During the Han dynasty, long swords and daggers were often used together. In addition to regular weapons, the army also carries daggers in case of an emergency. Aside from swords, most officials also have daggers to protect themselves in case something unexpected happens.

As years went on, the iron Jian was used more regularly, and in China, spears were much more useful than any other weapon. The small dagger was somewhat forgotten because it wasn’t necessarily useful. It was primarily placed on soldiers’ belts or simply for ceremonial purposes.

Assassination

Jing Ke famous Chinese assasin
Jan Ke – a famous Chinese Assasin [Source]

Believe it or not, Japanese ninjas aren’t the only ones that had unique and even fantastical assassination skills. The Chinese dagger was a weapon that was used a lot in the history of assassinations in the entirety of China.

The famous historical story about how Jing Ke killed the King of Qin with a dagger is a great example of how the Chinese dagger was used. Jing Ke first took advantage of the small size of the dagger, which made it easy to hide. He wrapped the poisonous dagger in the map and tried to stab Qin Shihuang.

After failing, he quickly threw the dagger at Qin Shi Huang in a last-ditch effort. Even though the plot to kill the emperor failed, Jing Ke and the dagger left behind a good story.

Conclusion

Even though the Chinese dagger wasn’t used as often as the other weapons and isn’t as well known in history, it was still used sometimes, despite what most people think. Today, this dagger plays a very important role in Chinese culture, and any sword collector may want to add a Chinese dagger to their collection.

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