The Ancient period of China is characterized by a lot of battles that occurred with different dynasties seeking to reign over the other. As a result, there were many types of weaponry developed by the Chinese at that time. Some of these weapons did not have a counterpart in the Western part of the world.
So, what were the different types of weaponry used during Ancient China? What were they made of? In this post, we take a look into ancient Chinese weapons in an attempt to answer these questions. We will discuss some of the major weapons used in that period and their use or significance at the time.
What Were Ancient Chinese Weapons Made of?
Weapons had begun being developed in China as far back as the Neolithic age. At that time the weapons were used as tools at the time for hunting and other living needs. These types of weapons included axes and knives that were made out of stone. While these tools were great for hunting, they weren’t sufficient for battle. Over time, with the rise and fall of dynasties, new weapons kept being developed.
With the start of the intertribal war around the beginning of ancient times in China, there was an increasing need for better weapons. This led to the development of ancient Chinese weapons. At first, they were made of bronze metal but later on iron and steel became common materials to use for weapons like swords and spearheads. By the 3rd century, bronze weapons were relegated to being ceremonial pieces as the Chinese perfected the art of forging quench-hardened steel weapons. The earlier bows, however, were mainly made of tree branches so were the bodies of the arrows. The bowstring was fashioned out of animal tendon or hide and sometimes plant fiber.
What are the Ancient Chinese Weapons?
With the development of many weapons during Ancient China over time, there became different categories of weaponry, each with a vast variety of weaponry. The Chinese army at the time was said to use four classes of weapons among others. These four along with several more are included in the list below:
Also called gong, a Chinese bow was the most ballistic weapon to have been invented over 4,000 years ago. Archery was a must skill for men in Ancient China, especially those in leadership, including the emperor. Starting from the Zhou dynasty, Archery was among the six Noble arts one must learn. The other arts included music, chariot riding, calligraphy, math, and rites. These noble arts were used to mold and improve a person’s character.
Aside from being used in warfare, bows were used in other athletic activities like hunting and other sports. Confucius once said that if a gentleman must compete, they shall compete in Archery. On top of that, Archery at the time was also used as a form of examination to test your personality. Those becoming government officials had to take the examination.
Also known as Qing or the king of a thousand soldiers, the spear is among the predominantly used class of weapons in ancient China. It was the most commonly used long-handled weapon used by soldiers in ancient China. The Qing is an evolution of the spear used during prehistoric times. The Mao is heavier than the Qing. Generally, a Qing is a spear with a long staff and a metal tip. During the Shang dynasty, the Qing had a bronze tip, by the end of the Zhou dynasty the bronze tip was replaced with steel and iron for some.
The spear was used by the soldiers for long-distance combat where the spear was thrown at enemies far away. They were used long before firearms were introduced during the Qing dynasty. The weapon was said to be so effective that it replaced the Chinese halberd known as Ji.
Also known in Chinese as Hui Qiang or Fire lance, is among the first gunpowder weapons from which the firearms used today evolved. The fire lance was invented between the 10th to 12th centuries and played an important role in the Jin-song wars. Initially, the weapon was a small pyrotechnic on a polearm.
This weapon was used to gain an advantage during the battle at the start of the melee. The device would be fired to shock the enemy. With the development of gunpowder, the fire lance was improved by increasing the explosive discharge and adding pellets. With these improvements, the lance was almost as good as the short gun used today. The difference however is that the lance was designed for at most two shots and a gun range of up to 3 meters. By the end of the 13th century, it had developed to become the first-hand canon.
Also known as Jian, the ancient Chinese swords were another of the four predominantly used classes of weapons. Used for a long time Jian was considered the greatest masterpiece of Chinese craftsmanship and referred to as the sovereign of blades. It was often considered as the most used weapon by the Chinese army, whether I’m infantry or cavalry and regardless of the task being performed.
The Jian is a double-edged sword that dates back over 4,000 years ago from the time of the Shang dynasty. It was an ornamental sword with a combination of both lethal power and elegance. The sword was an indication of an individual’s rank based on the exquisiteness of the sword. Every man from the emperor to the artisan would be seen carrying the sword.
Often confused with the halberd, the Dagger-Axe is a pole type of weapon, designed with a dagger-like blade mounted perpendicularly on a wooden shaft. They were in use up until the Han dynasty. Its earliest form involved a dagger blade made of stone. That however evolved to the use of bronze to make the blades. There were also jade versions but these were saved for ceremonial purposes.
Also known as Ge in Chinese, the dagger ax is used as a chopping implement. Sometimes it would be combined with a spear to form a Ji or Chinese ancient spear. There is another variant of the dagger consisting of a divided two-part head of a scythe-like blade and the normal straight blade.
Of all the ancient Chinese weapons, the battle-ax was the most commonly used by kings and emperors. As such, it was seen as a symbol of power and justice. The battle ax, however, evolved from normal axes that were mostly used for chopping wood. Even then they were eventually introduced to the battlefield, it was on rare occasions. That’s because their initial battle axes were heavy.
Over time they were more developed to be more suitable on the battlefield. They also had inscriptions of a human face on the battle-axes used in the Shang dynasty that was meant. It’s however not clear whether that was effective. Given that the battle-ax became a popular weapon for kings, they became the symbol that represented the king in the bone inscriptions.
The shield used in ancient China went by very many names. You could either call it Dun or Pai, or by its archaic names like Lu, Gan, or Bing Jia which translates to handheld ‘amour’. The shield was an integral part of Chinese culture and had many purposes aside from in warfare. On top of being used as a weapon, the shield was also used as artistic decoration or for ceremonial and religious purposes.
The shield existed as far back as the Shang dynasty. Although it was rare at the time, it was referred to as Gan and was made of animal hide mounted on a wooden frame and coated with lacquer to strengthen it. By the early western Zhou dynasty, the shield had been developed into a double arch shield made of both a wooden and rattan frame. During the Warring Period, a new design had come up, it was a rectangular-shaped shield made of multiple wood planks joined together with rattan and lacquered linen face. The shield was also known as the tower shield. Over the years, the shield continued to evolve into turtle shields made of turtle shells, double-arched shields with a strap, and long shields with a predominant spine.
Ancient Chinese Warrior Armor.
Throughout ancient China, there existed different types of armor, one more popular than the other at one point in time. Around the Warring period, the predominantly used armor was the lamellar amour, but it was later supplemented by the scale armor. In Northern and Southern dynasties, partial plate armor was more popular. In the Tang dynasty the mail and mountain armor was invented, while in the Han dynasty, chain mail armor was introduced. The chain mail armor was, however, viewed as an exotic foreign armor that was used as a measure of wealth among the officers and soldiers. By the Qing dynasty, armors were purely ceremonial and used for aesthetic purposes.
What Were Ancient Chinese Warrior Armor Made Of?
Over the years, the ancient Chinese armors evolved being made of several different materials. In an earlier time, the armors were made of animal parts like rawhide and turtle shells. In the Shang dynasty, for example, the armor was a breastplate made of either turtle shells strung together or made of leather. The helmets worn with it were made of bronze with elaborate designs on them. During the Zhou dynasty, the armor evolved to a sleeveless coat made of either buffalo hide or leather. By the 4th century armors made of iron and bronze started were made.
A lot of weapons existed in Ancient China; these are simply the major classifications of the weapons with a variety of types under them. They contributed or inspires most of the weapons we see being used today.