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Deadlier than a dragon

If there was an award for cleverest military culture, the Chinese would certainly be a candidate. Over thousands of years their civilisation have created powerful artillery, advanced metalworking technology and even the first known gunpowder weapons. Today there are still several hundred different styles of Chinese martial arts. There is no way we can write about it all in one article. So let’s have a look at some of the coolest weapons that the Chinese have created.

Jian and Dao: A cut above the rest

A sword and a sword in its scabbard on a yellow background

This is a pair of jian (swords) and their scabbards. They are from China in early-19th century

There are two main categories of Chinese swords: jian and dao. Luckily, there is an easy way to tell them apart. Jian have two sharp edges and are straight, like a European long sword or a Roman gladius. A dao is a curved sword which has one main sharpened edge, a bit like an Indian talwar or a Japanese katana. Both jian and dao sometimes had tassels on the end of the handle. These could be there for a few different reasons, like showing the carrier’s rank, or even just as decoration.

Fun fact: The zhanmadao is a horse cutting sword, literally! It was used by foot soldiers (infantry) to cut through horses’ legs. However, they were not around during the time that Mulan’s story is set, they appeared between the 1400’s and 1600’s.

Yanyuedao: Enter the dragon

A large flat blade with a curled tip, decorated with stars and a dragon

This yanyuedao is from the 19th century. if you look closely, you will be able to see all the beautiful decoration, including the dragon head at the base of the blade. All of this decoration means it would have been used for processions and display rather than a bloody battle.

A yanyudao is a glaive (a staff with a large blade on the end) that would have been used to slash at enemies on the battlefield. It could also be carried in processions and displayed as a status symbol, just like the one pictured above. According to legend, the yanyuedao (which translates as ‘reclining moon glaive’ in English) was invented by the Chinese hero, Guan Yu. He lived around the early 200s C.E. and was such a powerful warrior that he became one of the Chinese gods of war. The whole length of this colossal weapon is a whopping 2.5 metres (just over 8ft)

Zhuge nu: Rapid fire

Crossbow with box to hold bolts on the top and a bolt within its mechanism. Four bolts to the right of the bow.

You can see the box on the top of this repeating crossbow that would hold the bolts in place. This would make the reloading of the crossbow automatic and so much quicker!

You might think the crossbow was invented in Europe around the 12th century, but actually the Chinese invented them as early as the 7th century. They even went on to invent (much later) this: a repeating crossbow. This could store bolts in the box on the top and shoot very fast when the lever was pumped up and down, as the user did not need to manually reload each bolt. Sounds a bit like a self-loading rifle doesn’t it? However, what repeating crossbows gained in speed, they lost in power, range and accuracy. These weapons seem to have been better suited to people defending their homes rather than the army. Villagers would sometimes coat their bolts with poison, so that even if the arrow only grazed an enemy, it would cause pain and even death.

Fun Fact: Even if you were not at Mulan’s level of fighting skill, you would probably not have any problems with a repeating crossbow. Their design makes them easy for even untrained people to use, and they were still being used well into the 1800’s.

Shuang gou: Simply hooked

A pair of parrying hooks

From the 19th century, these are some terrifying weapons! These parrying hooks can be used as a defensive weapon as well as for attack.

More used by martial artists than by soldiers, you can see why these weapons are sometimes called hook swords. You actually hold these more like a knuckle duster than a sword, so you can punch and stab with the spikes. The long hook acts as an extra layer of defence for the arm through you can flip it around and use it as a weapon too. True masters can even link the hooks together and whirl them above their head, creating a whirlwind of death for anyone near them.

There is no denying the long history and importance of the Chinese weapons, or their capacity to inflict damage on a foe. Any hero would be happy to be armed with any of these incredible weapons.

Other fun things to do

Download the Mulan Fun Activity Pack (pdf, 2MB) to dive even further into Mulan’s world. Watch the story telling of the tale of Mulan to find out about the adventure that made her famous. Do not forget to learn the BSL and Makaton for ‘family’, this will help you tell the story of Mulan to your family and friends! Also read about the epic history of Mulan and find out if she has always been such an amazing warrior.

Alternative communication formats

Please contact us if you require any of our downloadable documents in an alternative format.

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