“The fastest sword”---- Anecdote of the Sword of Goujian, King of Yue
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Unearthed: 2400 years take no sharpness from it
In the winter of 1965, the tomb of a nobleman in Chu Dynasty was discovered during the establishment of the second main canal in Jinzhou, Hubei Province, and was then named as “No. 1 Tomb at Wang Mountain”. Another 25 large and medium-sized tombs with grave mounds and over 30 small tombs without grace mounds were discovered at the same time. “No. 1 Tomb at Wang Mountain” is a medium-sized, horizontally 16.1m long and vertically 13.5m wide tateana pitwood timber-grave with a grave mound and tomb passages. Since it had never been robbed, all objects buried with the dead remained relatively well. In total there were 66 weapons which fell into 5 categories like swords, dagger-axes, arrowheads and a bamboo-made ancient weapon, including the famous Sword of Goujian.
While discovered, this sword lied on the left side of the dead in the coffin and coated with a lacquer wood sheath. Its total length is 55.7cm, its width 4.6cm, its hilt length 8.4 cm and weight 875g. The sword head rolls outward in a round plate shape and contains inserted 11 concentric circles between each of which the distance is just 0.2mm. The round stem is hollow, slightly larger and thicker on the end near the head and smaller and thinner on the end to the Ge. On the façade and back of the Ge there are beautiful geometric patterns composed of blue glaze and johnite respectively. Sword body is wide with mid-ridge barred and slightly-arced ends of both edges. Near the Ge (the oval position between the blade and the hilt) there are two lines of inscriptions of Bird Characters (also known as bird-and-insect script) consisting 8 Chinese characters in total. Preliminary interpretation of the on-site archaeological team members showed that the 6 characters among the 8 mean “King of Yue State” “Self-made and self-use”, which suggests this sword belonged to a King of Yue State.
However, from Yun Chang claimed his throne in 510 BC to the Yue State was defeated and annihilated by Chu Dynasty in 334 BC under Wujiang's sovereignty, the Yue State had had 9 kings including Goujian, Luying, Bushou, Zhugou, etc. Then to which king did this sword specifically belong? This question could be answered only after the last two crucial characters in the inscription were interpreted successfully. Therefore, a widespread and heated academic discussion is carried out among archaeologists and paleographers mainly in way of letters. After over 2 months' exchanges and discussions, it was finally decided that the two characters are “Jiu Qian”, exactly the name of the renowned King Goujian who, after once defeated by his enemy, underwent self-imposed hardships to strengthen his resolution for revenge and self-improvement.
It is said that when an archaeological member took the sword out from the hilt, everyone present was amazed at a dazzling cold light. And one of the exploitation team members accidentally cut his finger and bled seriously. Someone tried this sword with 16 layers of papers that were completely cut off at a little effort.
Debate: why a sword of King of Yue appeared in a tomb of Chu Dynasty?
Why the sword of Goujian, the last powerful king in the Spring and Autumn Period, shall appear on the land of Chu Dynasty thousands of miles away and even become a burial object of Chu nobility, has always been an object to academic discussions and arguments.
Earlier then Mr Lv Rongfang, an archaeologist, based on the bamboo slips study from that tomb, held the opinion that the tomb owner was Shao Hua (also named Nao Hua), a big noble during the sovereignty of King Huai of Chu. With the records in Shih Chi/ Collected biography of Gan Mao and Han Feizi/ On Empowerment, it is considered that King Huai of Chu sent Shao Hua to Yue in order to intensify this country's inner contradictions and thus trigger its civil commotions so that King Huai of Chu took the advantage of commotions and annihilated Yue. Consequently, the sword of Goujian was pillaged and then awarded to Shaohua for his great contribution to this victory. Shao Hua then had this nationally well-known sword buried with him after his death.
However, another archaeologist, Mr. Chen Zhenyu put forward another point of view based on the bamboo slips from the tomb, tomb form and structure, buried objects and objects of similar categories from other tombs. He does not think this tomb belongs to Shao Gu instead of Shao Hua. Shao Gu lived in the time of King Wei of Chu or earlier, rather than Shao Hua, whose main political and diplomatic activities were in the late sovereignty of King Huai of Chu as is said in historical records. In addition, according to historical and bamboo records, Chu and Yue were in a close relationship before King Huai of Chu as King Zhao of Chu married a daughter of Goujian, King of Yue, and it is possible that Goujian might have given King Zhao of Chu his precious bronze sword as a bliss to this marriage. And Shao Gu from Dao family was a Chu's royal member. It is speculated that he was the great-grandson of King Dao of Chu based on his worshipping the former kings' tombs and his “frequently attending upon the king” in bamboo slips, which suggests his close contacts with King of Chu. Shao Gu died at a young age and it is possible that King of Chu awarded the famous Sword of Goujian to bury with him for his devout service.
It is also regarded that the Sword of Goujian may be “buried with a Yue prince who fled to Chu and died in Yindu” ,because the Sword of Goujian could not get lost abroad when the Yue state is in the boom years before its destruction by Chu. Certainly, as some archaeologists pointed out, at the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, Jin allied with Wu to fight against Chu and Chu also tried to ally with Wu, which caused Wu's objects to enter Jin territory and Yue's objects were also unearthed in Chu territory. After Goujian annihilated Wu, Yue and Chu became neighbor countries, which further facilitated exchanges and mutual gift-giving.
Mystery: what has protected it from dust for thousands of years?
Because there are too much reference that needs to be done to restore history, currently there is no precise judgment on this question in academic field. Thus, it calls for more discussion over how this bronze sword Goujian used to wearing with found in Chu territory. However, among all the mysteries this sword leaves to the offsprings, the one that draws the most attention is that why this sword remains rustless and extremely sharp after thousands of years. According to a scientific measurement done by experts of Static Accelerator in Shanghai Fudan University, December 1977, the main elements of Sword of Goujian contain bronze and tin, with little quantities of lead, iron, nickel and sulfur, its black rhombic patterns on blade were sulfured, and its blade grinding technique is paralleled to that of today's products from precise grinders, which proves Yue's excellent sword-making craftsmanship at that time.
The Sword of Goujian is mainly made of copper, tin and small quantities of bronze metal made from aluminum, iron, nickel and sulfur (among which copper accounts for about 80%-83%, and tin about 16%-17%). The black rhombic patterns on sword body were sulfured and its blade grinding technique is paralleled to that of today's products from precise grinders. The different functions of different parts of the sword determined the different proportion of copper and tin. The sword ridge contains more copper to strengthen its tenacity preventing it from being broken off; its blade contains more tin so that it is very hard and sharp; the patterns contain more sulfur to avoid rust and maintain their gorgeous looking. So how were the proportions of different elements done on one same sword?
Some experts analyzed that it is composite metal processing that was adopted, which means to pour twice and then put the two together. It was not until modern times that other countries in the world started to adopt this composite metal processing, and yet ancient China's skillful craftsmen had adopted it over 2 thousand years ago. In addition, the Sword of Goujian, while unearthed, was closely inserted black lacquer wood sheath which, along with the neutral soil containing little oxide and the enclosed environment, constitutes an important factor for the sword's restlessness.
What's worth mentioning here are the 3 bronze swords unearthed together with the Sword of Goujian. Being put in the outer coffin room outside the coffin of the tomb, the 3 bronze swords were only slightly rusted and even comparable to the Sword of Goujian. And the Dagger-axe of Fuchai (King of Wu) unearthed in 1983 in a Chu tomb on Horse Mountain, Jianglin, although similar to the Sword of Goujian in times and processing, was almost completely rotten on its shaft and covered by green rusts due to its improper reservation.