Goujian: The Ancient Chinese Sword

Goujian: The Ancient Chinese Sword that Defied Time

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Fifty years ago, a rare and unusual sword was found in a tomb in China. Despite being well over 2,000 years old, the sword, known as the Goujian, did not have a single trace of rust.  The blade drew blood when an archeologist tested his finger on its edge, seemingly unaffected by the passage of time.  Besides this strange quality, the craftsmanship was highly detailed for a sword made such a long time ago.  Regarded as a state treasure in China today, the sword is as legendary to the Chinese people as King Arthur's Excalibur in the West.

In 1965, archaeologists were carrying out a survey in Hubei province, just 7 km (4 miles) from the ruins of Jinan, capital of the ancient Chu state, when they discovered fifty ancient tombs. During the excavations of the tombs, researchers unearthed the sword of Goujian alongside 2,000 other artifacts. 

Discovery of the Goujian

According to the leader of the archeological team responsible for the excavation, it was discovered in a tomb, in a near air-tight wooden box next to a skeleton.  The team was stunned when the perfectly preserved bronze sword with scabbard was removed from the box.  When it was unsheathed, the blade was revealed to be untarnished despite being buried in damp conditions for two millennia.  A test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

Jian swords

The Sword of Goujian is one of the earliest known Jian swords, a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China. Jian swords are among the earliest sword types in China and are closely associated with Chinese mythology. In Chinese folklore, it is known as "The Gentleman of Weapons" and is considered one of the four major weapons, along with the staff, spear, and the sabre.

One iron and two bronze Jian swords from the Chinese Warring states period

One iron and two bronze Jian swords from the Chinese Warring states period ( Wikimedia Commons )

Relatively short compared to similar historical pieces, the Gouijan sword is a bronze sword with a high concentration of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter.  The edges are made of tin, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge.  There are also small amounts of iron, lead and sulfur in the sword, and research has revealed a high proportion of sulfur and sulfide cuprum, which gives the sword its rustproof quality.  Black rhombic etchings cover both sides of the blade and blue glaze and turquoise is imbedded on the sword handle.  The grip of the sword is bound by silk while the pommel is composed of 11 concentric circles.  The sword measures 55.7 cm long (21.9 in), including an 8.4 cm (3.3 in) handle hilt, and has a 4.6 cm (1.8 in) wide blade.  It weighs 875 grams (30.9) oz.

The turquoise can be seen embedded in the sword’s handle

The turquoise can be seen embedded in the sword s handle ( Wikimedia Commons )

Deciphering the inscription

On one side of the blade, two columns of text are visible with eight characters, near the hilt, that are in ancient Chinese script.  The script, known as "鸟虫文" (literally "'birds and worms' characters") is characterized by intricate decorations to the defining strokes, and is a variant of zhuan that is very difficult to read.  Initial analyses deciphered six of these eight characters.  They read, "越王" (King of Yue) and "自作用剑" ("made this sword for (his) personal use"). The remaining two characters are likely the name of the king. 

Deciphering the scripts on the Sword of Goujian

Deciphering the scripts on the Sword of Goujian ( Wikipedia)

From its birth in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian, Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, and Zhu Gou, among others.  The identity of the king that owned the sword sparked debate among archaeologists and Chinese language scholar.  After more than two months, the experts formed a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian (496 – 465 BC), making the sword around 2,500 years old. 

King Goujian of Yue

King Goujian of Yue ( Wikimedia Commons )

Goujian was a famous emperor in Chinese history who reigned over the Yue State during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 - 476 BC).  This was a time marked by chaos within the Zhou Dynasty and takes its name from the Spring and Autumn Annals, which chronicled this period.  The Spring and Autumn Period was renowned for military expeditions; these conflicts led to the perfecting of weapons to the point that they were incredibly resistant and deadly, taking years to forge and lasting for centuries.  The story of Goujian and Fuchai, King of the Wu state, contending for hegemony is famous throughout China.  Although Goujian’s kingdom was initially defeated by the State of Wu, Goujian would lead his army to victory 10 years later. 


The ads on this page are so fucking obnoxious!!!! It's nearly impossible to read this article when it keeps forcing you to watch a video ever 5 seconds

ancient-origins's picture

Hi there. Sorry about that, but we don’t have any kind of ads doing that! Can you please send us a screenshot?


How are you still using the internet without adblock?

If you visit this site on an iPad or iPhone the "on page" ads can't be dismissed. Other ads force a redirect on the site to the ad itself.

ancient-origins's picture

Thanks Soco. That’s strange because we cannot see any issues on iPad or iPhone. However we have some issues with Google Ads where some video ads sneak in even if they are blocked. Google support is working to figure out what is wrong. This is an issue that after 2 weeks it is still not solved yet! Apologies about that.


ha ha...i am sure google is working very hard to make it more wrong...thank you very much

I am seeing nothing like you describe. I use Ghostery with Firefox. Ghostery is available with other browsers. Good luck!

Ghostery does the business every time, install and "ads forget", go on folks, do it while stocks last.

>not having adblocker installed in 2015

Haven't seen any ads, I'm using Mozilla FireFox.

Im hearing that mate. I don't get videos but the ads are so obtrusive sometime.depending on which device i use they can be shockingly located,sometime they even block the text by appearing directly in the middle of the article. It actually has reached the point where i only visit this site occasionally rather than daily.when i complained to A.O they asked me for a screen shot as well. Take our words for it A.O,the ads are truly abysmal.

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I am an engineer but i found myself very much interested in History

Bryan Hill's picture

Hi guys, I also recommend using adblock plus (with the easylist filter). It does a good job removing virtually all ads.

Today we only consider the compounds of swords and judge them by the chemical/metallurgical values.

ancient swordmakers were not only smiths in a modern sense but had a highly profession. Not only because metall smithing was new (arguably not at this time anymore) but they had a religious air around them. their swords were not only pieces of metal (met - all) but magical items with an own soul, character and features.

Those smiths knew magic and most likely a more elaborate form of Alchemy (all-chemy) far beyond the stupid making of gold from lead (can be done today but costs more than the gold price would render).

Today we know that for example water can keep intention/energy/information (or what ever it is). that means there is jumping of border between the metaphysical world to the material world. We know that from japanese experiments but also from Prof. W. Bengstons experiments as well as Grads experiments.

Prof. Bengston reported that he 'charged' cotton with (well, what it is nobody knows) and then held it in his hand. When he moves the hand it hit him like a 2by4. He repeated the experiment with various people, all with the same result.

We also know that swords had runa on it, or short blessings. (some also say the blessings have effects on the food, like the old grannies at Tchernobyl blessed their food until there is no more radiation).

So a sword is much more as a piece of metal, it is a power object with its own life.

i liked the story of the guy who found an ancient artifact in china and continued to use it as the tool it was made to be used as...just tryin to keep on keepin on

Once again people don't know anything it's more of oh let's research this and find out how they did it such such time.
History saying that at such such time no one should have been able to do this.
Sorry there is even older and more incredibly mysteries of China. Like the White Chinese Pyramids.
Historians are a joke.

IronicLyricist's picture

dont forget euro/amerocentrecism...

infinitesimal waveparticles comprise what we call home the earth
manipulatable by thought ability supressed in humans since birth

yes of course...it is only a mystery if you do not know!

Where can you send picture of sword to learn what kind of sword you have and its value

i used the free adblocker, never seen an ad since, on my laptop,...

Beautiful piece, amazing find!
Also great comments, enjoyed reading them.
Thanks everyone

thx for the great website. i have seen no advert as said in 1 comment. there are very reasonable adverts

"...it was discovered in a tomb, in a near air-tight wooden box next to a skeleton."

and they marvel that it had no rust!!!!!

It had no rust, because it is not made of iron.

Rust is a process which can only take place with iron.

jesus christ, is this supposed to be an 'informative' website, yet cannot get basic chemistry correct.

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