Terminology update: Peidao and yaodao

Sword typology and Edge Weapons forms of the Chinese Empire and related cultures with an emphasis on their relationship to Swordsmanship.

Moderators: Scott M. Rodell, Philip Tom

Post Reply
User avatar
Peter Dekker
Rank: Chang San feng
Rank: Chang San feng
Posts: 395
Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2005 7:46 am
Location: Groningen, The Netherlands

Terminology update: Peidao and yaodao

Post by Peter Dekker » Sat Sep 04, 2010 6:13 am


During recent translations it became clear that our terminology needs a little update.

As most of us know, a waist-worn saber is called a peidao. There is also another term floating around which is yaodao. Both terms mean practically the same: A saber which is worn suspended from a waist belt.

Where we know peidao mainly from the 1759 and 1766 Huangchao Liqi Tushi, yaodao only appears in earlier texts. This has lead to the assumption that yaodao is an earlier term for peidao. Yaodao is still used in Chinese collector's circles where it got about the same meaning as duandao.

Now, the Huangchao Liqi Tushi is not just a set of regulations. It is a special work with hidden depths. It lists the ceremonial regalia of the imperial household including the Qing troops. According to Linda Wrigglesworth (author of Imperial Wardrobe and expert on Qing imperial garment) it was probably both written to re-affirm old regulations and set new ones.

Anyone who knows the Qianlong emperor, a Manchu, knows that he was very much preoccupied with legitimizing Manchu (foreign) rule over China. For this he often harked back to ancient classics that were highly esteemed by his Chinese officials, and pointing out similarities between early kings and the ways of the Manchu ruling house. We see that the text often quotes Chinese classics describing armaments similar to Manchu weaponry. One of the most obvious problems to overcome was this: As opposed to the Chinese elite, the Manchu elite sidearm of choice was the saber, a weapon with uncivilized and barbarian associations among Chinese scholars. So before getting to describing Qianlong's best saber, Heaven Series Number One, he is keen to have its compiler quote two old classics on the use of dao by early, and highly esteemed Chinese rulers:

"Shi Jing" (The Book of Odes) describes the Duke of Zhou, a legendary benevolent ruler, wearing a dao, and not a jian. Heaven Series Number One is inspired on this saber.
He also quotes "Hou Hanshu" (The Book of Later Han) where the term peidao is used.

Philip was keen to point out to me that these early dao were no doubt zhibeidao and not sabers. Qianlong was probably mostly occupied with matching terminology, and not so much matching the actual weapons. We can also wonder whether the scholars at his court were aware of the shape of these old dao.
(Although, Qianlong was probably aware of this as he did in fact have a zhibeidao made for use in auspicious ceremonies such as the offerings at the Temple of Heaven, a tradition continued from old Han Chinese practices.)

So where is this all getting at, you might wonder. There is another text, the Qinding Junqi Zeli of which I have examined Qianlong, Jiaqing and Daoguang era versions. It goes into the more fine workings of the Chinese military, especially when it comes to logistics of equipment. Throughout this work there is no mention of any peidao. But nearly every soldier or officer is issued a yaodao. We know for a fact from existing examples, pictures, eye-witness accounts and artwork that short sabers did not get to completely supplant the regular saber. So where are all the peidao?

Then I looked at a picture of the inventory tag of the Qianlong emperor's "Heaven Series Number One". It is a full-length saber, but its tag calls it a yaodao. This tag was added to the saber by the Imperial Household Department who were responsible for very precisely documenting and storing all of the emperor's goodies. Much like the job of museum curators today.

From this we may conclude that peidao was an archaic term by the early Qianlong reign, that was re-popularized by him in order to establish a link between the weapon of the Manchu ruling house and that of mythical kings of the past. These texts being the core of Chinese thought, morality and statecraft, and thus mandatory material for anyone pursuing a literary career, this method was quite powerful indeed.

The Qinding Junqi Zeli probably kept referring to yaodao because these texts were meant for lower level officials working on an operational level. The Guangxu edition of the daqing huidian still refers to peidao, indicating that this term survived up to the last years of the dynasty.

To conclude:
1. Peidao appears in the Hou Hanshu but disappears from official military texts up until the mid. Qianlong reign.
2. The terms used in Song, Ming and Qing is yaodao.
3. After Peidao re-enters the Qing vocabulary yaodao is still used in text for operational level military management.
4. Both terms survive to the end of the dynasty, yaodao used mainly by the rank and file and peidao being consistently used by the upper class as proven by a late Guangxu text written just over 100 years ago.

Based on the above the assumption that a yaodao was a historical name for a short saber appears to be incorrect.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.

-Bruce Lee

Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions

Fe Doro - Manchu Archery

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests