Crude version of Tibetan monster?

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josh stout
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Crude version of Tibetan monster?

Post by josh stout » Mon Mar 26, 2007 1:17 pm

There is an amazing jian shown at the "Warriors of the Himalayas" exhibit. (scroll down to see: viewtopic.php?t=249). There is a brief description of the form in the catalogue, but I was wondering if there is more information on the iconography.

This is what I think is the same creature on shuang jian of village manufacture, probably 19th century but done in what I take to be a Ming style. The guard shows signs of gilding overpainted in red.
Josh

http://i77.photobucket.com/albums/j65/p ... ion346.jpg

http://i77.photobucket.com/albums/j65/p ... ion347.jpg
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Post by Peter Dekker » Wed Mar 28, 2007 11:08 am

I can see the resemblance, too. The depictions on your swords appear to be more typical Chinese representations of lions as they are typically seen on circular rattan shields.

Most notably, the character wang meaning "king" is placed on the forehead of the design on your swords, exactly as it appears on many of their shields.

Below are two examples of old tengpai from the "saber and shield" thread in the swordsmanship section of this forum.

Image

Image

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Post by josh stout » Thu Mar 29, 2007 11:16 am

Thank you for those pictures of the shields. I had not noticed the character at all.

What do you think of the pommel imagery? The floral design reminds me a bit of the designs on the scabbard I posted recently.

Shuang jian pommel:
http://i77.photobucket.com/albums/j65/p ... ion347.jpg

Scabbard fitting from saber:
http://i77.photobucket.com/albums/j65/p ... ion259.jpg

Thanks for the help,
Josh
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image 147

Post by Tashi James » Thu Mar 29, 2007 9:29 pm

The image is that of a lotus..in #147

this image is prevalent as of the buddhist pantheon in tibet and as per my knowledge was not as utilised in adornments of the preceeding bon tradition.
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Post by josh stout » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:06 pm

Tashi-
Would you say the particular form shown is from Chinese or Tibetan iconography?
Josh
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Post by Peter Dekker » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:27 pm

From my experience, this is very hard to say because Tibetan symbology has been fairly common on artifacts found in China for a long time already.

For example, Ming dynasty emperor Yongle produced a wealth of items with Tibetan style decoration. Most Mongols were Tibeten Buddhists, and also the Qing patronized Tibetan Buddhism partly as political means to soothe the Mongols. Apart from that, many Tibetans lived (and still live) in Qinghai, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan.

Signs of contact include the incorporation of the swastika in Chinese as the "wan" character, and vice versa the Tibetans began to make use of the Chinese "shou" longevity symbol. The famous red knots you see all around are Chinese versions of the Tibetan "eternal knot", and so on. China was pretty multicultural for a long time already, and most cities have contained societies of Muslims, Tibetan buddhists and other minorities since ancient times. The foundations of Hangzhou's (an East coast city) Mosque date from the Tang!

On attributing a certain item to a certain people, I experience the same problem with a bow of mine that has decorations in the form of bats, coins, and longevity symbols (all typically Chinese) but with the addition of eternal knots and swastika's (typically Tibetan) plus typical Qing floral motiffs. A Tibetan buddhist Mongol living in Qing territory is my best guess but I can never be sure. Unfortunately for us that try to make something out of this mess of symbolism, the complexity of centuries of historical fact might easily overshadow our best fiction...

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re

Post by Tashi James » Sat Mar 31, 2007 4:15 am

The Chinese and Tibetans previous to the cultural revolution shared frequent envoys and cross-culturalism so it is difficult to say. I would say that it is a more typical to be Tibetan symbology as the Chinese more prevalently use a similar image which is actually that of a peony flower..One way to discern them is that a lotus petals terminate at a point, whereas a peony has a wavy form at the petals end. Still it is difficult to assume.
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Post by josh stout » Mon Apr 02, 2007 11:23 am

Peter and Tashi-
Thank you for your very helpful and scholarly replies. I have been finding the same sorts of problems, particularly with pieces coming out of the border regions. I don't think it is even a good idea anymore to try and say something is definitively Chinese or Tibetan when there is a mixture of characters. What I am trying to do is get an idea of what is usually attributable to one culture or the other, what is always attributable to one or the other, and what is completely common in both. For example, a duan jian from northern China with an endless knot design but no other Tibetan imagery I would say is Chinese perhaps from an eastern region. The endless knot is so ubiquitous that it gives little more than the suspicion of Tibetan influence. Another example I have is a zhibeidao blade made in the Tibetan style but which is unusually light with an old oxidation pattern showing the remains of a tonkou. As far as I know, the tonkou is never found on Tibetan pieces, and when seen in combination with the unusual lightness of the blade, I attribute the blade to Chinese manufacture with strong Tibetan influence. Often however, the situation ends up so mixed though that all one can say is that there are strong indications of both cultures. The zhibeidao I posted with Tibetan hairpin folding, Chinese fangshi fittings, and unidentifiable, possibly minority, scabbard iconography refuses categorization. It is both Tibetan and Chinese. Some pieces are clearly on one side of the border or the other, but showing completely mixed characteristics like the shuang jian I posted with the bi-color stars and signs of Tibetan stacked construction. The style of weapon is Chinese, but the characteristics seem clearly Tibetan. These are the sort of pieces I speculate were made by a Tibetan smith in China, or a Chinese smith for Tibetans.

The shuang jian posted here, are more clearly Chinese, but I was curious about some indications of Tibetan influence on the guard and pommel. As Peter has pointed out the “wang” character is found on Chinese pieces, I am sticking to my initial feeling that the swords are Chinese. However, if I found Tibetan monster (lion) heads with the wang character I would have to reexamine my thoughts on the matter.

Regarding the lion heads on the shields, I notice that the noses are short and round, while the Tibetan jian from the Met. And my shuang jian both have long noses. Are there Chinese lion heads with similar long noses?
Josh
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Post by Tashi James » Mon Apr 02, 2007 5:18 pm

Am not able to comment as I have not seen many shield examples. However if I come across one I shall let you know about it

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Tashi
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Mixed Parts, Fittings & Blades

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Tue Apr 03, 2007 7:55 pm

Checking in from Xiamen...

There two other points to keep in mind when trying to identify a sword's origin. One is that there was a trade in blades & fittings. The Tibetans (though they lived in Shangrala) had a large arms industry. They sold fittings to the Chinese market & blades to the surrounding areas. So you can find excellent Chinese blades in Tibetan fittings. And naturally, Chinese craftsmen copied what ever was selling. While I was in Beijing I examined an Yizhu dao (Yi minority people saber) in a private collection. The hilt & scabbard were unique to this people, but the blade was certainly Tibetan.

The other thing to keep in mind is that sword blades are constantly re-fit though out their working life. So who knows what fittings were orginally on any sword? Unless both fittings & blade are in "fresh," first polish, kind of condition, it is safest to assume the fittings are not the blade's orginal.

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Post by josh stout » Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:45 am

That is a good point about blades and fittings not necessarily going together. In the case of the two sets of shuang jian I have looked at though the fittings were welded/riveted to the blade in a manner that makes me think they have always been together. It is I suppose possible that fittings made integral to the blade could be replaced, but In these examples I doubt it. I think fittings are more likely to be switched in examples where the guard and pommel are simply threaded onto the tang. Then it is quite likely for fittings to be switched as you say.
Josh
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Post by josh stout » Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:54 am

Scott-
Why do you think the blades on Yi sabers are Tibetan? I agree that they look identical to Tibetan blades, but I had thought that as Yi culture is very similar in the few artifacts I have seen to Tibetan culture, that the Yi people simply made blades in the same style as the Tibetans. Is there any way to tell if they are Tibetan style blades made in Tibet or Tibetan style blades made by the Yi people? I think some Tibetan influenced blades made in China have inserted edges while Tibetan blades do not. Do you agree with this, and if so, are there any clues that could also be used to identify Tibetan vs. Yi blades?
Josh
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Post by Scott M. Rodell » Fri Apr 06, 2007 8:43 pm

Sitting in the Hong Kong Airport, killing time...
josh stout wrote:Scott-
Why do you think the blades on Yi sabers are Tibetan?
That is an assumption on my part... the reason I made this assumption is that I traveled thru the region of Yunnan where the Yi people live. This area is quite remote, mountainous, & heavily forested. The Yi villages are quite small. Even today the Yi people get by on hunting & money from a government program that pays them to plant trees.

But I also have to admit my knowledge of the Yi people is quite limited. I certainly could be wrong in my assumption.

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Post by Peter Dekker » Sat Apr 07, 2007 12:40 am

I think Scott's assumption of trade makes sense because I believe that the other typical Yi minority weapons I've seen were not of that typical hairpin folding while all 6 Yi zhibeidao I've seen up close so far had blades identical to Tibetan zhibeidao.

Yi people were also very warriorsome: from an eye witness account of a Han Chinese travelling through the area at the time of the Qing conquest it becomes obvious that no one liked to travel the region because Yi attacks on non-locals were very common. As such, it's easy to imagine that they might have kept and refitted captured Tibetan swords.

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Post by josh stout » Mon Apr 09, 2007 11:05 am

It is interesting to look for details that can start differentiating regions and peoples. As you demonstrate, the larger the sample, the stronger one's statements can be. I usually think of Bhutanese blades as essentially identical to Tibetan ones due to a combination of similarity of culture and trade in the blades themselves. However, I have now looked at enough pictures at least of Bhutanese examples to see that there are some differences. For example, Bhutanese blades often have grooved surfaces in addition to the hairpin folding. And as I mentioned, Chinese made swords with hairpin folding seem to have inserted edges (I am hedging a bit because I only have a few examples on this, and it is not always easy for me to tell between a high carbon stacked edge and a high carbon inserted edge). I am willing to go with the idea though that Yi zhibeidao blades show no differences from Tibetan blades and so the simplest explanation is that they are indeed Tibetan blades. As you say, Yi choppers have a very different construction than Tibetan blades. They are something I want to look at more closely. Yi armor seems to show strong Tibetan influence while still being identifiable. So I do tend to agree. As Yi culture is usually identifiable in its artifacts, one would expect Yi made blades to also be identifiable. The blades are Tibetan.
Josh
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