So what was George Cameron Stone's problem?

Discussion of Chinese historical swordsmanship from all styles.

Moderator: Scott M. Rodell

Post Reply
User avatar
jonpalombi
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Posts: 44
Joined: Mon Jun 04, 2007 7:08 pm
Location: Stowe, Vermont

So what was George Cameron Stone's problem?

Post by jonpalombi » Tue Jul 31, 2007 11:22 pm

While this post is not specifically about swordsmanship, it does relate to Chinese swords, themselves. Why is it that George Cameron Stone's massive Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor has so little information on Chinese jian and dao swords? He lists every obscure type of edged weapon throughout the world...yet, damn little on Chinese swords. China, a country with over 5 thousand years of history and possessing the world's largest population, must have produced more swords than ANY nation ever has! I won't touch on the magnificence of Chinese swordsmanship because we all know, first hand, it is perhaps the most advanced system ever developed. I'd be preaching to the choir. So what was George's major problem? Don't get me wrong, I've spent many hours thumbing through this book and enjoyed it's content. My copy is dog-eared and well broken in. Even so, it's like seeing a rainbow without a band of red (no pun intended). Maybe he was dropped on his head when he was a small child? Oops, I digress, it isn't nice to speak ill of the dead. I find the same oversight in Nick Evangelista's Encyclopedia of the Sword. The ONLY reference to Chinese swordsmanship is a brief mention of swordplay in Chinese movies! By Chinese, he really means 1970's Hong Kong. Nick is a good guy and his books are very inspiring, however, he couldn't possibly have missed the boat to such an obvious living tradition. Or could he have? I need to send him a copy of Laoshi's book. Fencing is cool but they ain't using swords. Something sword-like but not really swords. Almost only counts in horse shoes. Yeah, yeah, I know. What about modern wushu jian and dao swords? Again, almost only counts in horse shoes. Even if Nick was only exposed to The One Armed Swordsman and Legend of Liquid Sword, it's quite obvious that China has a vast history of swordsmanship. If Erroll Flynn is noteworthy...need I say more? This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Regardless of the blind-sightedness of others, I know I thank my lucky stars ( I believe there are seven of them ) that I have been given the chance to study this complex and sublime tradition. Not just this lineage but I have come to be amazed by all of the myriad forms of Chinese Swordsmanship; Taiji Quan, Shaolin quan, Wudang, Baqua, Xingyi and yes, even modern wushu. Perhaps the oversight of the 20th century, in regards to this issue, will pale to the enlightenment of the 21st century? That is what we are up to, isn't it? Sorry to post such a long-winded thread.

Yours in martial Spirit, Jon Palombi

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
Contact:

Post by Peter Dekker » Mon Aug 06, 2007 5:19 am

China has been isolating itself many times, like in the Ming right after the Yongle emperor lost power, and most recently under Mao Zedong.

During Mao's reign it was about getting rid of "the evils of old", and industrializing China. Family traditions who were always passed verbally got interrupted when people were forbidden to continue them ans forced to work in remote camps or industrialized zones.

Craftsmanship largely disappeared in this era, no books were written to preserve any knowledge and hundreds of thousands antique swords were melted in order to produce steel. Not to mention the vast amount of books burned in this time because they lacked quotes by the great chairman.

Now, relatively little Chinese swords remain and to learn about them we need to study antiques, period artwork and old texts. Even in the Forbidden City the curators make horrible mistakes in presenting an officer's saber as Qianlong's own Heaven Series Nr. 1 saber. The Chinese military museum proudly presents China's 18 traditional weapons, containing pole arms only and in which some weapons are represented twice. Nowhere you find them using their own traditional terms for weapons, items are mis dated or no description is given whatsoever.

Because in China "face" is a big thing, no-one openly says that another person is wrong so nothing is done when a "prominent" figure in the field says it is so. Presenting oneself as an expert is likely higher on their agenda than acquiring accurate information.

To conclude, much of the knowledge about these weapons is lost and needs to be rediscovered using primary sources (in classical Chinese that is even hard to read for native Chinese), something George Cameron Stone probably had little or no access to.

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


-Bruce Lee

http://www.mandarinmansion.com
Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions

http://www.manchuarchery.org
Fe Doro - Manchu Archery

User avatar
jonpalombi
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Posts: 44
Joined: Mon Jun 04, 2007 7:08 pm
Location: Stowe, Vermont

Post by jonpalombi » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:28 pm

Peter Dekker wrote: To conclude, much of the knowledge about these weapons is lost and needs to be rediscovered using primary sources (in classical Chinese that is even hard to read for native Chinese), something George Cameron Stone probably had little or no access to.

-Peter
Well said Peter. You raised quite a few intelligent points. True, much of the historical knowledge about Chinese martial science and technical understanding of the weapons used, had been suppressed by the Republican era, in China. Mr. Stone published his book in 1934, so it was written in the late 1920's-early 1930's. Certainly much of what we now know of as historically genuine and accurate was of limited supply. Still, I began this ranting and raving because George didn't even see fit to list the names of Chinese jian and dao in his publication. Let alone the rest of the 18 traditional weapons of classical Chinese martial origin. He, in fact, lists every obscure edged weapon across the planet in detail (with the glaring exception of Chinese edged weapons). Many of these have no complex martial applications. Choppers, stabbers and hackers. Yet, each is listed with an acute attention to detail. While I love Japanese culture and it's array of weaponry, should he list 100 examples of Japanese origin and practically none of Chinese origin? Great China, the mother of all major East-Asian cultures? Perhaps he had never held a Chinese sword? Lack of reliable examples? Hardly... I spoke with Laoshi Rodell the other day and he enlightened me to the fact that Mr. Stone had an extensive collection of Chinese arms. He donated many of them to a museum Teacher Rodell had visited. If he owned them, he knew their names. When he bought them he must have asked "So what's this called?" Hmmmmmm, the plot thickens. Also, if he possessed a number of examples, he was sure to realize their quality. Just handle a Chinese sword or pole arm, the workmanship is second to none! As anyone who is acquainted with Chinese history is painfully aware of, the vast country of China was considered a beaten dog in the early 20th century. We have all seen Bruce Lee's Chinese Connection and Jet Li's Fearless. This crap about being the "sick men of Asia" was all-pervasive in those times. So, now we come down to the basic issue...did racism play a hideous role in George Cameron Stone's gross error in composing his book? Sadly, I am almost certain it did...

One cannot regret the errors of the past, for too long. I will make it a personal quest to convince Nick Evangelista upon the revision of his inspiring book, The Encyclopedia of The Sword, to include a few poignant references to both historic Chinese swords, as well as the complex art and science of Chinese swordsmanship. Of this you can be certain. I'm like a mad dog, when I get riled, I don't let go. (Hopefully I will come across a little bit more charming than a mad dog.) It's time that the world be reminded about the truly glorious tradition of Chinese swordsmanship, in all of it's myriad forms. Having studied other schools of swordsmanship prior to this lineage, I was delighted to be enlightened to it's sublime power. I'm certain other students of the sword will too, if they have a chance to be exposed to it. We are sending Maestro Nick Evangelista a copy of Laoshi's book. I believe he will be pleasantly surprised and delighted. He's a fine gentleman and quite an author. I have 3 of his books.

Anyone have any other perspectives to offer? Thanks for taking the time to read this thread. May you experience good fortune both in your family life and your martial practice.

Ciao, Jon Palombi
A wise person aspires to learn the practice of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy Teacher. A fool cannot tell the difference.

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
Contact:

Post by Peter Dekker » Wed Aug 08, 2007 1:56 am

jonpalombi wrote:Let alone the rest of the 18 traditional weapons of classical Chinese martial origin.
These classical 18 traditional weapons are quite a disputed feat, now we are talking about it, does anybody know a reliable primary source that lists them?

Some say the bow was among these weapons, other suggest more
obscure weapons like jiujiebian (9-section whips) and shuanggou (double hooks) were among them along with jian and dao. The Beijing Military museum lists a range of 18 pole-arms as the classical 18 weapons, two of which are yanyuedao. There is enough to say for the crossbow or musket to be among them as well, when looking at actual history.
jonpalombi wrote:Perhaps he had never held a Chinese sword? Lack of reliable examples? Hardly... I spoke with Laoshi Rodell the other day and he enlightened me to the fact that Mr. Stone had an extensive collection of Chinese arms. He donated many of them to a museum Teacher Rodell had visited. If he owned them, he knew their names. When he bought them he must have asked "So what's this called?" Hmmmmmm, the plot thickens.
Thanks for sharing this new information, I was unaware of the fact that he had such an extensive collection. This is highly unusual because one indeed would think if you collect something, you want to know a thing or to about what you own.
jonpalombi wrote:So, now we come down to the basic issue...did racism play a hideous role in George Cameron Stone's gross error in composing his book? Sadly, I am almost certain it did...
It could well be the case. How is his coverage of African weaponry and that of other cultures considered lower at the time?

We must also keep in mind that racism wasn't nearly the issue back then as it is today. I'm not trying to talk it right, but for all we know we might have also had similar ideas had we been born in an environment where it had always been accepted and no questions were commonly raised regarding racial equality.

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


-Bruce Lee

http://www.mandarinmansion.com
Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions

http://www.manchuarchery.org
Fe Doro - Manchu Archery

User avatar
jonpalombi
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Posts: 44
Joined: Mon Jun 04, 2007 7:08 pm
Location: Stowe, Vermont

Post by jonpalombi » Fri Aug 17, 2007 12:10 am

jonpalombi wrote:So, now we come down to the basic issue...did racism play a hideous role in George Cameron Stone's gross error in composing his book? Sadly, I am almost certain it did...
Peter Dekker wrote:It could well be the case. How is his coverage of African weaponry and that of other cultures considered lower at the time?

Frankly, Mr. Stone goes into detail about African, Oceanic and South-East Asian arms. Check-out his book. It's back in print now, in paperback, for a reasonable price (Considering it's a phonebook-thick publication). While he ignores many of the world's martial contributions in his effort, his most glaring error is in regards to Chinese arms. While I can understand his vague references to Korean weapons, an elusive bird even today, but immense China? What's up with that? :evil: If swords and daggers from Ceylon and Bhutan are illustrated, how come the largest country on this earth is almost completely omitted? He seems quite impressed with the arms of Persia, Japan, India, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Malaysia and even New Guinea! To quote Yul Brynner from the King and I, "Etc, etc, etc..." So, one must conclude that it was neither ignorance nor racism that motivated Mr. Stone's questionable scholarship. Perhaps it was nationalism? You know, that crap about China being the "Sick men of Asia". Hmmmm..."Sick", I suppose, because England had force-fed opium on the Chinese to weaken their resistance to colonization? Do I digress? There must have been some kind of an attitude. Well, I say hog-wash! That's what my grandmother used to say when confronted with convoluted reasoning. If know one sees fit to right-the-wrong printed in Western literature on China's contribution to martial strategy and the vast array of their weaponry, how will future generations find their way through the labyrinth of an incomplete history? Who will step up to the plate and eradicate this gross omission? Just a question proposed to the erudite scholars of the history of the sword. Any volunteers? Don't look at me. I'm too busy trying to survive and find the time to polish my swordsmanship, to sweat-it-out. Who has the spare 2000 hours on their hands to pen it properly? Somewhere exists our champion! Or would it be correct to say it would take a qualified team of experts, years and years, to due it justice? I believe we will live long enough to see this atrocity amended. Perhaps the best books are still to be written? I can hardly wait for the day. :D

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
Contact:

Post by Peter Dekker » Wed Oct 10, 2007 12:16 pm

jonpalombi wrote:If know one sees fit to right-the-wrong printed in Western literature on China's contribution to martial strategy and the vast array of their weaponry, how will future generations find their way through the labyrinth of an incomplete history?
Some fine texts are currently written or have been written, but they're just not known among too many people and they are not yet part of any major works on weapons in general. These forums are a good place to start, at least. Active swordsmanship practitioners take the lead in gradually making the Chinese sword known to the masses, while others keep backing it up with historical information on forums such as these. I think we'll be ok in the end.

On British Imperialism, you might not be surprised to hear it also found its way to archery where the English longbow is prized to hold numerous records, nearly all untrue. One of the statements that shows ignorance for the rest of the world is that "no arrow in the world is produced in greater numbers than the English war arrow". The 6000 archers they deployed in battles such Agincourt are quite small compared to the tens of thousands of archers deployed in the many Mongol and later Manchu campaigns, both cultures that still used the bow long after the English had stopped equipping their armies with them. Not to mention other great empires like the Ottoman and Moghul, who had much longer standing archery traditions than the relatively brief period of the English warbow.

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


-Bruce Lee

http://www.mandarinmansion.com
Antique Chinese Arms & Functional reproductions

http://www.manchuarchery.org
Fe Doro - Manchu Archery

josh stout
Rank: Chang San feng
Rank: Chang San feng
Posts: 339
Joined: Wed Jun 30, 2004 10:17 am
Location: maplewood NJ
Contact:

Re: So what was George Cameron Stone's problem?

Post by josh stout » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:44 am

I am reviving this old thread because I have begun to realize how pernicious Stone's "problem" was. I had understood it as mostly a sin of omission, simply leaving information on Chinese weapons out, rather than a sin of commission. However, I recently found an entry where Stone specifically makes his views known.

Under the entry "two handed swords" (my copy of the glossary is falling apart, so I rarely get to the Ts in casual reading) I saw this entry,

"...The Chinese also used two-handed swords but mainly for executions. Like all Chinese weapons they are clumsy with broad falchion blades and usually long straight iron handles terminating in a ring. The handles are generally wound with cord. Another type is also used; it is carried in a scabbard and the hilt and scabbard mounts are in the namban style."

In the same entry he discusses various other two handed swords such as the tribal choppers of the Nagas without making disparaging remarks even though these weapons often appear crude compared with regulation dadao. Even more telling, he shows examples of Chinese two handed dao including an extremely high quality regulation zhanmadao that i would give my eye teeth for (recent auction price $18,000). This must be what he referred to as mounted in "namban style" (please tell me what that is.).

So he handled high quality stuff, knew at least some of the names for them and still called them all low quality and did not include information other than these side references. This seems quite willful. The most charitable thing one could say is that perhaps he was so blinded by the opinions of his time that he could not see what was in front of him.

These opinions have then persisted so that in "Swords and Hilt Weapons" Chinese things are still referred to as low quality.

It will take some effort to combat these long standing wrong opinions.
Josh
hidup itu silat, silat itu hidup

-Suhu

User avatar
jonpalombi
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Rank: Yang Chenfu
Posts: 44
Joined: Mon Jun 04, 2007 7:08 pm
Location: Stowe, Vermont

Re: So what was George Cameron Stone's problem?

Post by jonpalombi » Mon Jun 07, 2010 6:40 pm

josh stout wrote:I am reviving this old thread because I have begun to realize how pernicious Stone's "problem" was. I had understood it as mostly a sin of omission, simply leaving information on Chinese weapons out, rather than a sin of commission. However, I recently found an entry where Stone specifically makes his views known.


Nihao Josh,

This is exactly what I was originally ranting about. Stone had access to just about EVERY form of bladed weapon circulating through the Western world. He also travel extensively in the East. His obsession for Japanese swords was quite imbalanced, however, as this was supposed to be a glossary and overview of ALL of the world's weapons. Given the vast population of China, wouldn't this make Chinese arms the largest subcategory? Hmmm... It's one thing to privately have preferences and favorites but no competent researcher presents such lop-sided views, while composing such an encyclopedic book. Pity, as I am otherwise delighted with his publication (however hit-or-miss his conclusions are). By checking out this link, it is obvious he had considerable access to the cream-of-the-crop of International swords and other edged-weapons and vast resources to invest. How is it that he couldn't find even one Chinese person to explain to him that the names for the two primary Chinese swords are Jian and Dao? One constant throughout world history, is the simple fact that there has never been a shortage of Chinese people to ask!!! That is, if one cared to.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Cameron_Stone

This is why I initially titled this thread in the manner I did. George's "problem" could not have been motivated by lack of exposure to quality Chinese arms. This much is factually documented. He was obviously a brilliant archivist and compiler of historical data. So the plot thickens and questions remain unanswered, still. I'm guessing racism and/or Imperialist prejudice? Did he have a good friend die in the Boxer Rebellion? Was he rebuffed by a pretty Chinese girl, who he had fallen for and (in his heartbroken resentment)... slandered the entire culture of the largest population on the planet? He was not an obtuse fellow, so I can only deduce he was a deeply troubled man. He was not a fool, so I must conclude he was a bigot and/or insane.

Was he also completely blind? Perhaps blind-sighted? I know it sounds biased on my part but I feel Chinese edged-weapons are only rivaled by Persian and Japanese edged-weapons (and far more diverse in variety). Of course, I have this same bias about Chinese swordsmanship, so I am not as impartial as I could be. That being said, any knowledgeable 21st century sword-smith can see the glaring truth laid out before his/her own eyes, when encountering, firsthand, a well-forged Qing Dynasty san mai blade. You can call a diamond a "chunk of plastic" all you want to, it is still a diamond and anyone with any knowledge can tell at a superficial glance.
So he handled high quality stuff, knew at least some of the names for them and still called them all low quality and did not include information other than these side references. This seems quite willful. The most charitable thing one could say is that perhaps he was so blinded by the opinions of his time that he could not see what was in front of him. These opinions have then persisted so that in "Swords and Hilt Weapons" Chinese things are still referred to as low quality. It will take some effort to combat these long standing wrong opinions.
Josh
Considering Mr. Stone lived in a time period BEFORE the thousands of Chinese swords seized and melted-down by the Imperial Japanese Army (for battleship steel) or decades later, taken by the Chairman Mao's Red Guard, when they went door-to-door confiscating any steel objects for the Greater Good of the Proletariat... I just don't accept this blatant oversight. Now, how is it that many of us today have seen and/or handled such wonderful Chinese swords in our own lifetimes? I for one, am not as privileged as Mr. Stone was. Many of us are even lucky enough to actually own them! The whole thing still seems fishy to me.

Give the Devil his due, though, George donated much of his vast collection to museums, as he cared for their well-being and continued preservation. A riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma? Oh yeah. Like Josh said so eloquently, the burden falls upon our shoulders to raise the banner and enlighten the ignorant and culturally biased. Chinese edged weapons are superb in construction, most sublime in their decoration and the art & science of their use is undeniably effective. Actually, it's really no burden (it's a love affair and nothing less). :wink:


Zai jian, Jon
A wise person aspires to learn the practice of swordsmanship. A lucky person finds a worthy Teacher. A fool cannot tell the difference.

josh stout
Rank: Chang San feng
Rank: Chang San feng
Posts: 339
Joined: Wed Jun 30, 2004 10:17 am
Location: maplewood NJ
Contact:

Re: So what was George Cameron Stone's problem?

Post by josh stout » Tue Jun 08, 2010 10:16 am

It truly is a riddle. Especially since he was a metallurgist and he seems to base his opinion specifically on what he sees as the low quality of Chinese steel and to a lesser extent form and balance, rather than the quality of fittings and decorative materials. I forget where exactly the entry is, but in discussing a dao he found with a woots blade he muses that perhaps a Chinese officer stationed at the eastern border, saw quality steel for the first time and had the blade custom made. This implies that he thinks that a Chinese officer would not have had access to decent steel, presumably because the Chinese could not make any. The mystery would be solved if he was one of those people who think woots is a magical substance above all other steel, but his love of Japanese swords belies this.
Josh
hidup itu silat, silat itu hidup

-Suhu

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests