The Swords of OuYezi
OuYezi was the most famous swordmaker in all of Chinese history. He was active during the Spring and Autumn Period. According to stories in the Yue Ju Shu he made a set of three swords for King Zhao of Chu (r.515-489 B.C.) and a set of five swords for King Goujian of Yue (r.496-465 B.C.). There are stories concerning a couple of these swords that attribute to them nearly magically qualities.
This picture of OuYezi working is part of a wall mural
from the temple in Longquan dedicated to the smith.Three swords for the King of ChuThe first set of swords was made for King Zhao of Chu. Legend tells us that Zhao sent his advisor Feng Huzi, who was an expert on swords, to seek out OuYezi and place an order for three swords. OuYezi was living in a mountainous area in the state of Yue called Longyuan. It is said that he chose the spot because it offered quiet solitude and the availablity of superior natural resources. OuYezi set up his forge there because he thought the seven natural springs that surrounded the spot resembled the seven stars of the Big Dipper, a good omen.It took him two years to make the three swords. The were forged from iron ore from Mt. Ci Shan, sharpened by stone from Liang Shi Keng and quenched in water from Jian Chi a mountain spring next to a thousand year old pine tree.The three swords were named Longyuan – “Dragon Well”, Taia – “Peaceful Relative or Tai Mountaintop”, and Gongbu – “Work Deployer”. The story goes that when Feng Huzi returned with the swords the king was greatly pleased. Feng Huzi described the swords this way. Long Yuan’s shape seems to be reaching for a lofty mountain and arriving in an abyss. The distinct coarse pattern which fills Gong Bu’s surface, seems like endless flowing water. This sword is called Taia, its pattern is as towering and thriving as waves of flowing water.The Taia SwordIn another story we are told that the combined forces of the states of Jin and Zheng had surrounded and held captive a Chu city for three years. When King Zhao received the Taia sword he climbed to the top of the gatetower and waved it in the air as a signal to launch a counter attack. This succeeded in rousing the morale of his troops who managed to break the seige. Afterwards King Zhao asked Feng Huzi, “how is it possible for a sword made out of mere metal to have such a spirit?” Feng Huzi responded that “When the spirit of the metal sword combines with the spirit of a great king, the miraculous is possible.”
King Zhao of Chu and his wife YuJi.It is mentioned in The Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Quan, that the first emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) owned the Taia sword and archaeologists today believe that it may have been buried with him. Though the outer portions of his vast tomb have been partially excavated, uncovering an army of literally thousands of terra-cotta warriors wielding bronze weapons, the main burial chamber, which was finally pinpointed in 2003 using an electromagnetic survey, has yet to be opened.
Emperor QinShiHuang & a few of the thousands of warriors guarding his tomb.The Taia sword was also the source of inspiration for “Taia-ki” (Annals of the Taia Sword) a letter written in 15th century Japan, to Ono Tadaaki, head of the Itto school of swordsmanship by his spiritual teacher, Takuan Soho, a Zen Buddhist monk. Takuan counted among his other students the famous swordsmen Munenori Yagyu and Miyamoto Musashi. The Taia-ki uses the Taia sword as a metaphor for realizing the correct mindset to become the ultimate warrior.
Takuan Soho (1573-1645) & Ono Tadaaki (1565-1628)The sword making tradition at Longyuan, renamed Longquan in 620 A.D. out of respect for the emperor who’s given name was Li Yuan, continues to this day and there is a shrine there commemorating OuYezi.
Statues of Goujian King of Yue and his famous sword.Five Swords for the King YueThe second set of famous swords that OuYezi cast was a group of five made for King Ganjiang of Yue. These swords were forged on Mt. Zhanlu and took three years to complete. The swords were named ZhanLu – “Wholesome Land or Dark and Clear” (again presumably named in recognition of the place where he worked), Yuchang – “Fish Intestine or Hidden in Fish”, Shengye – “Defeater of Evil”, Juque -“Giant”, and Chunjun – “Pure Harmony”.In 494 B.C., as a sign of supplication after he was defeated in battle, King Goujian of Yue sent three of these swords, Zhanlu, Yuchang and Shengye, to King Helu of Wu, who was a collector of swords. However the Zhanlu sword deemed that the king of Wu was not a man of good character and so made “its own way” to the state of Chu where King Zhao found it lying beside him one morning when he awoke. The king of Chu called Feng Huzi who explained that the sword was one of the five made for Goujian by OuYezi. When it had been made, Mt. Chijin had burst open to reveal its deposits of tin, and River Ruoye had dried up to show its bed of copper ore; the rain god had sent rain to wash the ground, the god of thunder had pumped wind from his bellows, the flood dragon had carried the furnace, and the Emperor of Heaven had filled it with coals. The great swordsmith Ou Yezi, who knew all nature’s secrets, had beaten and tempered the metal a thousand times to fashion the five swords. This Zhanlu sword was therefore priceless. When asked to explain how it came to Chu, Feng Huzi said “The sword is made from the essence of all metals and the spirit of the sun that gives it intelligence. It can choose to help a man of kingly character or flee from a man of poor character”.The ZhanLu SwordThe ZhanLu sword appears several more times throughout history… During the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.), The ZhanLu was owned by famous general (or Judge) Zhou Chu who treated it as his most treasured possession. During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), a descendent of general Zhou Chu presented the sword to the famous war hero Yue Fei to be used on the battlefield against northern invaders.Magic SwordSome of the various descriptions of and traits applied to the ZhanLu sword include the following… it shimmered in the daylight and glowed in the evening. The sun, moon, and stars seemed to have lost their brilliance in it’s presence. Made from the essence of all metals, it contains the spirit of the sun. Drawn it gleams with life, sheathed it demands respect. It was reputed to be so sharp that dipped into water it could be withdrawn perfectly dry. It was also said to be able to roll up and extend at will. These references led to the sword being called Zhan Lu Shen Jian – “Magical Sword ZhanLu”. Due to the shape of the pattern on the surface of these blades it has been suggested that perhaps one of these could be the Yuchang – “Fish Intestine” sword.The Yuchang and Shengye SwordsJust after Goujian surrendered, King Helu of Wu died, as a result of an infection to a wound he received in battle. Helu’s son Fuchai upon taking the throne of Wu had the Yuchang and Shengye swords along with nearly three thousand other swords entombed with his father. To ensure the secrecy of the location of the tomb, Fuchai had the thousand workmen on the project killed. Legend tells us that just after completion of the tomb a white tiger began appearing on the hillside where the tomb was located. The spot located near Suzhou City in Jiansu Province has since been named Hu Qui or Tiger Hill.
Calligraphy says Sword Pond, Tiger Hill….Entrance to Helu’s Tomb?Nearly three hundred years later the first emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) who owned and loved the Taia Sword, sent out a group of men to find Helu’s tomb and bring back the swords. They did a vast amount of digging but were apparently unable to locate the entrance to the tomb. The hole they left behind has over the years filled with water and is now known as the Sword Pond. In 1955 the pond was pumped dry and after some digging the entrance to the tomb was discovered. However it was not opened for fear that the Yunyan pagoda that was erected on top of the hill, that is already unstable and leaning like the famous Tower of Pisa, would collapse.
Wall mural located at the Ou Yezi temple in
Longquan depicting the King of Yue sword.The Sword of Goujian, King of YueThe only extant weapon attributed to OuYezi is also the most famous and most thoroughly studied weapon in Chinese history, the sword of Goujian the King of Yue. Discovered in a Chu tomb in 1965 this bronze blade was in pristine condition which astonished the archaeologists who uncovered it. The bronze blade adorned with a diamond pattern was still razor sharp and shiny after being buried for nearly 2500 years. It’s phenomenal condition lead to a great deal of scientific research into its metallurgy using state of the art technology and after nearly forty years it was finally determined how this incredible weapon was created. OuYezi recognized that the edge of the sword needed to be hard to hold a sharper edge and retain its cutting power while the body of the blade needed to be able to flex to prevent breakage. Thus the sword is a composite casting with the metal on the edge of the blade having higher tin content and a lighter color than the metal in the center of the blade with a softer core of higher copper content for increased tensile strength. This particular concept is normally associated with Japanese steel but clearly the Chinese smiths had discovered it over a thousand years earlier. The other part of this sword that fascinated scientists was the diamond pattern on the blade which it was determined after lengthly research to have been produced by the application of a tin rich paste to the surface that acted like an anticorrosive that was then scraped away in places so that the pattern on the blade oxidized at a different rate than the bronze around it hence producing a two tone effect.Sword of Goujian King of Yue, attributed to OuYezi
55.6cm long, 4.6cm wide.
Unearthed at Jianglin county, Hubei Province, 1965
Hubei Provincial MuseumDetail of the Goujian sword that bares the inscription
“Made for Goujian King of Yue for his personal use.”Click Here to see my replica Goujian sword.

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