Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>453BC Chinese shi
Subject: 士 shi warrior
Culture: proto-Chinese
Setting: Warring States period, China 5th-4thcBC
Evolution1500BC Shang ya > ... > 453BC Chinese shi

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Mair tr. 2007 p24-25
"There is actually no unanimity as to precisely when the Warring States period began.  Some say that it started in 481 B.C., when the chronicles of Lu (Confucius' home state) conclude, marking the end of the Spring and Autumn period.  Others maintain that the Warring States period began in 403 B.C., when the Eastern Zhou rump court (King Wei Lie) officially recognized Han, Wei, and Zhao, three states that had resulted from the breakup of Jin half a century earlier (453 B.C.).  Many scholars, however, accept 475 B.C. as the beginning of the Warring States period, because that year witnessed a dramatic readjustment of the feudal order.
    "Be that as it may, the Warring States period was in full swing by the beginning of the fourth century B.C., with seven major states (Yan, Qi, Chu, Han, Wei, Zhao, and Qin) contesting for power.  The rulers of all of these states usurpingly referred to themselves as 'king' (wang), and each strove to expand his territory at the expense of the others, with the ultimate goal of achieving complete control over tianxia ('all under heaven').  A key feature of the politics of the Warring States period was the ambivalent relationship between a ruler and the feudal lords associated with him.  Though the feudal lords may have sworn fealty to the ruler, they were often on the verge of revolting and were constantly trying to assume the dominant position that he occupied.  The situation was by nature highly unstable and endlessly in flux, so constant wars were inevitable. ...
    "In contrast to the Spring and Autumn period, war during the Warring States period was no longer restricted to brief, chivalrous battles.  These had now given way to unrestrained, violent campaigns involving enormous armies.  Contributing to the ferocity of warfare during the Warring States were entirely new and ruthelessly efficient military features such as cavalry and the crossbow, both of which appeared in East Asia for the first time during this period (the former from the far north and the latter from the far south), and both of which transformed war into a more terrifying phenomenon than it had ever been before.  But the changes in warfare were not restricted to innovations in weaponry and vastly enhanced mobility.  The ways in which human beings were marshaled were also thoroughly transformed, with the deployment of mass infantry, the skillful dispatch of spies, and the rise of competing tacticians, none of which had been seen in East Asia before."

* Peers/McBride 1990 p12
"The 5th century saw temporary stalemate, as the ambitions of each of the leading powers were thwarted in turn.  Tsin, which had long suffered from instability, was defeated by its former allies at Ching Yang in 453, a blow which led to its disintegration and to the foundation of the three new powers.  However, economically and culturally it was an age of great progress, and the population of China increased from 12 million in 650 to as many as 40 million.  Pressure on land became yet another factor driving the states into war."


* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p173-174 (Thom Richardson, "China and Central Asia" p172-185)
"The sword probably entered the Chinese arsenal at the same time as the use of cavalry -- the practice of riding became widespread in Central Asia from the eighth century BC onwards.  Encountering this new means of transport, probably among the nomadic tribes of the Ordos region, and perceiving its military potential, the states of northern China equipped themselves with mounted troops.
    "The earliest Chinese swords come from sites in northwestern China, for example from Zhangjiapo in Shaanxi province.  These swords, of cast bronze, are of jian type, with straight leaf-shaped blades reinforced by rounded medial ribs.  Blade length was very short, about 14 ins/35 cm.  The tang was also relatively short and fitted with a large bound and guardless grip.  This type persisted in southern and western China, but in the east the blade was cast with a much longer round-sectioned tang and an integral disc pommel.  This development, which seems to have taken place by the seventh century, was a distinct improvement, for it reduced the tendency of the hilt to part company with the blade.  A small shoulder-like guard was added at the beginning of the Eastern Zhou period in the sixth century."

* Bennett 2018 p66
"The emergence of the full-length sword as a weapon seems to have coincided closely with the advent of mounted warfare in China.
    "The riding of horses became widespread across Central Asia from the eighth century BC onwards.  From the fourth century BC, the Chinese states increasingly came into conflict with nomadic tribes of steppe horsemen to the north and west.  Chinese forces were compelled to assimilate cavalry to gain the speed and mobility that would enable them to contend with these mounted foes.  This was particularly vital in the northern and border territories, and it is in these regions and from around this time that the earliest Chinese swords have been unearthed.  It is therefore likely that swords began to feature in the Chinese arsenal because they were suitable for fighting on horseback, although they quickly became popular as ancillary weapons for infantry and status arms for officers."

* Chinese art of the Warring States period 1982 p71
"Opinions differ as to whether the sword was introduced into China from outside or was developed independently by the Chinese.  In any case, there is no denying that the sword appeared in China relatively late, with the finds from the ancient state of Kuo at Shang-ts'un-ling, Honan Province, demonstrating that they were in use before 655 B.C.  During the Chou dynasty the sword became an important military weapon, and as late as the fifth century B.C. swords of the type represented by the Freer example were made with elongated blades and articulated handles.  According to Chinese records and on the basis of archaeological finds, it appears that some of the finest swords were made in south China.  Excavations in the areas occupied by the ancient states of Ch'u, Wu, and Yueh have yielded outstanding examples of Eastern Chou swords.  While iron swords were made during the Eastern Chou, bronze examples continue to be more numerous in excavations."

* Peers/McBride 1990 p13
"[B]y 500 the sword was beginning to gain popularity, and from this time swords start to predominate over bows in battle narratives, sword and shield being apparently regarded as a superior combination for infantry fighting to the spear or dagger-axe."

* Bennett 2018 p67
"The first weapons to be made and used as swords in China were fashioned from cast bronze during the Zhou period.  They took the form referred to as jian, characterised by a straight, double-edged blade.  The earliest jian discovered suggest that initially, Chinese sword blades were short (about 35 cms) with medial ridges and guardless grips.  Swordsmiths improved this design by incorporating an integral disc pommel and a small guard at the base of the blade to make the grip more secure.  By the fourth and third centuries BC, the bronze jian had evolved into a formidable weapon, with a diamond section blade which could reach half a metre in length, a solid tang strengthened with two metal collar rings, and a shaped guard.  Rare survivals show that hilts were bound in braided silk, to cushion them in the hand, improve the grip and to act as ornamentation.  High status weaponas could be richly decorated in gold, with geometric patterns showing on the surface of the blades, and inscriptions detailing ownership."

* Peers/McBride 1990 p14
"Swords were still of the short stabbing type; blades were still bronze, but from the 5th century iron began to appear, the states of Ch'u and Han being known for their weapons of low-grade steel.  Iron smelting technology, however, remained very primitive until the 2nd century BC, and the metal could not replace bronze for most military purposes."


* Bennett 2018 p52-53
​"One of the great innovations in Chinese military technology was the development of the crossbow (nu) which Chinese forces used to great effect over two thousand years.  Sources start to mention the crossbow regularly from around the 4th century BC and it quickly became a commonplace weapon.
    "Building on centuries of bronze casting expertise developed for the manufacture of complex ritual vessels, the Chinese crossbow's success was thanks in large part to the ingenuity and engineering skills of the craftsmen who made the mechanisms.  They succeeded in producing a cast bronze trigger mechanism involving three separate moving components linked by two shafts or pins.  The moving parts included a trigger, a rocking lever and a spool device.  The spool component included two teeth to secure the braced string and a prolonged lug for resetting the mechanism to a cocked position after the trigger had been released."


* Peers/McBride 1990 p14
"Armour and bows were similar to earlier types, but the dagger-axe continued to evolve, and by the 4th century the addition of a spear-blade to the end of the shaft had turned it into a true cut-and-thrust weapon or halberd.  Spears and dagger-axes fell into two groups, one about nine feet long, the other around 18 feet."

* Chinese art of the Warring States period 1982 p76 
"[D]uring the late Warring States and Han periods, halberds were made, frequently of iron, in a simplified shape consisting of a long vertical shaft from which a single blade projects downward at an oblique angle."


* 5000 years of Chinese costumes 1988 p13
"In the Warrings States Period drastic changes in dress and ornaments took place, the most important being the popularization of hu fu -- the dress of a national minority in the northwest of China. Generally speaking, this comprised a short jacket, long trousers and leather boots, the jacket being tight-fitting to allow greater freedom of movement. The first person to adopt this kind of clothing was King Wuling of the State of Zhao, the earliest reformist in the annals of Chinese costume. His adoption of the apparel of the northern tribal nomads and introduction of their horse-back archery were in tune with the needs of warfare, and contributed to the increase in power and prosperity of his state. From then on, hu fu was widely worn throughout China, and became the general fashion for that era.
    "Towards the end of the Spring and Autumn Period and the beginning of the Warring States Period, there appeared another kind of costume known as shen yi. Unlike the preceding costume, this was a one-piece robe, whose popularity had important repercussions on the society of that period. Both men and women, and officials and military officers alike, all took up this fashion."

​* Traditional Chinese costumes 2002 p30
"During the Warring States Period (475B.C.-221B.C.) King Wuling of the State of Zhao reformed the outfits of his soldiers.  This marked a departure from the wearing of broad-sleeved gowns on the battlefield.  From then on, soldiers wore jackets with narrow sleeves, trousers  and boots, over which they donned armor."