An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Gujin daojian lu 古今刀劍錄

Oct 23, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Gujin daojian lu 古今刀劍錄 "On swords of ancient and modern times" is a description of swords in possession of historical persons. It is the oldest surviving Chinese book on antiques. It was written during the Liang period 梁 (502-557) by Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456-536), who is otherwise known as a Daoist master and as author of the books Bencaojing jizhu 本草經集注 and Zhengao 真誥. It is quite probable that Tao was not the author of the book.

The small book Gujin daojian lu presents 40 different stories centering on the weapons of famous generals of all periods, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia dynasty 夏 (21th-17th cent. BCE). The so-called preface (xu 序) covers swords in possession of kings and emperors through the ages, wile the other chapters deal with irregular states and dynasties (Zhu xiaoguo 諸小國). The order of some persons is not correct, and some are listed under the wrong dynastic name, like Guan Yu 關羽 (d. 219) and Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234) who served the Shu dynasty 蜀漢 (221-263), or Dong Zhuo 董卓 (d. 192), a warlord of the late Eastern Han 東漢 (25-220 CE), that are all listed under the heading of the Wei dynasty 曹魏, 220-265). There are statements in the Gujin daojian lu that contradict other historiographical sources.

Quotation 1. Examples from the Gujin daojian lu 古今刀劍錄
關羽,為先主所重,不惜身命,自采都山鐵為二刀,銘曰「萬人」。及羽敗,羽惜刀,投之水中。 Guan Yu, who was highly valued by the Former Lord (i.e. Liu Bei), risked his own life by collecting iron at Mt. Dushan and made two swords of it which were inscribed "Ten Thousand Men". When Guan Yu was defeated, he threw the swords into the river.
董卓,少時耕野,得一刀,無文字,四面隱起作山雲文,斸玉如泥。及卓貴,示五官郎將蔡邕,邕曰「此項羽之刀也」。 When Dong Zhuo was a young man ploughing the fields, he found a sword with no inscription, but on the four sides of the [handle] was a mountains-and-clouds pattern with relief. [The sword was so sharp] that it cut jade as if it was mud. When Zhuo had a high position, he showed the sword to Cai Yong, leader of the court gentlemen of the Five Departments, and Cai said: "This was the sword of Xiang Yu."

The Gujin daojian lu is included in the series Baichuan xuehai 百川學海, Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Qunfang qingwan 群芳清玩, Longwei mishu 龍威秘書, Shuofu 說郛, Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成. There is a modern publication by the Shanghai guji Press 上海古籍出版社 from 1987.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1850.
Zhao Hankun 趙含坤 (2005). Zhongguo leishu 中國類書 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe), 13.
蜀漢 (221-263)