by Rory M. Cory, Collections Technician, Military History
In 2004 an expert from Shanxi province in China came to see our permanent military history exhibits. The most exciting part of Eric Gao's visit was a Chinese sword on display at the entrance to the Warriors gallery in a case full of firearms, swords and other weapons from around the world. It was immediately apparent to Mr. Gao that this was no ordinary sword, and he contacted the Military History department to provide further information about it. Previously all that was known about the sword was that it dated to the 19th century, during the Qing dynasty. Mr. Gao pointed out that the writing on the blade of the sword was archaic Chinese script and he was able to provide a partial translation for us. Apparently the inscription is a dedication from the original owner to his son or grandson, and the presence of the imperial seal meant that this was worn in the imperial court. The use of archaic Chinese characters may also indicate that the blade significantly predates the hilt (or handle) of the sword.
But Mr. Gao did not stop there. He also examined the other Chinese swords in our collection and identified one that was used by Emperor Qian-long's (1736-1795) honour guard. This particular sword is quite rare and is beautifully decorated with inlaid gold and silver filigree work. It has been featured in an issue of the "New World Chinese News Magazine" and will also be highlighted in an upcoming issue of Alberta Museums Review.
We are always grateful when experts in a particular area can tell us more about our collection. The military history collection alone has nearly 28,000 artifacts covering over 4,000 years of history, and it is not possible to know everything about all aspects of the collection. With the information Mr. Gao provided we now know that we have some very important pieces of Chinese culture that were designed to bring meaning and vibrancy to the court of the Chinese emperors.
The Qing dynasty sword is featured in our popular Warriors gallery visited by numerous school groups each year and is further brought to life by Glenbow Museum's signature family programs.