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Notice of acknowledgement: Global Photography

The first essay quarter of the year is coming to a close with the writing of this essay. In the choosing of the last subject to be covered in the “Sharp as Knives” series, I had particularly wanted to present one more Chinese knife. However, desire is far from acquisition and finding one more Chinese knife was so much easier said than done. Throughout the past thirteen weeks, I had periodically searched the Internet for information concerning the various knives of China’s history. I knew there was not much to be found and that each new search might be one more exercise in near futility. Yet, my desire remained and fuelled my feeling of certainty that the information I sought must exist somewhere; perhaps just outside my field of vision or just beyond my reach. People must have documented these knives in some form or fashion; but, I did not seem to have the proper resources at hand nor the necessary imagination to find them. With each successive search it became increasingly evident that I might well be looking for needles buried in the hot and dusty haystacks of ancient manuals and dynasty records; neither of which I was capable of sorting on my own. I found myself parched in my quest for leads and developing a demanding thirst for knowledge which I was unable to quench. The time had come to either end my searches or ask for help.

In one last effort, I gathered a few choice words and presented them to Jack Chen. I explained my situation and asked if he had any mention of knives in the martial arts manuals which he has translated. Jack informed me that there is, indeed, a knife mentioned in two different Ming Dynasty manuals. Both were written by Cheng Zong You in the early 1600s and are contained in two of the manuals included in the “Skills Beyond Farming” collection. That manual is composed of smaller manuals of which both the crossbow and the long saber are integral parts. In the Long Saber Manual there is an illustration of a Ming soldier holding the Miaodao in one hand and throwing a knife forward with the other. Jack told me that this knife was a utility knife which was also used as a weapon when necessary. This same knife is found in the Crossbow Manual. There are four pages dedicated to that knife (two pages of illustrations and two pages of descriptions). Jack was kind enough to send me his translations of the written pages. The knife is called the Arrow Shaving Knife. Cheng Zong You writes of the knife and the sheath constructions. I am giving the English translations of these two pages below. Jack Chen has translated the complete set of manuals; access to the full texts is possible through the website www.chineselongsword.com.

Quenching The Thirst

Construction of Arrow Shaving Knife
“The knife is 1 chi 2 cun long. At the bottom, there are 2 rods, measuring 1 cun, and, can fit slightly more than one fist. There must be sufficient space for gripping the knife comfortably. The sides of the Knife are slightly rounded, the spine must be thick, and the edge must be thin. The spine is 1 cun 1 fen wide, and the front is sharp and pointed. When this knife is brought into battle, it can also be used as “Finding Head Knife” ( to cut off the enemy’s head). Serving 2 purposes.”

Construction of Arrow Shaving Knife’s Sheath
“The sheath shall be made of Populus wood. At the bottom of the sheath, where the 2 halves meet, embed it with deer or bull horn so that the wood will not get damaged. On the back of the sheath, made a strip just like the Japanese sword’s sheath so that it can be carried and hanged securely (on the belt). On the outer surface, use cloth dye such as red or black. An alternative to using wood, is to use leather for the sheath.”

From these descriptions it is evident that this knife was a very common and useful knife for the Ming Military. It is noteworthy that there is much leeway given in the construction guidelines. This creates an impression of these knives having been very loosely standardized; so loosely, that it is perhaps remarkable that they were included at all within Cheng Zong You’s manuals. Items of everyday use are not always well preserved in written histories. It is possible that they are so taken for granted that it occurs to no one that future generations would have any use for their descriptions. It is also to be realized that these texts were intended for the very practical purposes of the moments at hand; making it all the more remarkable that this knife has proven its existence by the mentions in these texts.

My online searches for further information about the knife of Cheng Zong You’s manuals proved to be fruitless. However, while using all possible combinations of search criteria to find this knife, I inadvertently stumbled upon another Chinese knife which has an ancestral connection to the Ming Dynasty Military. I ran across this knife by way of a research team on International Law in East China University of Science and Technology. A School of Law is hardly a place I would expect to be sent when requesting information of historical Ming knives. But, this particular portion of that site presents an ethnic minority which is well-known for their “Husa Knives”; the Achang. The team has written, “An Achang knife, also sometimes called Husa knife, is [a] traditional forged weapon of the Achang people in China. The Achang live mainly in the village of “Husa” and smaller villages nearby, in Longchun County, Dehong Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. The Achang craftsmen make various types of blades, and they have produced and sold their products over 600 years. In 2006, Achang knife forging technology was included in the National Intangible Culture Heritage… Almost all men of Achang know how to make blades.”

Feeling encouraged, I combined the words “Achang”, “Husa”, “Ming”, and “Knife” in one search request and an amazing thing happened. A whole new world appeared before my eyes. I had found the magic words to unlock the secrets which would begin to quench my thirst. I spent a few days soaking up all the knowledge I could hold within me and took notes on over 20 sources and side-sources as I read. From those notes I intend to tell a bit about the Achang and their connection to the Ming Military and the famous Husa Knives. This is definitely a patch-worked quilt which I am piecing together. There is a little bit of a lot of things to be said about these people and their knives. Through their stories there are discoveries of history, culture, and forging techniques to be made. I must admit that I had never heard of these people before. What I discovered was a topic worthy of the last essay of the “Sharp as Knives” series. In many respects, this story is one of “Quenching”.

Quenching The Thirst

The Story Begins
“Tradition says that a Chinese army stationed in the Husa and Lasa areas in the Ming dynasty contained craftsmen that were skilled at blacksmithing and making weapons. These men married with the local people and gradually merged into them. The Achang inherited and developed the Ming army’s art of smelting and forging, and came to produce many knives with unique characteristics. Over time, their techniques became more exquisite. Craftsmen are typically skilled at making specific kinds of products and every village has its own products. The whole Husa area is filled with knife factories and workshops. Laifu village is known for its long black knives and Hugang knives (decorated steel knives); Mangdong village makes broadswords and small pointed knives; and Lajie village is famous for saw-toothed sickles, Xin village for carry-on-back knives, and Mangsuo village for sheaths.” These are the words of Jeffry Hays as he presents his own patchwork stitching of information about Achang knives. He explains that all of the blades made by the Achang are known to be very durable. He gives three reasons for this: 1.) the choice of materials, 2.) quenching and steel hardening skills, 3.) careful grinding. The grind contributes to the exceptional sharpness of the weapons. But, it is the combination of hardness and flexibility which has been taken to their physical limits. “Some old craftsmen can even make knives that are both firm and flexible, of which some can even be curled up and straightened out. For example, a long sword when not in use can be curled around the waist like a girdle, and when needed it will straighten itself out. Their handicraft is unique and admirable.”

The introductions of the Achang take many different starting points from which to deliver the salient information about these peoples. We are interested in the knives which they have produced after their intermarriages with the Ming military. I feel the need to begin with names and then to sweep across the plains of time as the Achang ancestors migrated to their present homelands. “Achang” is the Mandarin name which denotes this ethnic minority. In their own language, they call themselves the “Ngac’ang”. And in Myanmar, they are known as the “Maingtha”. From this, the reader may have understood that the Achang inhabit not only China, but, Myanmar as well. In China, they are one of 56 ethnic groups recognized by the People’s Republic of China. In Myanmar, they compose a very small group, indeed. The language of the Achang is of the Tibeto-Burman group and the Sino-Tibetan family. There are three dialects which use a common grammar, but, differ in pronunciation and vocabulary.. “Speaking a distinct dialect, the Husa Achang living in Longchuan County (also in Dehong) consider themselves to be distinct and filed an unsuccessful application in the 1950s as a separate nationality. The Husa were more Sinicized than other Achang.”- [Wikipedia]. Neither the Achang language nor its dialects have an indigenous writing system. Instead, the Achang have adopted Chinese characters to express their language in writing.

Identifying and naming this ethnic group is not quite as straightforward as most writers present it. Pedro Ceinos Arcones, in “Ethnic China” adds nuance to the image already presented. “Achang is the name given to one or several ethnic groups who live in Southwest China and Northeast Myanmar. In China they are an officially recognized minority. All of them live in the southwest of Yunnan Province, especially in two counties of Dehong Dai Autonomous Prefecture: Longchuan and Lianghe. There are also some ethnic groups considered Achang living in Luxi and Longlin counties (also in Dehong). In Burma there are only 2,000 Achang, locally called Maingtha. There are at least two ethnic groups included in the name Achang. Separated by more than 100 kilometers of mountain ranges. There are also, some small groups called “Achang” whose identity is [are] not yet clear.” These two main groups are: 1.) Achang of Lianghe Country; 45% of the total Achang population, and 2.) Husa of Longchuan County; 54% of the population, and claiming to be descendants of Ming soldiers.

Quenching The Thirst

The combined group of Achang consider themselves to have a shared ancient history up until the Ming Dynasty; thereafter, having a partial shared history. James B. Minahan portrays the shared ancient history through a summary of migration and political developments. “Many scholars believe that the Achang are descendants of the early Qiang tribes, which originated in the border region between Sichuan and Gansu Provinces some 2,000 years ago.”. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) was in constant war with the Qiang. The combination of the ensuing high level of violence and a series of natural disasters led certain branches of the Qiang to seek safety through migration. It is believed that one of these migratory branches were the Achang. This group moved southward to the Nu River as early as the 2nd century CE. They became one of the earliest peoples to inhabit the area. Over 1,000 years ago this group was known, in the Tang Dynasty, as the “Xunchuan”. During the 12th century CE, another migration took place. This time it was a movement from the east bank of the Lancang River to the west bank. Slowly, over the next 100 years, the peoples of the Achang filtered themselves into the countryside; with some clans settling in the Longchuan and Lianghe areas. The lands they chose to inhabit were the hills, canyons, flatlands and the foothills of the southern tip of the Gaoligong Mountains. There they found their refuge in a land of plenty with fertile soil, a mild climate, and adequate rainfall. The area was dotted with river valleys, plains, and dense forest. The natural resources included: coal, iron, copper, lead, mica, and graphite. The conditions were ripe for metal working. The Achang set their efforts toward hunting, farming, and self-defense; all of which required the steady contributions of a skilled forging community. The ancestors of the Achang knives of today were being groomed for their evolution to come.

“In 1448, a Han Chinese army of the Ming dynasty conquered the region. Chinese soldiers left to garrison the region married Achang women resulting in the Achang division known as the Husa or Fusa, who consider themselves a distinct group. Until the 16th century, the Achang were considered a division of the Jingpo peoples, with a clear differentiation appearing at the time. A clear population of Achang who differed from the closely related Jingpo were acknowledged by the local Dai and Han Chinese feudal rulers in the region in the 17th century. Centuries of contact between the small Achang clans and the neighboring Han, Dai and Jingpo ethnic groups greatly influenced the Achang culture. The Husa or Fusa division is famous for making various types of knives and swords. The manufacturing of ironware has been a prosperous activity since the 14th century.”- James B. Minahan

Under the Ming, the Achang were governed by the Tusi System, which appointed local chiefs to rule and regulate all local matters, in name of the Emperor. The more modern history of the Achang occurred in 1950; when the Achang were liberated from the old feudal economic system of Dai chiefs which had governed them. In 1952 Achang autonomous regions were created, followed by a land-reform in 1955 which gave the Achang more independence in the pursuit of their two main forms of livelihood: rice cultivation and ironworking. The knife-making Achang reside mostly in the Husa and Lasa areas of Longchuan County. Their edged weapons are renowned for: being well-forged, elaborately made, having very sharp edges, being tensile, and of durability. These represent their 600 year evolution of the original Ming forging knowledge and skills; making the swords wider and heavier, as well as shifting the center of gravity toward the tip of the blades. This made the sword easier to wield and require less strength to do so. The traditional Achang shape was also included in their development of one particular Husa sword. The “Crescent Moon” shape is very unusual and serves the dual functions of digging and clearing the undergrowth in the jungle. The Achang clans collectively produce more than 10 different types of knives; including, working knives, knives for daily use, long swords for hunting and defense, daggers for butchering, traditional knives for Tibetans and Jingpo, and collector’s knives for the Han, Dai, Jingpo, Tibetans, and the Bai. These knives are exported all over China and to the surrounding Asian countries.

Quenching The Thirst

This brings us away from ancient history and the gathering of images from which to compose a working concept of the Achang. We should have an elementary idea of who the Achang are, where they came from, when and why they changed their homelands, and how they came to specialize in the making of the Husa knife. It is now time to make some inquiries about these ethnic Chinese knives. The knives are created within a social structure; making it appropriate to examine its place within the culture of the Achang. This information is of a general nature and I use rather general sources to present its birth, growth and impending demise. And because the general is of but superficial value; specifics are necessary to complete an understanding of the Husa Knife. For those specifics, I turn to Xiang Laosai.

General
“Husa knives are made with a special process which gives the metal a pure texture, and a really sharp and durable blade. The handles and sheaths are also inscribed with various traditional patterns, such as “flying dragon and phoenix”, “tiger roaring”, “eastern sunrise”, making each knife a work of art…..Each Achang family keeps at least one knife of high quality. When the young Achang men get married, they carry back-knives to show their heroic vitality. This ethnic custom has continued to the present time….Forging techniques have been passed down through the generations of the Achang people since the Tang Dynasty. According to historical records, around 600 years ago, during the “Hongwu” period in Ming Dynasty, soldiers from the army of Mu Ying, a general of the Ming government, were settled in this area. The soldiers brought military techniques of weapon making, gathered during their campaigns against Mongolia, Tibet, the Hui and the Yi, to the local Achang people. Husa village became the “arsenal” of Ming government armies. Achang people absorbed the Ming government army’s weapon manufacturing technology and evolved a unique Husa knife forge craftsmanship, which matured during the late Ming Dynasty and the early Qing Dynasty (around 1600 – 1680), reached its peak in early twentieth century…..Under the pressure of the modern culture and the social economy, the Husa knife, forged by traditional techniques and devices, faces heavy competition from less expensive knives made by modern machinery and raw materials. As the traditional masters age, apprentices are rare, and the techniques of Husa knife creation face the danger of extinction.”

The “en.dehong.gov.cn” brings us a more hopeful indication of the Achang knife future. We are told that the Husa Knife traditions are still well-ingrained in the present ethnic cultures of the Achang region; leading me to believe that the knife may have a brighter future than that envisioned by Wikivisually quote. The Dehong government writes, “The knife links people of different ethnic groups, promoting exchange and integration between them.” Husa knives seem to be a part of many cultures. Not only Achang men and women all carry one or more of these edged weapons daily, the surrounding cultures have also integrated these knives into their customs. And, even though apprentices are in short supply, each Achang man in the Husa and Lasa area is said to know how to forge. It is true that no one clan makes all of the weapon types. As mentioned earlier, families and villages specialize in one or more of the blades: backswords, machetes, broadswords, Tibetan swords, daggers, sabers; with some overlapping between groups. The best known are the backswords and the Tibetan knife. However, regardless of the blade, they all follow the same 10 steps in the forging process. And it is the forging which makes all of these blades unique and referred to as being “Husa”.

Forging Process Steps
1. Processing of raw materials
2. Billet making
3. Proofing
4. Grinding
5. Decoration with leaf
6. Quenching
7. Polishing
8. Handle-making
9. Belt-making
10. Assembling

Quenching The Thirst

“The tools to make Husa knives include a wooden bellows, a clay-made stove, as well as hammers, clamps and iron pillows. Raw iron with high carbon content is selected by an experienced old master from specific locations around Baoshan, Tengchong regions, the traditional mine areas in Yunnan. Younger craftsmen, put the selected raw iron into the stove, heating, forging repeatedly, to purify the texture and form different shapes. The resulting metal is ground into the blade blanks; and after all these lengthy processes, comes the most important and subtlest process: quenching. Quenching technology requires special know-how. The quality of a knife, largely depends on the quenching skills… The knife production comes under a model of co-operation between each “Zhai” (small stockaded village) in Husa. Each “Zhai” has its “first” product. The whole Husa “Bazi” (small plain), is like a handicraft factory, and each “Zhai” is one workshop, which is famous for one special product.”- Wikivisually. With this quote, the reader is told a bit about where, how, with what and under which conditions the Husa knives are made. Yet, it is all rather more like a list of items than a portrait to be experienced. For me, it was only after having watched two videos from CCTV, that I came to have the feeling that I “knew” these people and had come to an understanding of the rudimentary methods which they use to create their amazing blades. The two videos featured the same Achang man and his family forge workshop. The choice of interviewing and following Xiang Laosai through his work was a natural one because he is the most prominent and most successful of the Husa knife makers. He has also been integral in the evolution of the forging processes of the blades. His story is an exceptional one because he is an exceptional person. But, he is also a representative of the entire knife making community of Achang; making his story a story of Achang life and of the Husa Knife.

Xiang Laosai
During the filming of one video, it was mentioned that Xiang Laosai was 60 years old and the youngest son of his parents. In Achang tradition, the youngest son in the family is responsible for the care of the parents in their old age. It is also, the youngest son who inherits the house and land and is charged with the continuance of the family’s knife making business; the passing down of skills and the improvement of the art. When Xiang was a young man, just married, he had given his wife a bamboo-cutting knife for her daily work. One day she came home from cutting bamboo with a broken knife. Xiang was very upset by this because Achang knives are known for their strength and durability. The breaking of a bamboo-cutting knife while attempting to cut bamboo was a serious matter which could damage his family’s reputation. So, he set about investigating the cause of the brittleness of the sword. Through much experimentation, he discovered that the problem had to do with the quality of the metal he had used in the forging. But, his discoveries did not end there. He noticed something else which interested him: the effects of the quenching. Quenching had always been a very specialized and developed step in the Achang forging process. Out of the necessity of improving the bamboo-cutting knife, Xiang Laosai ended up evolving his own quenching knowledge and skills and incorporating them into the family’s well-guarded techniques. Before continuing with this story, I am offering some basic knowledge about “quenching”, “quench hardening”, and the “process of quenching” which I have found on Wikipedia.

Quenching The Thirst

Quenching
“In materials science, quenching is the rapid cooling of a work piece in water, oil or air to obtain certain material properties. A type of heat treating, quenching prevents undesired low-temperature processes, such as phase transformations, from occurring. It does this by reducing the window of time during which these undesired reactions are both thermodynamically favorable, and kinetically accessible; for instance, quenching can reduce the crystal grain size of both metallic and plastic materials, increasing their hardness.”

Quench Hardening
“Quench hardening is a mechanical process in which steel and cast iron alloys are strengthened and hardened. These metals consist of ferrous metals and alloys. This is done by treating the material to a certain temperature, depending on the material. This produces a harder material by either surface hardening or through-hardening varying on the rate at which the material is cooled. The material is then often tempered to reduce the brittleness that may increase from the quench hardening process.”

Process of Quenching
Heating: minimizing uneven heating and overheating
Soaking: in air, liquid bath, or vacuum: Salt or lead baths take up to 6 minutes; Vacuum takes a bit longer; Requires a uniform temperature
Cooling: submersion in quenching fluid: “Different quenching fluids can have significant effect on the final characteristics of a quenched part.”
Cooling with Water: is very effective to maximize hardness, but runs the risk of distortion and small cracks.
Cooling with Mineral oils: can sacrifice hardness. Oil based fluids oxidize and form a sludge during quenching, which lowers the efficiency of the process. The cooling rate of oil is less than that of water. “Intermediate rates between water and oil can be obtained with a purpose formulated quenchant, a substance with an inverse solubility which therefore deposits on the object to slow the rate of cooling.”
Cooling with Inert gases: nitrogen and noble gases: Helium, Nitrogen, Argon.
“To minimize distortion in the workpiece, long cylindrical workpieces are quenched vertically; flat work pieces are quenched on edge; and thick sections should enter the bath first. To prevent steam bubbles the bath is agitated.

These comprise the world’s standard explanations for quenching. Xiang Laosai discovered for himself how to improve upon the fine-tuning of his quenching. Husa has always had to take climate into consideration when forging. It is a region which has great temperature differences during the day. Forging is done in the cool of the night; leaving the sharpening and decorating tasks to the heat of the day. In forging and quenching it is essential to control the temperatures during the processes. Even the slightest temperature change must be accounted for and adjusted for the fluctuating air temperature. Differences in metal composition (carbon structure) must also be accounted for and temperatures changed in order to obtain the required results. Xiang, an illiterate man, managed to learn and master the processes of oil quenching and the use of coating the blades in clay; along with his traditional water quenching. He has learned to choose his methods wisely, based on the requirements of the materials used. His precise methods are confidential for the quenching process; but, the results are incomparably sharp blades which are strong enough to cut rebar.

Xiang Laosai also makes note of the quality of the water he uses. He claims that the water from the traditional village well is a very hard mineral water of an excellent composition and coolness. Every morning he walks to the well to collect the day’s water; beginning the daily process of forging blades. He brings the water pails back to the courtyard of his family compound. There the forging workshop is placed, under the cover of the roof, but open to the courtyard for use. The master has already chosen the raw materials to be used. Only masters do this because it takes much experience to recognize the composition of the metals to be used; thus knowing ahead of time which methods to be used in their forging. Customarily there are at least two apprentices in his workshop and the tasks are divided amongst them by tradition. The newest apprentice begins with learning to handle the bellows. The air from the bellows fuels the burning of the coals and thus produces heat for the forging. As a task, it is rather strenuous and boring. However, done long enough, it builds a certain feel of coordinated movement between the master and the student. It also helps to develop patience in the apprentice. Once having achieved these goals, the apprentice is allowed to participate in the hammering. Hammering of the heated metal is intended to remove the purities from the metal. The Achang have a unique manner to do this. They hammer in coordination with each other; using just the right force and in just the right places to insure the quality of the knife. The master has a small hammer and the apprentices have large hammers. The master leads the dance of hammering and the apprentices follow. It takes a very long time for apprentices to develop a natural feel for the coordinated hammering of the blade. Learning this step of the process alone takes at least a year of experience. And, the entire apprenticeship usually extends between 3 to 5 years.

Quenching The Thirst

Grinding is a job done during the heat of the day. A well-ground knife is one which is balanced, smooth, and with a hard, sharp edge. The art of grinding requires a great deal of focused concentration. Once the knife has been well-ground, it takes very little to re-sharpen after use. Decorating is also a day-time task. The Achang knives did not used to be decorated. Decorations are a recent addition to the knives from a thousand years ago. However, the decorations had been rather simple. Xiang Laosai was the innovator for this new custom of more elaborate engravings. The story goes that he had seen the pattern of the dragon and the phoenix when he was young and had always been intrigued by it. In 1970, as a young man, he made a knife with this pattern etched into it. Once finished, he was offered an amount of money for the knife which was the equivalent to half a month’s knife making work. So, naturally, he made more. The people in the region became especially enamored with the design and it knife has since become a traditional gift for weddings.

With the grinding and the decorating finished, the next step of the forging process is the quenching, itself. The more technical information about quenching has been given from the written sources of my notes. Yet, none of the notes brought me any clarity as to what exactly was making Achang quenching so remarkable. The understanding and appreciation came to me only by watching the master quench; and, only the master is allowed to quench his blades. This is the most important and difficult step of the forging. Basically, the blade is heated evenly to a particular temperature. The master knows through experience to judge that temperature and to keep it constant while adjusting conditions for the variables. Then the blade is taken to the bath of well water for quenching. However, the blade in not just doused into the bath. The master wants the edge of the blade to be cooled more rapidly than the body of the blade. Rapid cooling changes the physical properties of the metal and gives it the required hardness. The master quenches the edge to his satisfaction and then follows with the quenching of the entire blade. The result is a sharp edge and the knife is both hard and tough at the same time.

Once the blade has proceeded through all of the ten steps in the forging process, it is ready for testing and presentation. Each year, during the Alu Wolou Festival, the masters compete for the “King of Sword” title. In the CCTV documentaries, the 2006 festival is filmed. There are tables of swords for open display to the public. And, there are various categories of awards presented to the knife makers. The testing, though, is centered around two means of demonstration: hardness and sharpness. The hardness of a blade is demonstrated by its ability to cut through objects with little or no damage. Xiang Laosai’s newly made longsword in the film cut easily through iron rods; confirming the old adage that these blades cut through iron as if it were mud. It is impressive to watch as the sword is laid with great strength and accuracy down upon the rod and slicing it into separate sections which fall to the ground. The sharpness is the other end of testing and is performed with great delicacy. In this demonstration, Xiang Laosai’s son wins his own award for cutting the most pieces of cloth at once, as his 24 were placed gently upon the cutting edge of his sword. With one circular, turning, swoop of his blade all 24 of the cloth squares were severed with the forward momentum of the sword. In the second CCTV film there is also footage of him slicing 27 somewhat thicker pieces of cloth in the same manner. The movement is quick and the mind takes a moment to process what the blade has done. Truly amazing. No wonder the Achang are so proud of their forging heritage.

Xiang Laosai is a spokesman for his community. He earned this respect from his neighbors not only from his innovations and skills; but, also for his promotion of all the Achang knives. He has traveled extensively bringing these knives to the rest of China and abroad. Through the computer skills of his son, the knives are now to be found on the Internet. Collectors come not only to Husa to buy the knives, they can find them in certified shops closer to their own locations. Xiang Laosai has the dream of forming a collective workshop where the Achang masters can teach and produce knives together; with each developing their own special types of edged-weapons. He envisions the workshop inspiring both masters and apprentices as they collectively protect and develop the future of the Husa Knife.

Quenching The Thirst

I have reached the closing of this essay and with it, the closing of the “Sharp as Knives” series. I am very pleased to have been able to learn of the Achang and their knives; and equally glad that the series could be ended with a Chinese knife. This brings the line of the circle to the meeting of its ends and to the quenching of my thirst. No longer parched, I am feeling rather satisfied to know that there is a Ming military legacy still alive and still developing; one which has not gone the way of machinery and mass-production of modern blades. The image of the Ming soldier, with a Miaodao in one hand and the Arrow Shaving Knife being thrown by the other, takes on a richer context in my mind. How fortunate to have been able to make the connection in my mind. I have no way of knowing the exact knives shared by the Ming with the Achang back in the early 1600s. But, I do know that the Ming used the knives and that the Achang learned to incorporate their arsenal and skills with their own previous traditions. That is enough for me right now.

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