Historical references on Chinese saber typology are scarce, and the information they provide scant.
The most comprehensive Chinese military text is the massive Ming dynasty Wu Bei Zhi (武備志) or "Treatise of Military Preparedness" by Mao Yuanyi. It mentions the existence of 8 different types of saber, of which only two remained in use by the time or writing: The changdao (長刀) or "long saber" and the yāodāo (腰刀) or "waist-worn saber" which at the time was mostly used by soldiers in conjunction with a shield. None of the other types are described in detail.1
Qing period texts dealing with military sabers refer to them as yāodāo (腰刀) or pèidāo (佩刀) both synonyms for "waist-worn saber". Pèidāo was an archaic term that the Qianlong emperor re-introduced in court circles in the 18th century. The term yāodāo remained in widespread use on a more operational level. Regulations of this period focus mainly on the outward appearance of the sheathed saber, describing different mounting styles while not giving much is any detail on the blade inside.2
Until more accurate historical information surfaces we are left with period artwork, early photographs, and antique examples to study. Pioneering work in this field is done by Philip Tom, who wrote an excellent introduction to Chinese sabers in "Some Notable Sabers of the Qing Dynasty at The Metropolitan Museum of Art".3
The current article aims to continue in this line, providing for the first time a basic illustrated typology of styles. Most antique Chinese sabers encountered in museum and private collections today tend to date from the 17th to 19th centuries, this article will focus on that period. First we look at the two basic mounting styles, to continue with the main classifications of blade curvatures and blade profiles.