Long Quan is a city in the mountains of Zhejiang Province with a population above 200,000 souls.

It happened that during the Warring States Period, (403 - 221 BC), the last part of the Eastern Zhou (771 - 256 BC) that also comprised the earlier Spring & Autumn Period (722 - 481 BC),
the smith from Bronze Age, O Ye Zi arrived in the mountains of the Kingdom of Yue after seeing that there was an enormous lake with the shape of a dragon.
Iron was now starting to be part of weaponry and soon
O Ye Zi found that the region had everything needed. It was far in the mountains, it had very good water flowing in streams, it had iron in large quantities in the stream beds and it had plenty of wood from forests and it was so quiet, that not even a dog barked or a rooster sang in the morning.
This was how the most important center of steel weaponry came into being. And for 2.500 years it has continued to work steel and make some of China's famous and fabled weapons.

Due to the use of forges and the purity of water and of clay, Longquan also became an important Celadon center since the Northern Song (960-1127). Both swords and po
ttery rely on water, clay and fire. That is why they belong to the Arts of Fire along with Jewelry and Glass work.

We arrived at Longquan after a 7.30 hours journey from Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang.


The visitor can have the chance to view an ancient construction, mainly covered workshop with full of air flow, where an old cart used to carry swords, while other photographs show different aspects of the forge and workshop as it existed for centuries.

   

As we arrived, Sara called Zhou Zheng Wu who soon arrived in his nice car.
Zhou is a simple, humble and a man of the utmost integrity. He instantly made sure that we would be his guests for dinner, as this is the Chinese custom. The visited person will make sure to be the host for his visitors during all the time, catering for their needs. Such are the customs of the Chinese: a visitor is a full time honored guest.
As usual, we took a picture together, as a memento, since I felt that Zhou  became very grateful for my invitation for him to participate in the Masters of Fire.
Zhou
is a busy man, always receiving phone calls, but he dismissed everything to be with us.

After he supervised our check in at Longquan's best hotel, and after dining had ended -- always a feast and an excuse to drink Mao Tai, Chinese rice wine of very high alcohol percentage -- we set up for the visit to his shop the next morning.
After breakfast we met Zhou and he lead the van that traveled with us.
We soon arrived at the building that he owns and acts as his house, his display room, as well as his workshop with many apprentices.

This is part of the building belonging to Zhou. The display room is quite large and we took a long look at his products. Hanging from the walls, many photographs of different visitors from China and abroad.

Me inspecting a katana made in Zhou's shop. They do it using the Chinese forge folded method. They don't try to mime Japanese hada styles. There is hamon, but it is like clouds in a mountain. They are proud of being Chinese and of their 2.500 years heritage. I can well understand it. Then Zhou's first teacher, his father´s older brother, a smith for 60 years in his own right posed with us. Then I insisted in Zhou's father to join in. He has been a smith for 50 years. It is the Zhou clan. Finally he insisted in showing me the photograph of myself and him taken at the Museum in Macau.
But I dare say, only the Chinese would go to such great lengths
of effort to show and honor their guests, according to Chinese Traditional Values.  In fact, all the three are Master Smiths, and the two elder ones are due the utmost respect, yet their attitude was so humble and always friendly and willing. Such are traditional Chinese: humbling themselves to the point of "performing" for welcomed guests*.
Note*:
these comments are mainly explanatory solely intended to provide the reader with a better understanding.
FORGING AT ZHOU'S CLAN

The oldest of the Zhou, 60 years as a blade smith, started to lit the forge. Charcoal made of wood, with a recipe I will not disclose, started to lit and the fire begun to get hotter. They don't use the bellows anymore, but an electrical blower.
What we were about to witness was a very big honor, bestowed on us as I mentioned before. A total of 60 years plus 50 years plus 20
odd years of blade smithing, totaling over 130 years of experience was to be shown to us as a special treat, hands on.

They chose a 150 year old steel to demonstrate to us. The two elder Zhou masters begun hammering the hot steel, and, despite the danger, they never wear protection for the eyes or hands. I could see the 66 year old and the 76 year old masters come alive as they started pounding the old steel as if they were two youngsters. The hammering music that was later used in Japan came from Longquan when smiths were incorporated in a Chinese Princess wedding into the early Japanese royal household and left for Japan as part of the dowry, thus bringing their technique to the Japanese archipelago, settling there and later taking Japanese names, while each of them kept a graphic mark as their symbol.
One must bear in mind, that while Longquan was working at least since the 5th. century BC, the Kofun and Nara periods, (300-794 AD) imported swords from China and Korea. There is no belittling intention, only to signify the immense difference in time and kn
owledge of smithing China had in comparison with Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries of Eastern Asia. This is of the most significant importance for understanding the importance of the Chinese sword, which is much more relevant in its transition from bronze to iron and then to steel than the later Ming and Qing dynasties.

A close up of the beautiful color of the billet.Then note that Zhou's not wearing gloves. To make a long story short we now see the vertical quench of the finished sword and next the quenched sword displayed for a photograph.
This event, was very unique and specially arranged by the Zhou clan.

Here we can see polishers working with their own stones, some small and coarse, some big and dark red, much finer.
The Chinese prefer a very subtle activity, in full connection with Nature. They don't use fingerstones, though me an Zhou would make some tests with it on a Japanese style sword and the hamon appeared. But never in a Chinese sword, never an etch. It should be as subtle as the taste of Chrysanthemum tea.

All this took the whole day and we left when it was time for dinner. Again a treat by Zhou under the rules of Chinese courtesy.

Precious water

   

The next day we visited the natural resources that O Ye Zi spotted in the Warring States Period. He had to ride a long way to reach one of the streams and it is interesting to notice that the smith must made a very comprehensive exploration.

We drove for about 20 minutes and found one ancient bridge over a minor dry stream. However all around the mountains were covered in abundant woods and forests. Charcoal and wood were at hand.
Then as we moved onwards, various surprises awaited us, like it must have awaited
O Ye Zi whose knowledge of the various elements, gave him the certainty of water.

Soon, we saw another stream in the most untouched wilderness. A hanging bridge connected both margins and as we progressed I started to notice that stones were in a lower part of the stream and then, a little further, the stones started to turn red. I recalled that Zhou Zheng Wu has told me that 20 percent of Longquan's sand was iron.

Then, as Zhou gently guided us, Nature started to speak by itself. There were deposits of hematite everywhere. As I progressed I found the water source, the spring, the source. As I further approached the dark red rocks, in the purity of Nature, something amazing unfolded in front of my eyes.

Those rocks were not only covered with deposits of hematite accumulated there for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but the way the rocks were shaped were obvious reminders of steel layers in a sword, as if Mother Nature was telling men, at the dawn of the use of iron, how to reinforce it. My thoughts went to the 150 years old billet, glowing in the dark, coming from the generosity of Mother Nature and the wisdom of O Ye Zi, of the Warring States Period.
I could not but, once more, acknowledge how distant we became from Mother Nature, the Great Teacher, the Great Provider.

In his nonchallance and apparently lack of self-care way, Zhou is not only a wise man but also a good man with one thing in mind. To project his swords and China's as much as possible. I know this is his main dream, a legitimate one, considering that China's swords and technology has influenced all of the Eastern Asia's swords due to constant trade since the days of the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).
Zhou epitomizes the traditional Chinese man, carrying a tradition from generation to generation, and obsessed with his word, his verticality, his closeness to
Nature.
Like most traditional Chinese whose culture has not been lost in favor of superficially absorbed alien values
, he thinks different steps ahead, which I will obviously not disclose for reasons of honor and respect.

 

Zhou Zheng Wu handling a Han style sword with historically accurate jade pommel, guard and belt hook. The scabbard is in black lacquer with red decorative pattern, also historically accurate.

       

Understanding Chinese Traditional Values

   

No article on the above topic can ever replace personal experience. Due to the prevalence of other Eastern cultures in the mythology in the Western mind, I deemed important to find an article written by a learned Chinese. Full contents can be found here.

       

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