Warfare is a matter of vital importance to the State;
The province of life or death;
The road to survival or ruin.
It is imperative that it be thoroughly studied.
Therefore, appraise it in terms of the five fundamental factors
And make comparisons of the seven elements later name, so you may assess its essentials.

The first of these factors is the Way;
The second, weather;
The third, terrain;
The fourth, command;
The fifth, doctrine.

By the Way I mean what causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.
By weather I mean the interaction of natural forces; the effects of winter’s cold and summer’s heat and the conduct of military operations in accordance with the seasons.
By terrain I mean distances, whether the ground is traversed with ease or difficulty, whether it is open or constricted, and the chances of life or death.
By command I mean the general’s qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness.
By doctrine I mean organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks to officers, regulation of supply routes, and the provision of principal items used by the army.

The Art of War
Sun Tzu,
General of the State of Ch'i

It can rightly be said that no other book or treatise has looked more deeply into the very many aspects of War and warfare than that of General Sun Wu’s, most widely known as Sun Tzu, a well-deserved title that means Master Sun.
General Sun is believed to have lived in Ch’i State, from 544 BC and 496 BC, during the Spring and Autumn Period, that lasted from 722 BC to 481 BC.

The work and the figure of Sun Tzu do not justify this exhibition in and of themselves, but they certainly reminds us all that war was, and is, very much a part of life at all periods of Mankind’s history. The work of Sun Tzu was part of the equipment, one of the “principal items used by the army,” and in fact still used, for both offensive and defensive purpose in this “matter of vital importance to the State”.
Wars are fought by men, using weaponry that often is the sole material testimonial of the technological ingenuity of cultures or civilizations. When presented with an historical perspective on these vital cultural expressions, we can permit ourselves to see that even instruments of war had their extraordinary beauty derived not just from their function, but also from the decorations that imbued them with symbolic power and status. They can be seen to embody the human search for perfection. This is because war is, ironically, about the most essential elements of Mankind’s existence: life and death, the same elements for which religions try to find an explanation.

In times of universal change, men must look into the past to find the roots of everything that can provide a new meaning today, because nothing that is created is really new. It is just a reinvention, in which each human being, each individual commits himself to write and live his own Art of Living.

Civilizations are, therefore, collections of common knowledge such as a shared sense of history, a social organization, the existence of a common language and writing system, or a common tool box of technologies and technical solutions necessary for survival in a hostile environment and for cultural expression. In this collected common knowledge we can include the acquisition of the necessary technological means to master the smelting of metals for purposes both peaceful and war-like.

From this brief and simple definition it is possible to extrapolate that in the 21st. century, with all of its technological developments inherited from the 20th. century, it is impossible to dissociate the importance of the Past, as part of each civilization, from the Present, without breaking a lineage that roots itself in the principles that still govern the world today.

For this very reason, while mankind has not yet been able to live in Peace, despite immense technological advancements, the items that will be revealed in this catalogue are instruments of war or of ritual from the past, anachronic in today’s world, which were as necessary then to shape and defend countries, cultures, civilizations, as today the usage of much more refined and fearsome weapons, founded on the same principles may, if misused, terminate with Human kind as a whole.
But this exhibition focuses on these now anachronic tools as inanimate objects of great creativity and ingenuity, that reflect technological developments of the cultures that created them, and are imbued with lethal beauty that also symbolize power.

To have this holistic perspective is, therefore, to understand that each exhibited item is a product of a cultural and historical circumstance that preceded ours. By examining each and every one of them from this perspective, the visitor is invited to further reflect on the history of Mankind’s evolution.


One may ask, “Why have China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Indochina or Continental South East Asia edged weapons been selected in a clockwise manner?” Simply because it would be unthinkable to aim wider, and because Macau seems to be in the relative centre of convergence of all these countries, and because it is an acknowledgement of the of some of the most ancient cultures of Asia in the growth of civilization in the Easts. By saying Eastern Asia, we have added South East Asia to the concept of to the countries to the East, China, Korea and Japan, in a circular movement.

It must be said that this is an unprecedented event; a gathering of cultures and their edged weapons, never before attempted, thus providing a convergence of geographies and times past that share the same place for a limited amount of time, in total quietness.

Through the observation of the exhibits it will become clear to the attentive mind that communications between countries, and migrations thousands or many hundreds of years before our time carrying technological exchanges, have taken place.

Of all the countries presented, treated with equal respect, it is however inevitable to find through the study of historical periods, that China emerges as the maternal civilization and culture which, through diplomatic or cross-border exchanges, would influence other cultures and civilizations to the point that all would take these influences and incorporate them in a unique manner into their own fabric.
In this way we can see how, for example, Confucianism was spread from China throughout all neighbouring countries, while China itself would continue to embrace Taoism as well, and welcome Buddhism from India and see it develop alongside its own ancient native religions and philosophies.

While viewing these thousands of years of mounting metallurgical advances, it is of the paramount importance to understand at all times the technological evolution and the change from the Bronze technology capable of creating elaborated items through lost wax castings, to the discovery of Iron to the technological conquest of Steel through the deep understanding of its properties.

With the migration of steel technology, humanity reached the culmination of the ancient coup de poign stone knives, axes or spear heads. The early shapes of weapons were defined in the Stone Age, but it was Steel that would allow the elaboration and perfection of form and function of which bronze was not capable.

Yet, Steel can only be understood in its full power when it is seen in the comparative light of what went before it.

Each country, in time, would absorb influences and generate its own technological advances, to be used and/or shared again, and would attribute due importance to the weapon mostly used, most effective; the sword, thus creating its own archetypes, myths, legends and heroes.


Not all societies evolved in the same way or at the same time. My full respect is due in the way China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and the countries of Indochina or Continental South East Asia evolved, each on its own path. While some countries became unified into kingdoms or empires, others lived for long periods in tribal societies, contributing in their way, to the cultural diversification of the region. It is from this diversification that it is possible to observe the difference of cultures, detect the similarities in shape, and verify craftsmanship of different origins.
Culturally speaking, it is the diversity that is enriching and the recurrence of shapes used centuries earlier in the same or a different culture, for history is the registry of movement, not of stillness, of evolution and of transformation.

In presenting this ambitious exhibition, the Macao Museum of Art brought into its galleries the joint efforts of institutions and private collectors, in a fraternal collaboration of specialists that will hopefully last for decades in the pages of this catalogue, representing a pioneering effort to join scholars, collectors, archaeologists, and all those people who understand the importance of Peace by collecting or studying instruments of War.
In joining together five different countries/regions, the Macao Museum of Art has also initiated a movement of collective interaction, in which each country has its own responsible Coordinator/s, a specialist or specialists on the subjects, who coordinated his own Section, thus responsibilities and work being shared by all.

In doing so the Macao Museum of Art also aims to assemble knowledge from different sources in a cultural cohabitation that can lead to a simultaneous enjoyment and cataloguing of different expressions of the same type of instruments of war that are today regarded both as historic testimonials and objects of art.

It is therefore with great pride that this exhibition has become a reality, a convergence of efforts that will hopefully be a unique source of consultation for years to come.

May, 2006

António Conceição Júnior
General Coordinator
History of Steel in Eastern Asia Exhibition
Macao Museum of Art



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