Dueling in China

Nov 2015
47
Pacific Rim
Was there any particular dynasty where dueling was common, or well recorded? I've seen examples of sporting wrestling in the Song dynasty. I've found examples of melee battles in various wars, but I'm looking for information about formal dueling.
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,627
China
i think it would be difficult to find any records similar to what we see in English languaged novels.

revenge is tolerated and even encouraged to some degree, it happened when one or one's family member(an older generation than the revenger him/herself) is insulted. unlike THE formal dueling might happen in europe, there is no rules. one just takes the revenge.

revenge for an older generation family member is much more torlerated than revenge for oneself. it is considered to fulfill one's duties to the parents.
 
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HackneyedScribe

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
6,564
During the Warring States period there were "knights" who dueled. They weren't so much warrior nobility as much as adventurers D&D style, I don't know why they are so commonly termed as knights. Legalist philosopher Han Fei Tzu certainly didn't speak highly of them (after all a duel that ends in death would be breaking the law).

From Han Fei Tzu:

"The Confucians with their learning bring confusion to the law, the knights with their military prowess violate the prohibitions. Yet the ruler treats both groups with respect, and so we have disorder. People who deviate from the law should be treated as criminals, and yet the scholars actually attain posts in the government because of their literary accommplishments. People who violate the prohibitions ought to be punished, and yet the bands of knights are able to make a living by wielding their swords in a private cause. .....Those who practice benevolence and righteousness should not be praised, for to praise them is to cast aspersion on military achievements; men of literary accomplishment should not be employed in the government, for to employ them is to bring confusion to the law"

"Rulers sometimes believe that the officials and common people are capable of wielding authority and might, and hence whatever the officials and common people approve of, they approve of too; and whatever the officials and common people condemn, they condemn also. Ministers therefore gather bands of armed men around them and support knights who are willing to die in their cause, in order to make a show of their might. They make it plain that whoever works in their interest will profit, while whoever does not will die, and in this way they manage to intimidate the lesser officials and common people and further their own interests."

"to spurn those people who respect their rulers and fear the law, and instead to patronize the bands of wandering knights and private swordsmen-to indulge in contradictory acts like these is to insure that the state never be well ordered.
"

I recall that Han Fei Tzu argued to conscript knights into the army so that they would use their skills to kill enemy soldiers rather than killing each other. But this was years ago and I can't find the quote anymore.
 
Dec 2011
3,492
Mountains and Jungles of Southern China
We have some evidences of Han Dynasty duelings from mural paintings. The most common weapons involved in a dueling was the sword, the Ji halberd, and a small shield with hooks by the name of Gouxiang.

Here's a very good short documentary about the Ji halberd and the Gouxiang hook shield, but it's in Chinese. Towards the end they demonstrated using these two weapons of how an ancient dueling during the Han Dynasty might have happened.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtf_iVOKMww
 
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Nov 2015
47
Pacific Rim
Got info of a duel during the Three Kingdoms era between Cao Pei (son of Cao Cao) and Dengzhan, fought with sugar cane after a night of drinking so not a super serious duel:

"In the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD), numerous Chinese swordsmanship styles/schools flourished and swordsmanship was all the rage. Below is the translation of the friendly match between Cao Pei (who proceeded to become Emperor of the Wei Dynasty and ruled 220-226AD, just around the end of the Three Kingdoms period) and fellow general Dengzhan. Cao Pei's father was the famous general Cao Cao, one of the main protagonists in the Ming classical military novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This is the firsthand account written by Cao Pei:


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".......I had also learned swordsmanship, and had many teachers. Different places have differing styles of swordsmanship, but it is at the Capital (Luoyang City) where it really excels. At the Capital, during the time of (Han Dynasty) Emperors Huan and Ling, there was an official by the name of Wangyue who was correspondingly famous. A Mr Shi-ah from Henan province once said that he had studied under Wangyue, and had learned all his techniques. Hence, I proceeded to study under Shi-ah, and became thoroughly familiar with his swordsmanship style and skills.

In the past, I have had drinking sessions with Generals Liuxun, Fenwei and Dengzhan. All this while, I had long heard of Dengzhan’s skills in empty hand techniques and in the five types of weapons, plus an ability to use his bare hands to engage opponents with bladed weapons. I also had long discussions with him on swordsmanship, and had criticized his swordsmanship skills as deficient. As I had loved swordsmanship and was skilful at it, Dengzhan requested for a (friendly) match.

As we were all in the midst of heavy drinking and chewing sugarcane stalks, we decided then to use sugarcane stalks as our swords. After walking down from the elevated platform to ground level, we started fighting…...…. it resulted in me hitting him on the shoulder 3 times. Everyone around laughed……. Dengzhan was not satisfied, and asked for a rematch. I told him that my movement was too hectic, not accurate enough to strike his middle chest area, which was why I decided to strike his shoulder instead. Dengzhan thereupon repeated his request for a rematch.

........As I had anticipated that he would aim for a rapid forward advance and strike me in the middle chest area, I pretended to move forward towards him, thereupon he rushed upon me. Retreating my steps suddenly, I then (simultaneously) proceeded to strike him on his head. Everyone on the elevated platform was stunned ………. I proceeded to go back to my seat, and while laughing, said, “In the past, just as Yangqin made Chun Yuyi give up his past methods of medicine, and taught him anew his own methods, I hope General Deng would let go of his old ways….and learn the correct Way.�


(The above is translated from the "Chapter of the Wei Dynasty", from the "Records of the Three Kingdoms")
------------------------------------------

Please ignore the above

Below is a translation of the first recorded swordsmanship practice fight, between Cao Pei (who flourished in the Three Kingdoms period and ruled as Emperor of the Wei Dynasty, 220-226 AD) and a fellow general Dengzhan.

Cao Pei's father was the famous general Cao Cao, one of the main protagonists in the Ming classical military novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Incidentally, Cao Cao and Cao Pei were also known to be sword connoisseurs, and there are first hand accounts and records surviving today that detail their commissions to their swordsmiths to forge exquisite swords for their personal use and collection. Cao Cao's commentary on Sun Tzu's Art of War, is still extant and was considered by past Chinese military scholars (including myself, ahem !!!) to be the best ever commentary on the Art of War throughout the various dynasties.

-------------------------------------------------

……………I had also learned swordsmanship, and had many teachers. Different places have differing styles of swordsmanship, but it is at the Capital (Luoyang City) where it really excels. At the Capital, during the time of (Han Dynasty) Emperors Huan and Ling, there was an official by the name of Wangyue who was correspondingly famous. A Mr Shi-ah from Henan province once said that he had studied under Wangyue, and had learned all his techniques. Hence, I proceeded to study under Shi-ah, and became thoroughly familiar with his swordsmanship style and skills.

In the past, I have had drinking sessions with Generals Liuxun, Fenwei and Dengzhan. All this while, I had long heard of Dengzhan’s skills in empty hand techniques and in the five types of weapons, plus an ability to use his bare hands to engage opponents with bladed weapons. I also had long discussions with him on swordsmanship, and had criticized his swordsmanship skills as deficient. As I had loved swordsmanship and was skilful at it, Dengzhan requested for a (friendly) match.

As we were all in the midst of heavy drinking and chewing sugarcane stalks, we decided then to use sugarcane stalks as our swords. After walking down from the elevated platform to ground level, we started fighting…...…. it resulted in me hitting him on the shoulder 3 times. Everyone around laughed……. Dengzhan was not satisfied, and requested for a rematch. I told him that my movement was too hectic, not accurate enough to strike his middle chest area, which was why I decided to hit his shoulder instead. Dengzhan thereupon repeated his request for a rematch.

........As I had anticipated that he would aim for a rapid forward advance and strike me in the middle chest area, I pretended to move forward towards him, thereupon he rushed towards me. Retreating my steps suddenly, I then (simultaneously) proceeded to strike him on his head. Everyone on the elevated platform was stunned ………. I proceeded to go back to my seat, and while laughing, said, “In the past, just as Yangqin made Chun Yuyi* give up his past methods of medicine, and taught him anew his own methods, I hope General Deng would let go of his old ways….and learn the correct Way.”
 
Sep 2012
1,121
Taiwan
It was common in the Southern Dynasties, especially outside of the capital in garrison towns. It wasn't formal, but if I recall correctly there were rural blood sports as well.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,485
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Ignoring, for a moment, everything I've ever learned about Chinese history from wuxia TV series, my understanding of Han dynasty warfare was that, because the majority of soldiers were largely untrained levies and conscripts, the commander would become a focal point, both in terms of morale and fighting effectiveness of a force.

Thus, battles could often become essentially one-on-one duels between individual commanders, not dissimilar to early samurai warfare.

Certainly Romance of the Three Kingdoms makes much of duels between commanders, although it is, of course, largely a work of fiction.
 
Sep 2012
1,121
Taiwan
Ignoring, for a moment, everything I've ever learned about Chinese history from wuxia TV series, my understanding of Han dynasty warfare was that, because the majority of soldiers were largely untrained levies and conscripts, the commander would become a focal point, both in terms of morale and fighting effectiveness of a force.

Thus, battles could often become essentially one-on-one duels between individual commanders, not dissimilar to early samurai warfare.

Certainly Romance of the Three Kingdoms makes much of duels between commanders, although it is, of course, largely a work of fiction.
I think I remember reading that only something like two of those duel-related deaths in RoTK were actually historical, but don't quote me on that. I'm not sure about duelling between generals in battle though; can't remember coming across many references to that, but its been a while since I've delved into any military research.
 
Dec 2011
3,492
Mountains and Jungles of Southern China
Ignoring, for a moment, everything I've ever learned about Chinese history from wuxia TV series, my understanding of Han dynasty warfare was that, because the majority of soldiers were largely untrained levies and conscripts, the commander would become a focal point, both in terms of morale and fighting effectiveness of a force.

Thus, battles could often become essentially one-on-one duels between individual commanders, not dissimilar to early samurai warfare.

Certainly Romance of the Three Kingdoms makes much of duels between commanders, although it is, of course, largely a work of fiction.
Wuxia TV series are mostly fictional, as well as the ROTK.

Yes, the soldiers were mostly conscripts, but they were trained. Military training and military service were obligatory for men of a certain age (if I remember correctly, it was from the late teens to about 45 or 50).

One-on-one duals were not that common in Chinese warfare, unlike the Japanese samurai warfare.