The Swordmaking Legacy of Longquan: Shen Guanglong

A Town of Swordmsiths

Longquan

In mainland China, in a beautiful mountainous region just north of the Tropic of Cancer, a small town is nestled with a long history - Longquan (pronounced LOW-ng-CHU-an). Legend has it that the first iron sword was forged there over 2500 years ago by the legendary smith Ou Yezi, who crafted 8 famous swords and gifted them to two Kings of the time. Since then, the sword-making tradition has been passed on in Longquan from father to son and is classified as an intangible cultural heritage of China.

One Family to Rule Them All

While the rest of the world was reeling from the breakout of World War I, the town of Longquan held a sword competition. All the best sword-makers in the town turned out, and the Shen family won the competition hands down. Their sword was not only able to cut through three copper coins (remember, swords are not made to cut metal), but also able to cut a competitor’s sword in twain. The next year they proved it was not a fluke by winning the Gold Award at another competition. After another five years, the Shen family won the National Art Contest for China, gaining the family national recognition.

The Shen family is not originally from Longquan, but Bihiu. The patriarch of the family moved to Longquan in 1896 to set up a weapons shop. It took almost 20 years of hard work before the first aforementioned competition victory. After their subsequent wins and resulting fame, 15 years later the second generation of the family was honored by being asked to make a sword for China’s president. This honor was repeated with later swords being given to Chairman Mao and US president Nixon, among many other foreign leaders. Their swords have since been used in several films and on television.

The Continuing Legacy 

Today, Shen Guanglong (in Chinese names, the family name comes first) is the fourth generation of the Shen family and current representative of the Shen legacy. He started learning swordsmithing very early, consistently skipping school until his parents gave in and taught him the family craft. While he never finished primary school, even though he wishes he had, under his direction, the Shen swordmaking shop has expanded into a factory with hundreds of workers. The family business now makes a wide variety of swords, from traditional Chinese Jian to Japanese Katanas. Consistently winning awards since 1980, including one as the best sword forger in all of China, the shop has managed to maintain its works’ high quality through its businesses’ expansion. Crafted mainly for export, all crafted swords are held to exacting standards and are quite expensive, often running four to five digits in price.

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