Qin Dynasty Bronze Sword

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The Marshall Collection contains several impressive weapons presented to George C. Marshall at formal occasions, as war trophies, or as gifts. One such gift was an ancient bronze sword (jian) from the Qin (pronounced Chin) Dynasty, 255-207 B.C. The Qin Dynasty was in the far western kingdom of the seven Warring States. In 221 B.C. the Qin conquered all the Warring States, and Qin Shihuangdi became the first emperor of a unified China. This is the most iconic period in Chinese history. The emperor introduced the standardization of money, constructed the Great Wall of China, and because of repeated assassination attempts, the emperor ordered a terra cotta army of soldiers and horses created to guard him in the afterlife. The use of slave labor in these immense projects earned him the reputation as a cruel and punishing leader.

The ancient sword was presented to George C. Marshall on December 30, 1941 as a birthday present from T. V. Soong, the newly appointed Foreign Minister of China and brother of Madame Chiang Kai Shek. In a note to Marshall, Soong wrote:

December 30, 1941

Dear General Marshall:
I take great pleasure in forwarding to you General Chiang Kai Shek’s photograph which he asks me to present with his warm greetings.

I learned that tomorrow is your birthday so I take the liberty of sending you an antique bronze sword of the Chin dynasty B.C. 255-207, as an augury that you will lead the American army to smite the Japanese, hip and thigh!

With kindest wishes of the season,
Yours sincerely,
T. V. Soong

Soong was visiting Washington, D.C. as Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek’s personal representative to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, China had officially become one of the Allied Powers and needed military and financial aid to help fend off a brutal invasion by the Japanese. In January of 1942, Soong would convince President Roosevelt to approve an enormous $500 million loan to China with no mention of an interest rate or terms of repayment (though China would only receive about 2% of the actual amount).

The sword is on display at the George C. Marshall Museum in Lexington, Virginia.