EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
The 'butterfly knives' seem to have always been one of the more esoteric and intriguing Chinese weapons, probably from increased presence in China from the Taipai period, increased immigration of Chinese mid 19th century, and the Boxer Rebellion, and acquisition of these as souveniers.
It does not seem that authentic examples are often available, though the popularity of reproduction forms through interest in martial arts are often seen.
I believe these were primarily civilian weapons, used by martial artists and most definitely effective in the crowded city streets and dark alleys of southern China. Thier association with the 'river pirates' seems well placed as the focus of these well organized clans were profoundly present on the coastal areas of the south preying on junks as well as into the Yangtze River. It seems that they were quite present on Taiwan as well, as noted.
The hooked guard on these seems to derives from the sai, or trident like weapon, also a key martial arts weapon.
There are suggestions of military association due to the use of knuckleguard, and westernization of military in latter 19th century, but the guard is thought to have been intended more as a 'knuckleduster' and blades are often only sharpenened halfway.
I am not sure there was any significant presence of these as weapons used by the 'Tongs' in America. While these began as protective societies to protect against oppression of immigrant Chinese in rather unstable environments of American cities in those times, they later took on thier own enterprises, not always especially legal. These groups that had been known as Tongs (= hall, as in organized group) became a type of gangs, that by the early 20th century, many were known by the type of guns they carried.
The term 'hatchet man' came from the hit men who eliminated troublesome enemy figures. Weapons were of course not legally obtainable for these Chinese, and common utilitarian items such as axes were more likely used along with crudely fashioned traditional forms of knife or short swords.
It seems that in many forms of martial arts, the use of dual weapons is quite preferred, as it enables exaggerated and confounding movements that throw off the opponent. Knowing how fast these guys move, its hard enought to watch the moves of one arms let alone two! In India, the use of patas and katars by the Mahrattas uses windmill like slashing of two weapons is used.
The Boxers were well known for thier terrifying demonstrations used to demoralize the westerners there, using huge daos and certainly these paired knives.
Aboard the decks of a cramped ship, these manueverable weapons would be a deadly deterrent in a melee.
Absolutely fascinating pieces of Chinese history!!!
All best regards,