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Ge with engraved decoration of a tiger, Warring States period (475-221 BC) Dagger axe with engraved decoration of a tiger, China, Warring States period, 475-221 BC, bronze - Ostasiatiska museet, Stockholm - DSC09554.JPG
Gē with engraved decoration of a tiger, Warring States period (475-221 BC)
Eastern Zhou bronze dagger-axe Eastern Zhou Bronze Ge Dagger-axe.jpg
Eastern Zhou bronze dagger-axe
Four dagger-axes (left), alongside two ji. Chinese dagger-axe and related polearms.svg
Four dagger-axes (left), alongside two ji.

The dagger-axe (Chinese :; pinyin :; Wade–Giles :ko) is a type of pole weapon that was in use from the Erlitou culture until the Han dynasty in China. It consists of a dagger-shaped blade, mounted by its tang to a perpendicular wooden shaft. The earliest dagger-axe blades were made of stone. Later versions used bronze. Jade versions were also made for ceremonial use. There is a variant type with a divided two-part head, consisting of the usual straight blade and a scythe-like blade.



The dagger-axe was the first weapon in Chinese history that was not also a dual-use tool for hunting (such as the bow and arrow) or agriculture. Lacking a point for thrusting, the dagger-axe was used in the open where there was enough room to swing its long shaft. Its appearance on the Chinese battlefield predated the use of chariots and the later dominance of tightly packed infantry formations.

During the Zhou dynasty, the ji or Chinese halberd gradually became more common on the battlefield. The ji was developed from the dagger-axe by adding a spear head to the top of the shaft, thereby enabling the weapon to be used with a thrusting motion as well as a swinging motion. Later versions of the ji, starting in the Spring and Autumn period, combined the dagger-axe blade and spear head into a single piece.

By the Han dynasty, the more versatile ji had completely replaced the dagger-axe as a standard infantry weapon. [1] The ji was later replaced by the spear as the primary polearm of the Chinese military. By the Warring States period, large masses of infantry fighting in close ranks using the spear or ji had displaced the small groups of aristocrats on foot or mounted in chariots who had previously dominated the battlefield. [2]


Many excavated dagger-axes are ceremonial jade weapons found in the tombs of aristocrats. These examples are often found within coffins, possibly meant to serve as emblems of authority and power, or in some other ritualistic capacity. Sometimes they are found in a pit dug beneath a coffin, with a victim who was sacrificed to guard the tomb, where they presumably are intended to keep the spirit-guard armed. Normally only the head of a dagger-axe is found, with the shaft absent because of either decomposition or mechanical removal. Although the jade examples do not appear to have been intended for use in actual combat, their morphology closely imitates that of the battle-ready bronze version, including a sharp central ridge which reinforces the blade. Some dagger-axe artifacts are small and curved and could have been intended for use as pendants.

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The three most common types of Chinese polearms are the ge (戈), qiang (槍), and ji (戟). They are translated into English as dagger-axe, spear, and halberd. Dagger-axes were originally a short slashing weapon with a 0.9 to 1.8 m long shaft, but around the 4th century BC a spearhead was added to the blade, and it became a halberd. The spear is also sometimes called a mao (矛), which is sometimes used to designate polearms with a wavy snake-like spearhead. There was another polearm weapon known as the pi (鈹), translated into English as either sword-staff or long lance, that was used from ancient times until the Han dynasty. It was essentially a short sword attached to a stick. From the Warring States period onward, the length of Chinese polearms varied from around 2.8 m to 5.5 m, however there is no specific designation for a pike in the traditional Chinese lexicon. A very long spear is just called a long spear.


  1. Lorge 2011, pp. 18–19.
  2. Lorge 2011, pp. 43–45.