jian –


Broken Sword ( actor Tony Leung) writes the character “jian” – sword  – in the movie “Hero”.


 jiàn  is the traditional chinese character for Sword. it is composed of  meaning knife, and  which is the key to pronunciation.

The language was simplified by Mao Zi Dong in the 1950s, in order to give a largely illiterate population the chance to read and write.

So the character became    by simplifying a radical.   became  , thus  jiàn came to be written as 

A radical is simply part of a character, and characters may be made up of two or many more ‘radicals’.


images-1      here Broken Sword is twirling, dancing, lost in mediation as he forms jian  in the sand, using a large calligraphy brush

hero3      Flying Snow ( actress Maggie Cheung) watches her lover Broken Sword   form parts of the character in sand.

Zhang Yi Mo’s movie Hero  has been hailed by movie critics as one of the most beautiful films ever made. With acclaimed Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle working with Director Zhang Yi Mo, its not hard to see why.



in the movie, the Qin emperor complains that the character for Sword can be written 19 times.

It makes for  a good movie plot. In reality, the character has been much the same since the Zhou dynasty (around  1100 – 700 BC). A character very similar to 劍 was found written in the Seal Script of the Zhou dynasty. ( Seal Script is so called because words in this script have been found inscribed on stone.)

Swords are often used in Daoist and Buddhist iconography as representing the ability to cut through desires and to clear the mind.

hqdefaultat the end of the movie Hero the Master comes in. Faced with the marauding Qin army outside, the small state of Zhao have little hope.

Whilst our heroes fight masterfully with Swords, inside, the people of Zhao write calligraphy. The Master sits on his mat and calmly writes the word 劍, Sword.

He writes calligraphy, he does not fight. Why? In Hero’s version of the Qin Emperor, the Emperor’s final words display his understanding of Broken Sword, and why he practised calligraphy, writing the same character over and over again. The Emperor says


It just dawned on me. This scroll of Broken Sword’s isn’t about sword technique, but about swordsmanship’s ultimate ideal. Swordsmanship’s first achievement is the unity of man and sword. Once this unity is attained even a blade of grass can be a weapon. The second achievement is when the sword exists in one’s heart when absent from one’s hand, one can strike an enemy at 100 paces even with bare hands. Swordsmanship’s ultimate achievement is the absence of sword both in hand and in heart. The swordsman is at peace with the rest of the world. He vows not to kill and to bring peace to mankind.

Calligraphy, swords, philosophy, history: all there in Hero, and all there in the rich culture of Chinese Sword craft. And calligraphy