Language: Mandarin Chinese
Source: Classical literature
Hūshǒu (護手) literally means "handguard".1
In literature, we mostly encounter the saber handguards in use by the military, called dāo hūshǒu (刀護手). During the Qing dynasty these were usually disc guards, also referred to as hùshǒu pán (護手盤).2
For a complete overview, see: A Chinese saber glossary.
A utilitarian disc guard on a 19th century Qing soldier's saber.
A carved brass saber guard on a 19th century Qing officer's saber.
Iron guard with lavish golden damascening on a 17th century Chinese saber.
Gilt copper alloy openwork guard on an 18th century Qing imperial saber.
The Chinese straightsword, jiàn (劍), is often fitted with a rather small guard. Very common are backward swept guards carved or cast with a tāotiè (饕餮), an ancient mythical creature whose name literally means "gluttonous". (See the glossary article tāotiè.)
Another common type is similarly backward swept, but carved or engraved with bats and longevity symbols, shòu (壽). The word for bat is pronounced fú in Chinese, which sounds exactly the pronunciation of 福 which means: blessing; happiness; good fortune; prosperity. Together these elements make the pun fúshòu ( (福壽) or "a long and blessed life".
A third type is often plain, but sometimes decorated with engravings, and often called the ace-of-spades type by collectors. From looking at antiques, these all tend to be late Qing to early Republican period.
Apart from these, many varieties are seen and even saber-guards are seen on jiàn on occasion.
Guards on four Qing dynasty jiàn. 1-3 from the left are of the tāotiè form, the one on the far left of the fúshòu type.
The typical "ace-of-spades" form, commonly seen on jiàn from the late Qing to early Republican Period.
A late Ming to early Qing period jiàn with a flat guard normally seen on sabers.
The simple utilitarian forward-swept guard on a Qing militia jiàn.
1. Wuti Qingwen Jian (五體清文鑑)or "Five languages compendium". A Qing imperial dictionary in Manchu, Mongolian, Uighur, Tibetan and Chinese of 1766. Published under the Qianlong emperor.
2. Qinding Gongbu Junqi Zeli (欽定工部軍器則例) or "Imperial regulations and precedents on weapons and military equipment by the Ministry of Public Works", 1813. Chapter 36.