Kuo Chang-hsi’s earliest attempts at swordmaking where met with failure, and he’s not afraid to tell you why: He forgot to “throw a man into the furnace.”

While Kuo doesn’t mean that in a precisely literal sense, it’s not a mere figure of speech, either. As Taiwan’s last known practitioner of the traditional art of Chinese swordmaking, he employs the ancient technique of adding human bones to the fire in which he forges his swords.


Kuo approaches the method from both a scientific and a supernatural point of view. On the one hand, the burning bones add phosphorus to the 2,300ºF kiln fire, resulting in a better grade of steel. At the same time, he says, adding human remains imbues the sword with spirit. It’s the combination of the two that makes for a superior weapon.

Where does he get his bones? Kuo says they often come from collectors who are relocating tombs. More interestingly, they are sometimes donated by people who wish to commission a sword to commemorate a deceased relative. As tributes go, that’s a little more macho than the usual wreath of flowers!

Besides being a maker of swords, Kuo is also a connoisseur of them. His own collection is so large that he created a museum to hold it. Displayed alongside the many antique weapons is the yard-long “Green Destiny” sword that Kuo custom-made for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.




DanBing has lived in one Asian country and traveled in various others, engaging in activities that ranged from teaching English to playing Irish music to researching articles to marrying. The best part was usually the food, though the marriage hasn’t been too bad either. But of all his many accomplishments he is perhaps proudest of his close–extremely close–association with the person who wrote The Devil’s Food Dictionary: A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies (www.frogchartpress.com).