Hello everybody! I’m Daniel from London, UK. I’m a Chinese language undergrad student at Xiamen university, and I’ve been here for three years. I want to share a story about my unique hobby and?how I managed to set it up in China! I hope you’re interested in history and metallurgy, if not, you can always skip to the end and look at the pictures! Haha!
Many people have asked about it, and I can assure you it’s nothing to do with writing emails.?My hobby is making chainmail. Yes, you read that right, real chainmail! Further below I have written about how it’s done, but first I will address a question that all (non-gamer) Chinese are probably are asking: What on Earth is chainmail?
The reason that most Chinese people have not heard of chainmail is because historically, China is the only country in the northern hemisphere that did not develop its own chainmail. Even during the Han dynasty this ‘chain link armour’ was known about, and even was imported for military use, serving as a rare and exotic foreign symbol of wealth. This type of armour not only provided effective protection and was comfortable to wear, procuring its materials wasn’t hard at all, hence why it was widely produced. To explain it simply, chainmail is a fabric-like armour made by interlocking metal rings. For us Europeans, just to hear the word likely brings to mind images of medieval knights in the armour.
Even though there hasn’t been demand for chainmail armour for a long time, the techniques of making it have definitely not been lost to time. On the contrary, some modern people have revived it and turned it into a distinct art form; using strength to manipulate metal and create exquisite patterns.
I am one of those modern people.
So I decided to revive it here in China, to strike while the iron’s hot. But! With all my tools still in England, and being unable to go back to bring them here (lest I be forever trapped outside of China), I knew gathering everything and starting from scratch would be a lot of work.
I had to recalculate all the mathematics we chainmaillers rely on. China uses completely different measurements, so the information I used back home was all rendered obsolete!
I bought some steel rods to be made into ‘mandrels’. Now, I just needed to find a carpenter. This occupation actually was very hard to find! I asked my friends, teachers, and even my WeChat moments, until finally I found this incredibly skilled carpenter. He’s far too modest, telling me “I just enjoy making things with wood as a hobby, I’m not very professional”, but just look at his flawless work in making a frame for the ‘mandrels’! Master Jin, I was almost fooled by you until I saw you work with such skill and diligence!
I scoured all of Xiamen in search of a metalworker to help me. On the last day, in the last place I had on my list, I was refused again. I thought then I had reached the very end of the road. As I was reluctantly getting ready to go home, I thought “This is the final step! Surely I can’t give up now?” and instead, filled with determination, I walked aimlessly hoping to find this needle in a haystack. I did find another shop, a small steel shop which wasn’t on any map, and I interrupted the boss eating lunch with his family and asked…and was rejected again. But this time was different! He knew a friend of a friend who may be able to help me: Master Yang.
In his company building he welded two pieces of metal atop one of his machines, then used his raw brawn to cold bend handles into every rod – even the thickest 9 and 10 millimetre ones, which despite testing his mettle also proved no match for his brute force. He thought nothing about travelling far and wide to find a lathe to drill the necessary holes in the cylindrical steel rods. He has a heart of gold, not only did he use his every resource to help me, but after helping create the perfect ‘mandrels’, he consistently rejects any attempt of mine to pay him for his service!
With everything all set, we can finally make chainmail like a medieval artificer! After passing the steel wire through the eye of the ‘mandrel’, we can rotate the handle and twist the wire into a spring. We then use bolt cutters to cut each ring one-by-one. Finally, the chainmailler can use pliers to arrange and lock these jump rings into any number of elaborate designs – something we actually call a weave.
What you see are all made with stainless steel, (much harder to work with compared with the galvy wire I first started with), but you can also use aluminium that has been anodised to give it colour! Here you can see my mum holding her Christmas gift one year: a Welsh flag made of chainmail.
I didn’t imagine it would be so much work, it honestly took about three months and it still hasn’t finished – but it’s been totally worth it! Largely because of these two admirable craftsmen I have completed my set up. They did not allow me to falter in ‘taking up this gauntlet’, and thus nestled in a small corner of modern Xiamen is the beating heart of an almost lost medieval skill: making chainmail.
P.S. Last year’s story I talked about Teacher Huang’s disability centre that he set up himself in Xiamen’s Tongan district. In the future I want to try selling some of the chainmail things I can make whilst simultaneously supporting his project. If you want to help too, feel free to contact me! I hope everyone, wherever you are, is able to find local meaningful projects to apply themselves to.