During the time of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝 huáng dì), this weapon was known as a Fu Xu (斧銊 fǔ xù). Back then, it was used not only as a weapon of war, but also as a tool to dish out punishment. It is listed as the fourth of the Five Yellow Emperor's Punishments (黄帝五刑 huáng dì wǔ xíng), or, "the Five Punishments."
China has the oldest continuously operating legal system in the world. The "Five Punishments" changed over time, there are many different versions with punishments ranging from confinement to a room (prison), hard labour, tattooing of the face, cutting off of the nose, castration, feet amputation, squeezing of the fingers between sticks, beating with wooden staves or bamboo whips, forced suicide, and death (oftentimes by beheading).
The earliest Copper Axe to have been found dates back to the Shang Dynasty (商代 shāng dài) (1600 - 1046 BCE), and was clearly not only used in battle, there is evidence to show they were used in ceremonies, too. Some of the axes that have been found have exquisite patterns and designs on them, such as dragons (龙 Lóng), Tao Tie (饕餮 tāo tiè), and other mythical beasts. Important figures were often buried with a decorative Jade Axe as a symbol of ther power and authority.
However, once double-edged and single-edged swords were invented in the Zhou Dynasty (周代 zhōu dài) (1122 - 256 BCE), fewer and fewer people used axes in battle. However, it continued to be used as a cutting tool, for ceremonies, and for beheadings.