Buying a Knife in China

So there it is, what is known in China as a standard kitchen knife. In America we might call it a cleaver but in China the name for this particular knife is, “cai dao.” It’s a very traditional design in China. While it doesn’t look like much, as you regard this knife, know that it took me the better part of ten days to purchase. So I thought I’d take you through the journey which finally led to a very self-satisfied me taking this photo in my kitchen.

There are supermarkets everywhere in Beijing. Obviously, there has to be to service the 24 million denizens of this city. On my second day in country, I had just brought a ripe tomato to my apartment meaning to cook it up for dinner. Upon realizing I had no way to slice it, I went down five floors to a local store housed in the basement of my building. Curiously, there were no knives for sale in the Household section so I returned home somewhat frustrated and proceeded to cut/mash up the aforementioned tomato with a spoon.

The next day I had other household items to purchase so I headed off to find a Wal-Mart. Surely, this household giant would have a knife? Sadly, the answer was again a resounding “no.” This time I was met with anxious looks from store employees when they realized what I wanted to buy. More than the absence of knives, it was those anxious looks which concerned me the most. This was now a challenge! I had a quest to follow. Too bad there wasn’t some lady of the lake rising out of the watery depths to hand me not excalibur, but a simple kitchen knife!

After checking into several other supermarkets, and becoming increasingly worried that my best option was to somehow sharpen one of my spoons, I began doing research on where to buy a cai dao- or any knife for that matter. Turns out there is a venerable old knife maker, Wangmazi Scissors, in Beijing. However, they had apparently gone out of business!

After searching through several articles about knives, I found out the problem. In 2012, two or three knife attacks occurred in Beijing by individual men. These attacks were not linked to each other. In one, four people were attacked and one was killed, a two year old boy was struggling and near death because of wounds suffered in this attack. So the government authorities decided that supermarkets could no longer sell knives and confiscated some knives and guns throughout the city from certain individuals (not all guns or knives).

So where did this leave me? Well I found a shop which sold Wangmazi cai dao and bought a knife.

It would be nice if that was the end of the story but it’s not. You see, in order to buy a knife, any knife, one has to present id. So before buying the knife, I had to present my passport to the seller who dutifully made a copy. And that would be a nice ending but the saga continued. . . . .

Because one can’t ride the subways with a knife of any kind! So I had to take a more expensive taxi home. Finally I was home.

In reflecting on the serpentine path my quest took me on, I thought a great deal about how this compares to America and our challenges with the second amendment. China is a one-party controlled nation which is not a democracy. Many Americans believe that the Chinese people are terribly oppressed and unhappy. That is not my experience after thirteen trips over 13 years. And when a threat emerged to the Chinese citizens, what did this government, which supposedly doesn’t care about the people do? It put in place regulations which made it incredibly difficult for an episode of mass violence to occur again. It responded to protect the safety of the people. It saddens me that the US lags behind literally every other nation in the world in restricting citizens’ rights to own guns after overwhelming evidence which indicates government action would be in the best interest of our citizens.

On a lighter note, there was one small consequence of my new purchase. As I happily cut up more tomatoes and vegetables for dinner last night, I reflected on how nice the feel of my new cai dao was. And how efficiently it cut through all of the vegetables and shrimp, etc. Then, as I cleaned up after dinner, wanting to be sure my new purchase was well cleaned I realized why maybe some people shouldn’t be allowed to own sharp objects!

3 thoughts on “Buying a Knife in China

  1. As you have described it is an interesting saga. As you would expect, I disagree with your conclusion in the comparison between the USA and China but I don’t want to cause an international incident so I wont comment any further.


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