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Kinmen Cleavers, Knives Made from Bombshells

An entire industry fell from the sky on Kinmen Island.

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For 20 years the militaries of the ROC on Kinmen Island and the PRC on mainland China would take turns bombing each other every other day. On day one the PRC would fire, on day two it was the ROC’s turn. This went on for decades, depositing hundreds of thousands of bombshells all over both places. Though on Kinmen, at least, this steel did not go to waste. The people scavenged it from their cities, villages, and hillsides and used it to fuel the industry that the island would eventually become internationally known for: the production of Kinmen cleavers.

During WW2, an estimated 500,000 bombs were dropped on Kinmen by US and Allied troops, then during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis and the 20 year period following it, the People’s Liberation Army fired around 450,000 artillery shells at the island. The steel from each shell is said to be enough to make 60 knives, so it is clear how the makings of an entire industry literally fell from the sky.

The shells that the PRC shot over after the 1958 Second Strait Crisis were mostly for propaganda purposes, exploding out hundreds of leaflets rather than lethal shrapnel. This was good for knife making, as these shells were made of high grade steel and just split down the middle to release their contents, falling to the earth completely intact, providing blacksmiths with an idea material to work with.

The history of Kinmen knives extends back to WW2. With steel in short supply, Wu Tsong Shan, a blacksmith who learned the trade in Xiamen during the Qing Dynasty, began collecting the bombshells that the U.S. military left strewn over the land and made knives of exceptional quality with it. Mr. Wu continued the practice as the bombs of the PRC started to fall, moving all over the island to collect the steel and make knives for the villagers, eventually becoming known as Maestro Wu. He taught his son the knife making trade, who opened the Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Factory and passed the family tradition down to his own son, who runs the factory today.


Filed under: History, Kinmen

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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