Knives out of bomb shells

In 1949, when the Chinese Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan, it made the islands of Kinmen and Matsu the front line in the struggle to ward off the Communists and regain the mainland. The Kinmen area, separated from Xiamen by a short stretch of water, found itself pounded by artillery. During a 44-day stretch beginning on August 23, 1958, China pounded Kinmen with more than 379,000 bombs. And up until 1978, more than half a million “alternate-day leaflet bombs” were launched at the island (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). But the people of Kinmen have turned these ruinous bombs into everyday appliances-kitchen knives.

The Chin Ho Li Knife Factory was the first to develop the Kinmen kitchen knife, and it is the oldest name in "bomb knife" manufacture. Early on, most Kinmen residents were farmers, and metal was in short supply. During the era of Japanese rule, materials became even scarcer, and his father Wu Chao-hsi started casting bladed implements using bomb shells left behind by the allied forces. When the number of scrap bomb shells skyrocketed following the 1958 bombardment, the Wu family began manufacturing kitchen knives on a mass scale, for domestic use.

The steel used to make bombs is of extremely high quality, so that the knives made from it are especially sharp and durable. And because they are uniquely hard yet resilient, they do not easily change shape.

Wu Tseng-tung says that at first they always made knives from the shrapnel of the bombs from the 1958 attack. The bombs used in that battle had deadly explosive charges, and the fragments they left behind saved the trouble of cutting apart larger pieces. The alternate-day bombs used later, carried propaganda leaflets, not explosives, because they remained relatively intact, even the metal bands on the shells could be used.

A single bomb can be made into 40 to 60 knives, and with nearly a million bombs on the island, the knife industry can keep going on Kinmen for several more decades.

(Eric Lin/tr. by Brent Heinrich)

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