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The following post expands on a comment that a reader left the other day. He wishes to remain anonymous for the obvious reason that as a foreigner living in China, it is best to not make too much public comment on Chinese law. I completely understand.
Travelling with a knife in China
Like many people who ever drop in on a knife blog, I have daily carried a blade since I joined Scouts, with the smallest being that little Swiss Army knife that the toothpick is always missing from up to a 4.5″ folder.
Through the 90’s and early 00’s, I traveled extensively all around the world for my work. By that time, my favorite knife was my 3.25″ blade length drop-point Gerber with a sliding side thumb-lock. With good maintenance, a bit of light oil, and pulling the lock mechanism back, it was easy to flip out the blade one handed even while wearing heavy gloves about as fast as any spring-mechanism knife. The number of times I had to get my knife out while holding onto a ladder with the other hand, or a branch, or something else made me appreciate that feature more than any other knife I ever owned.
I foolishly never bothered to check on the laws of all the countries I needed to visit with respect to carrying, but I also never foolishly brandished the knife, or used it to casually cut something in plain view of people who might be bothered by it. The only time I had it taken away from me was flying back from Singapore to the USA in 1994 when Cathay Pacific’s extra gate security in Singapore decided that it shouldn’t be in my possession for the flight to HK or then the USA. They put it in a plastic bag, handed it to the chief purser in Singapore and when I landed in LA the new purser handed me the bag as I got off the plane to head to customs. Those were the days.
Only one time within the USA did I have a problem. I believe it was flying through Nashville, Tennessee in the mid-90’s when an overzealous airport security agent took my knife out of the little plastic bin I had sent through the X-Ray machine and declared my knife illegal in the airport. Prior to 9/11, carrying anything up to a 3.5″ edge length folding knife was perfectly legal, and my coworkers and I routinely hand-carried tools (razor knives, long screwdrivers, heavy shears, etc…) that would send TSA goons into a tizzy today if we tried to do so today. When I challenged the agent, he opened my knife and brought it to a table where someone had taped a mark at 3.5″. He then proceeded to push my blade up to the end of the edge where he saw it was still .25″ short of the mark. He then pushed it forward all the way to the polymer body and that extra .5″ put me over the limit. “See!”, he proclaimed. Fortunately, I had time to kill on my layover, and no desire to lose my favorite blade, so I told him I wasn’t leaving the security area until he called his supervisor over.
After some time, the supervisor showed up and asked me what the problem was. I explained to him my interpretation of the rules, and he asked his agent to repeat the measurement. This time the agent put the knife as far as possible right away. The supervisor smacked him on the back of the head and told him that he would need to re-attend the training on dealing with knives, closed my knife back up, and wished me well on my journey home.
Unfortunately, I lost that knife when my clothes were stolen at a gym a little over 10 years ago. I wish I had bought 3 or 4 when they were available, because Gerber stopped making them long before I stopped carrying it. I am now living in Beijing, China, where the written rules on carrying knives are a bit more lax than in much of the USA, but always up to the whims of the people who perform security roles (Baoqin, Teqin, Jiaotong, etc..). Basically, In Beijing, any dagger/fixed blade that is longer than 100 mm, and any spring-loaded knives that locks open are prohibited. Other knives that have a blade length over 120mm and a tip angle less than 60 degree are also prohibited. Under 4″, though, and almost anything goes, as you can see for yourself on sale in the street markets. The actual police (armed or unarmed) have never bothered me, but I carry a picture of the Chinese rules related to legal knives on my phone so if a subway security ever gets hot and bothered that I am carrying my perfectly legal pocket Gerber non-side-locking skeletonized drop-point knife (which has only happened once in 7 years, fortunately), I can show that and hopefully be on my way. But I keep a spare at home, just in case.