KINMEN ISLAND, TAIWAN – For more than 60 years, it rained bombs on this tiny island.
First, Allied forces during World War II bombarded lovely Kinman with more than a million shells in an effort to flush out its Japanese occupiers. Then, from 1949 to 1992, Communist China peppered Taiwan’s southernmost island (which lies just six kilometres from the Chinese mainland across the Taiwan Strait) with 600,000 “propaganda bombs” in the war of nerves between the two nations.
The debris from both conflicts quickly piled up.
So, what do you do with 1.6 million bomb casings?
Where others saw junk, one man, a knife-maker named Chao-his Wu, saw an opportunity. Steel was in short supply for knife-making during World War II, so Mr. Wu started gathering up the casings; cutting them into small pieces with a blowtorch; popping them into his forging furnaces; then shaping and polishing them into knives.
A cutting-edge industry was suddenly born on Kinmen.
Mr. Wu got so good at making knives from bombs that word of his craft spread far and wide and soon locals bestowed the title of “Maestro Wu” on the island legend.
When he died, the business and title were handed down to his son, Tseng-dong Wu, whose skill is every bit as sharp as his father’s.
“I just use newer bombs,” jokes the delightful Wu.
Bombs, mostly from the “propaganda” era, are stacked high in his workshop, but he doesn’t gather them himself any longer; he pays locals to scavenge them from fields and old buildings.
“I have no idea how many knives I’ve made or how many bombs we have recovered,” says Maestro Wu, who works from “morning to night,” making his beloved knives, which are coveted by people all over the world.
Customers who turn up at his shop can even pick the bomb they want their knife to be made from.
I’m in luck.
Maestro Wu has a shell fired on Kinmen by Communist forces during the infamous 823 Artillery bombardment in the late 1950s, and he agrees to cut my knife from that piece. Using his blowtorch, Maestro Wu cuts a three-inch-long piece from the bomb and buries it in his forging furnace where within minutes it turns a glowing red. He then places it on a machine which pounds it razor-thin. The metal is beginning to take on a knife shape, and sparks fly as Maestro Wu grinds it on a stone wheel to give it even more detail.
Above: Mast knife maker Maetstro Wu shows how he converts discarded bomb casings into razor-sharp knives.
Maestro Wu adds a handle and my “bomb knife” is ready to take home. The process takes less than 20 minutes.
An appreciative audience applauds the Maestro’s efforts.
“I can usually make 40 knives from one bomb casing,” says the 70-something Maestro Wu, who often autographs the attractive boxes the knives are packaged in.
“The tourists like that,” he says.
Maestro Wu says the Communist forces only bombarded the island on odd-numbered days. “They had devised some schedule for when they would drop their bombs,” remembers Maestro Wu through an interpreter. And even though the onslaught was more than 50 years ago, Maestro Wu says he has no worries about running out of raw material.
“No, never. We’ve only recovered a fraction of the bombs that fell here — I’ll never live long enough to use them all,” he says.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to live in a place where so many bombs rained from the sky, but thankfully China and Taiwan live in peaceful coexistence now and Maestro Wu can forge ahead with making his knives from the relics of previous conflicts.
Visiting his shop really was a blast.
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