David Wertime

Hands Off My Knives! To Netizens, New Beijing Law Doesn't Hack It

When it comes to inventing meddlesome regulation, Beijing is a cut above. Chinese people have already been told they must have their ID’s at the ready in order to patronize Internet bars, open an account on Weibo, China’s Twitter, and buy a train ticket. Now, some must do the same merely to purchase knives.

On January 29, the Legal System Evening News (法制晚报) reported that some chain stores in Beijing, citing government orders, had begun to require customers buying knives to present identification, register the knives under their name and that of their employer, and even to state the knives’ intended purpose. Beijing authorities clarified that only certain types of knives required registration, and citizens could still go to local hardware stores to purchase knives the traditional way.

The guffaws emanating from China’s blogosphere can probably be heard all the way from Mars, where some of Beijing’s lawmakers may be living. “Ai…[but] my fingernails are getting long, I want to buy a clipper!” @陈2曦-雕塑工作者 laughed on Sina Weibo. Another netizen, @_黑皮套先生, referring to a recent incident in which pro-government essayist Sima Nan injured his head while riding an escalator, asked whether “the people who think these things up have all gotten their craniums caught in a doorway?”

The new policy, according to a poster at a Beijing branch of Muji, a Japanese home goods store, not only requires those purchasing knives at large supermarkets and home ware stores to register, but also “strictly forbids selling [knives] to persons who exhibit abnormal behavior, are mentally abnormal, or are minors. If such an aforementioned person [attempts to] buy a knife, a report will immediately be made to the local police station.” Perhaps in response to this onerous policy, reports say some stores in Beijing have stopped selling knives altogether.

Freed from all constraints of reasonableness, netizens gleefully contributed their own (hopefully facetious) policy ideas. @徐安安 helpfully suggested that each knife be inscribed with its owner’s QQ number (which in China serves as many netizens’ de facto email address), while @面具許 mused whether a GPS could be inserted in each knife which also alerted authorities whenever the knife’s edge was heavily used. Some were more ambitious: @连鹏 added glass bottles, scissors, pliers, and bricks to the list of items that should require real-name registration, or “all kitchen knives could be kept at the local police station for safekeeping, and they could only be retrieved when it was time to eat, then turned back over to the police after the meal without exception.” @舟亦洲 proposed each household be limited to two knives, with a 50% surcharge for the second one.

Behind the humor lay a real sense of grievance at a government that, at all levels, seems too eager to impose a “real-name” system in too many situations and too eager to criminalize various kinds of behavior. @江苏广电有一说一 complained, “A real-name system to buy train tickets, a real-name system to buy condoms, a real-name system to open a Weibo [account]…is a real-name system a panacea?” @66我心-飞翔66 compared the new rule to the efforts of the ancient Mongolian conquerers of the Yuan dynasty to oppress the majority Han, remembered in Chinese history as a particularly brutal period. One poster, who will remain anonymous, seethed, “The Celestial Dynasty is scared that citizens will have weapons in their hands to kill [those] pigs.” @铭言fred simply asked, “Where did our freedom go?”

The government has its defenders, such as the now-controversial Kong Qingdong, who has complained the entire online outcry is “hype.” Some journalists, as well as police units with Weibo accounts, have also tried to set the record straight, clarifying that only certain knives of certain lengths and shapes were intended to fall under the new rule’s jurisdiction. Beijing authorities have insisted that stores requiring real-name registration for kitchen knives are being over-inclusive, perhaps as a managerial shortcut.

Thus far, these distinctions have not persuaded commenters, who are more concerned with the regulation’s effect than its intentions. Even if the policy is meant to focus on more fearsome knives, it seems unlikely to dissuade the criminals it targets. @_黑皮套先生 asked rhetorically, “If I am buying a knife to kill someone, would I be stupid enough to tell you what I am planning on doing with it?” @一碗清澈水 had another sound objection: “What killer goes to the supermarket to buy a knife? They all sharpen their own the night before.”

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
  • Anonymous

    When knives are outlawed, only outlaws will have knives.

  • hanmeng

    When knives are outlawed, only outlaws will have knives.