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Many countries have a restriction on what sorts of knives can be carried in public, and what the maximum length can be. Wikipedia has a long article on the topic. The section on China is not very clear and lacks any references, but implies that the laws there may be very strict.

What are the knife carry laws in mainland China? Is it illegal to carry a pocket knife or Swiss army knife? Would a traveller get into trouble in practice because of carrying one of these?

Just to be clear, this question is not about knives that look like weapons, knives explicitly for self-defence or fighting, switchblades, large tactical knives or such. Think of an everyday pocket knife one would peel apples with, something that would typically be legal throughout Europe. What about something larger that would be useful during camping or outdoors activities?

  • This thread in a forum about knives has some good information. – Nean Der Thal Sep 3 '14 at 5:17
  • @MeNoTalk " As a foreigner, the cops will not mess with you." followed by " I've seen foreigners get f***ed up by cops in China". Got to love the consistency... – jwenting Sep 3 '14 at 6:23
  • @jwenting You know, Chinese logic... – Nean Der Thal Sep 3 '14 at 6:25
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    @MeNoTalk ah, like the "free cellphone, only 50 Euro per month"? – jwenting Sep 3 '14 at 6:28
  • I've found the authorities and officials reasonably tolerant - even when they do not want to be. Soldiers / Police on duty in Tian an men square visually do not like you taking their photos but do not seek to prevent you (not me anyway :-) ). | I've been yelled at severely by impressively armed soldiers and hurried from the (full public) area after taking photos of what was apparently a military zone. As it was the lower half of the Behai lake in Beijing just below the road, and as tourists in the overlooking area take photos of the same unimpeded, this did not make much sense. BUT they .... – Russell McMahon Sep 3 '14 at 11:10
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I cannot tell you the exact official position (or the N official positions as the case may be) but I can give you some useful personal anecdotal input.

Short:

You are extremely unlikely to have any problems at all if you are otherwise sensibly behaved. If you did happen to incur the wrath of the authorities I would not be overly surprised if a statute relating to knife carrying was found to have been breached. It's not something I'd be concerned about personally, see below.

You hear about some very very very bad things happening in China. More than a few of these are probably true. If you do run afoul of the system things can go rather wrong. But, they do generally treat foreigners well enough officially. (I have seen a 'local' man with his hands handcuffed behind him pushed to the ground on a city street by a largish group of um - guys with all the same colour clothes and helmets and matching sticks... and kicked repeatedly in the back. Why I know not. He didn't actually seem to care too much, to my surprise.) Whereas I have given people in authority enough excuse to justify treating me badly and they have instead treated me acceptably well. YMMV.

Long:

When I travel overseas on business I often carry one or two pocket knives along with a significant collection of electrical and mechanical tools. When I travel privately the tool collection reduces 'somewhat' but the knives remain. I used to carry a Swiss Army knife but find that an ordinary knife is overall more useful as an "engineering" tool in all sorts of situations. If I really want a screwdriver I usually have one with me. (Or two or three or six :-) ).

The following three paragraphs may seem unnecessary but are relevant to what follows:

  • My knives are absolutely NOT intended as weapons. When occasion arises I instruct young people what to do with a knife if you are attacked - viz: "Bury it deep in your pocket and make sure nobody knows that you have it - odds are that any one who wishes you physical harm knows how to use a knife better than you do, will probably manage to take it from you and giving them something that may be more liable to kill you than what they have already is probably unwise." But - other people do not know why I carry them.

  • The two knives I usually carry are metal, folding, single blade. About 3" I think. Neither is spring-open style but both can be seen as borderline 'flick knife' as both are designed to be opened one handed either by a stud on the blade on one which allows the thumb to swing the blade or by pressure on a short behind the hinge blade extension on the other which allows thumb pressure to rotate the blade. Both lock open and have a latch that must be operated to allow them to close. Again one handed with due practice. I practiced with both enough to allow me to withdraw the knife and open it in one motion and to also put it away one handed.

  • ie the knives are of a type that while useful would be expected to be borderline legal or worse in some countries. They are sharp and pointed and made to be opened as they are taken from a pocket. The blades lock open.

I have travelled extensively in China - 15 visits and 6 months in China in the last 6 years. As well as travelling as a passenger in private cars I have travelled widely by train, taxi, bus and air.

I bought both knives in China. One from a typical city-suburbs grocery store where it was on open display at a counter with maybe a dozen other models. The other from an inner city street market where it was on display with dozens of others among hundreds of sellers of which many would also have been selling knives.

When I fly I check my pockets at check-in to ensure nothing unallowed is carried. I put one or two knives in the outer zipped pocket of my checked in bag and recover them on arrival. They would show easily on XRay or the most causual inspection

The bags are on some occasions inspected and/or xrayed while out of my care. On one occasion I got my bag back last of anyone so that I was last in queue. It did not occur to me that this was not just happenstance :-). On arrival at security / customs I was invited to join half a dozen customs men in a side room and we spent a merry half hour or so looking at everything in all my bags and having me explain what each was. I had a full electronics workshop with me :-). That was during the Olympics at Qingdao (Olympic yachting) and they were 'cautious'. The knives were not treated any different from anything else. (This was an internal non-border airport but these can be treated in much the same way as an international border.)

I have used the knives 'as required' in my China travels. Bag or shoe repair. Various misc tasks.

In Urumqi (far North West China) the Uighur men all carry (I'm told) special curved and decorated knives. These are sold in all shapes and sizes in the shops and I saw groups of men sitting in circles inspecting knives - what they look for in them I did not find out.

I once - stupidly - accidentally failed to place a Swiss Army knife into my checked in luggage and it was found in my bag at boarding security at an inland (non-border) Chinese airport and confiscated. I had no problem at all with that at it was a clear rule violation on my part. They also however confiscated an inkjet cartridge refiller that had 3 x 10mm needles internal to it. I think I could have hurt people more with my fingernails than with the refiller. It had previously passed through several international customs checks and several internal Chinese security checks. I was so annoyed at the complete ludicrousness of the decision and their failure to accept my explanation re prior acceptability that I yelled loudly at the 'customs' man - the only time I've ever done so and an immensely stupid thing to do (and very out of character for me.) He politely stood his ground and I continued to my aircraft. I have no doubt that he would have been within his rights to decide to teach me a lesson and delay my trip while I was subject to more intensive official processes. My point in detailing that occurrence (apart from showing how stupid I can be on (rare :-) ) occasions) is to show that even when I did "try" to carry a knife onto an aircraft and then behaved in a manner which everyone knows may result in 'a delay in your journey', they still behaved politely and properly and ignored my behaviour.

So ................

Knives are openly available in many places in China.
Knives carried in checked baggage do not seem to excite them.
Knife carrying noisy idiots at check in may be tolerated.

All the same, don't push your luck too far :-).


Well. Fancy that. The two part all metal one appears to possibly be made in Viet Nam

This is my one:

enter image description here

Larger image here

Rei, Me 5964

But all the websites that I found it in were Vienamese ones such as this one. The ad says "Origin: China". Who can tell?

  • Rimei Knives Picnic 5964 -Material: Made of low alloy steel with features such as bending, anti-oxidation, high strength and stiffness than conventional steel alloys other.
    -Designing: sharp knife Compact foldable knife hidden in the body, decorated with camouflage motifs healthy, strong personality. Empty knife slots include many works prying, this item or any hanging hooks. Is this gadget a perfect fit for picnic trips, to use rapid application in cases of necessity, such as cut fruit, cut trees, wound treatment ...

  • 440C Stainless Steel(56-58HRC)

  • Out of curiosity: The two 3" knives you have, did you ever taken them into or out of China? (I understand you bought them in China and carried it within in the country in your luggage, not on your person.) – Boar Sep 3 '14 at 15:32
  • @Boar I have carried them or others in and out of China on several occasions, on a number of occasions in the outside zip pocket of my checking bag when flying either in & out of China or within the country. I don't know where either is at this moment (too much stuff/tools/...). One I especially like as it was made solely from two flat sheets of stainless steel plus some screws/bolts. Very minimalist and nicely done. Catch, spring, blade etc all part of the two flat sheets. Thinks - I have a photo of both together somewhere... . – Russell McMahon Sep 4 '14 at 7:56
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I can tell you out of my own experience that I (as a caucasian tourist) was not allowed to board a flight in Hotan (Xinjiang province) heading to Urumuqi because I had decorative knives in my checked-in luggage. They were about 13cm long with the grip and very nicely decorated.

I did not have any in my carry on. On check-in they X-Rayed the luggage and told me that I had to take them out of my luggage and leave them at the airport.

  • Very interesting - just the opposite of my experience - and also wholly illogical. Taking decorated knives TO Urumqi is probably the opposite of usual tourist practice. – Russell McMahon Sep 3 '14 at 11:05
  • I am not sure if you are in the position to judge my travel itenerary. – uncovery Sep 3 '14 at 12:09
  • Thank you, these kinds of answers describing personal experience are useful, though I can only accept one. Do you know if taking that knife was actually illegal? Is it even clearly defined what is and what isn't legal, or do customs operate based on the ever changing current instructions? Do you believe it was confiscated because it was a knife or because it was an uyghur knife? – Boar Sep 3 '14 at 15:26
  • There was a sign next to the check-in counter that alerted the passengers on this, so it was illegal. I am convinced that the type of knife did not matter, but rather because the airport was in an uyghur region. If I was flying from Beijing to Shanghai, this probably would not have been an issue. – uncovery Sep 4 '14 at 2:55
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    @Uncovery I'm not sure what you meant about not judging your itinerary - but sorry if I gave the impression that the "wholly illogical" comment was meant to refer to you - it wasn't. I meant that stopping people from taking knives TO Urumqi is a pointless exercise as knives in U' are as coals to Newcastle. Having them in checked luggage means they are not a flight threat. | Somebody in India referred to "Security Theatre" - a comment which applies in many other places. There is a genuine need for security in U and in I' but it often seems unrelated to the actual need. ... – Russell McMahon Sep 4 '14 at 16:39
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I just travelled from Kashgar to Yarkand by train. My travel vegetable knife and a small table knife were confiscated at security at Kashgar station. They were both in my big bag. It seems there is no way to carry knives, however small and harmless, on trains in China.

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I'm a US Citizen and I have lived and worked in China for 18 years. I have had three knives confiscated. One was taken during a road block on a super highway in the run-up to the Asia Games. They randomly stopped cars, searched them and the pockets of the passengers. I was carrying a folding pocket knife with a blade of 7.5 CM. It was a lock blade. The took it saying that because it was a locking blade, it was classified as an offensive weapon. The second time was at a border crossing. Same kind of knife, same result and reason.

The third time was in Hong Kong. Same kind of knife, but it was a spring assist lock blade, not a switch blade. It was as an airport screening. I forgot to put it in my checked bag. I alerted the screener. She opened it and said she had to call the police. They took the knife, gave me a formal Interpol Warning and said if I was ever caught with a lock blade in Hong Kong again I would be arrested and jailed.

My advice, don't carry a lock blade of any length and no knife over 2.5 inches (65 mm +/-)

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    Sorry to hear your experience. I would suggest removing the section regarding the incident in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong operates as separate jurisdiction in legal sense, and hence may have a different treatment to knives than that in mainland China. This makes that section off-topic to the question. – B.Liu Jan 17 at 6:59
  • Nonetheless, I agree on what you said regarding to the situation in Hong Kong - it is in fact illegal to possess a spring assist blade in Hong Kong. See the police advice. – B.Liu Jan 17 at 7:00
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In China, there are security checkpoints when you enter train or bus stations. Also in the subway. Your knife will be confiscated. No matter how small it is.

  • Disagree: I've carried these: amazon.com/Olfa-Touch-Knife-assorted-each/dp/B00DUI1M1K through subway and train security many times. It would be a but useless as a weapon but it does cut sufficiently light materials readily. (I've never tried to use it to cut anything heavier than packing tape.) – Loren Pechtel Feb 22 '18 at 4:45
  • Also, I have carried a small Leatherman tool (multi-tools) that has an actual, small knife blade on it. Once again, it's never been looked at by either subway or train security. (Note, however, that you can't carry on any tools on airplanes. I lost a TSA-legal multi-tool to PVG security.) – Loren Pechtel Feb 22 '18 at 4:49
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There was a time when I was carrying in my bag a pair of medal nunchucks (I had just bought them in a local shop) into the subway station. They were stopped by the metal detector and I was told that I either had to give them up or take some other form of transportation.

So yeah, China can be a bit overreacting when it comes to this kind of things. And if you think about, it may cause inconveniences, but it's not entirely a bad thing to the public, is it?

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I would say it always varies.

When I was in Shanghai two years ago, having a small Swiss knife in my checked luggage, it had passed through all the security procedure in all of their Metro stations for 3 days.

The last day evening, while I was heading for the airport to leave their culture-shock land, I was stopped at a station. They seemed to suddenly think my knife mattered!? I didn't know what they said in Chinese at first until a Chinese lady (maybe, a Hong Konger or Taiwanese) translated it for me. I said (rather loudly), "but it has passed every checks until my last day! Why is it the problem now? The day I am leaving for the airport…!"

They let me go right away, saying nothing. They should understand only a few words, too.

Keep in mind that I am also an Asian (SE - not Chinese), but definitely in a tourist look.

In another trip, last year, it was exactly the same timing, the day I was leaving for the airport. Coincidence?

But this time I had learnt the lesson, so no more "dangerous" things with me at all. I told them in front of their PC, "Roll the screen back, please. Let me see what was that?". They failed to show it to me, so they put my luggage in the scanner again!

It was that they mistook my plastic dining knife & fork for weapons…

Well, so they let me go very faster than the last time.

  • "Coincidence?" Yes. Obviously. They have no way of knowing that it's the day you're leaving the country so how could it be anything other than a coincidence? – David Richerby Feb 6 at 14:01
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An interesting one.

When in Amsterdam recently, travelling, en route to China, I discovered a pocket knife in my pocket. I decided it better to leave it with family in China since it had a locking blade which is now technically illegal in the UK.

On going through Security checking in Beijing for an onward flight, they took out my key pouch to examine and to my horror I realised that there was on the ring a small folding knife with the scales in the form of a Yale-type key.

The inspecting officer said nothing -- and the keyring kinife went through a number of other security checks on the return journey.

When I think of the number of times I've been strip-searched and subjected to detailed inspections in the past, it's a trifle ironic that I wasn't stopped anywhere on the occasion I was carrying items which I would not have deliberately packed in my hand baggage or indeed carried at all.

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