Firing Off the New Year

A Chinese gun show to celebrate

By Catherine Cluett

To honor the Chinese New Year, gunsmith Mel Chung offered a special treat for guests at his most recent gun show last Friday: Chinese firearms.

The whole shop is festively decorated for the day, in red to honor the occasion. Scarlet lanterns with golden tassels hang from the ceiling, crimson and gold embroidered cloths adorn the chairs of Mrs. Chung’s adjoining beauty salon, and the Chungs themselves don their finest traditional attire. Signs reading “please no cameras” punctuate the gun shop, but I’m granted special exception.

As soon as I appear with camera in hand, Mrs. Chung hurries to help Mel into his beautifully embroidered shirt (red, of course) to cover his gunsmith’s camouflage apron for the photo. The shirt has five buttons of ornately-knotted cloth fastened with matching loops, and she carefully closes each one all the way up to the neck.

But all that is just to better show off the real prize – the guns. Mel’s rack is full of them, from rifles to handguns. They all hail from Asia, but each has their own story.

One is a semi-automatic handgun, a Mauser C96, commonly known as a “Broomhandle Mauser.” It’s German-made but Mel says it was a very popular and prized gun in China. His specimen was made in the 1920’s. It’s still shootable, but he doesn’t want to use it because it’s old and historic. They were primarily a military weapon, but he recalls seeing the Broomhandle Mausers adorning the hips of train guards on his first trip to China in the late 1970’s.

The German Broomhandles were so popular in China, in fact, that the Chinese often copied them. Common tell-tale signs of a fake, Mel says, are misspellings of the German words on the gun’s side. Sometimes, the “M” of Mauser is upside-down, so instead it reads “Wauser.” Mel also shows me the Chinese characters stamped in the metal that mean “Germany.” The fakes are occasionally missing them, or they’ve been added by hand so the characters are uneven.

A red tassel dangles from the barrel as Mel’s work-worn hands move over the gun with fluid familiarity.

Of course, Mel’s Broomhandle Mauser is a genuine. The “M” is right-side up and the Chinese is flawless.

I wish the Chungs “Kung Hee Faat Choy” and look forward to the next exhibit installment, whose geographical theme is yet to be announced.

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