Silver metal cleaver with image of three rams on the handle. Discoloration present on the blade. New York restaurateurs Paul Ma used this cleaver during Dine and Learn cooking and culture classes at Paul Ma’s China Kitchen in Yorktown Heights, New York, as well as during other cooking classes he hosted throughout his culinary career.

Paul Ma was born in the Shandong Province in the Northeast part of China. His father was the chief arsenal engineer for Chiang Kai-Shek’s army, and so Paul Ma’s childhood was marked by frequent moves throughout China, including to Szechuan, which also exposed him to the country’s vibrant and varied regional cuisines. His personal cooking style is a mosaic of these different local cuisines.

Paul Ma’s family eventually settled in Taiwan, and he emigrated from there to the United States, where he stayed briefly, before moving to Canada around 1964; He then immigrated to the United States around 1970. Paul Ma was part of a wave of immigrants from China who sought educational and job opportunities in North America, and specifically in the United States after the landmark 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which eliminated previous immigration policies that largely discriminated against working class people from non-Western European countries.

Initially, Paul Ma pursued a career as a medical statistician. But while working in that field, he began offering Mandarin language lessons and cooking classes on the side. He found that he truly enjoyed teaching and building meaningful connections with students not only through language, but also through discussions about culture. As his cooking classes quickly filled up with students, he found a deep pleasure in creating a communal table where cultural exchange and education went hand-in-hand.

Pursuing his passion for connecting with people through food, Paul Ma became a restaurateur and food entrepreneur in Westchester County, New York. Linda Ma, his wife and business partner whom he had met before emigrating from China, maintained the financial records of their businesses among other key duties. Linda Ma was born in the Jiangsu Province, near Shanghai.

At first, the Mas opened a Chinese grocery store in Mahopac, New York, in 1975; a year later, they moved their business to Yorktown Heights, New York, and called it Ma’s Oriental Store. In 1981, Paul Ma expanded his business ventures and began leading culinary tours in China, and guided Americans to learn about and experience regional Chinese cuisines.

In 1984, the Mas expanded their grocery business into Paul Ma’s China Kitchen and operated an innovative experience called “Dine and Learn.” During these educational meals, the Mas introduced customers to traditional Chinese and new American Chinese fare, history, and culture. As the popularity of the Dine and Learn classes grew, customers requested that the Mas open a restaurant. They soon opened a café in Ma’s Oriental Store and eventually expanded that into a full-service restaurant.

After closing Paul Ma’s China Kitchen in 1988, the Mas went on to establish several other restaurants, including the Shandong Inn and Shanghai Place, also in Westchester County, New York, and expanded Paul Ma’s businesses of leading culinary tours in China.

Date Made: late 1970s

See more items in: Work and Industry: Food Technology

Exhibition: Food: Transforming the American Table

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Credit Line: Gift of Paul and Linda Ma

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2018.0052.07Catalog Number: 2018.0052.07Accession Number: 2018.0052

Object Name: cleaver

Measurements: overall: 4 in x 12 1/2 in x 1 in; 10.16 cm x 31.75 cm x 2.54 cm


Record Id: nmah_1872714

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