Somehow, we all associate chopsticks with China and the Chinese, but have you ever stopped to think about why they use chopsticks in the first place?

Well, I don’t know about you, but societal norms and their births/ history are an aspect of life that has always piqued my interest, and it only makes sense to share the gained knowledge with the world. Stereotypes may never end, but knowing why some societies or cultures do what they do is the first step towards a more unified society. This knowledge might not end stereotypes, but at the very least, it allows us to learn and appreciate others.

If you wish to learn more about chopsticks and why China uses them, keep reading this article.

The History of Chopsticks In China

Despite the use of the chopsticks in cooking and eating, later on, the Chinese are said to have started welding chopsticks from as early as 1200 B.C., and by the A.D. 500, there were slender batons which swept the Asian continent all the way from Vietnam to Japan. But from the very humble beginnings of cooking utensils featuring the humble chopsticks to the paper-wrapped bamboo sets on the sushi counter, it’s valuable to note that there is a lot more than meets the eyes when it comes to the chopsticks.

From the historical fables of the Yin ruins of Henan Province, ancient Chinese writing isn’t the only thing that dates back millennia, as there is concrete evidence of the existence and the use of the first known chopsticks in China. These chopsticks were made, or bronze, as is seen from the bronze chopstick sets found in the tombs at the site of the ruins.

The use of chopsticks seems to have been popularized by population increase, but this wasn’t the initial intended use of the chopsticks. Designed to reach the depths of boiling pots of oil or water, the earliest used chopsticks were primarily used for cooking. However, it wasn’t until AD 400 when people started eating with utensils, and this is when they used chopsticks. The need to eat with utensils rose as a result of the population boom across China. The population boom resulted in sapped resources, forcing cooks to come up with cost-saving and cost-effective habits for cost-saving.

And as food served gradually reduced into bite-sized pieces, knives previously used for serving and eating became more and more obsolete. The decline in knives led to the ascent of the chopsticks.

The chopsticks are believed to have been brought into existence by Confucius, who, as a vegetarian, believed in the use of sharp utensils at the dinner table as a way to remind the persons at the table of the slaughterhouse. Confucius also thought the knives’ sharp points evoked warfare and violence, putting damp on the otherwise happy and contented mood that he believed should reign during meals. So, thanks to his teachings and actions, the use of chopsticks quickly and widely spread throughout Asia.

With an increase in the number of people (culture and societies) embracing the use of chopsticks other than knives, there was the adoption of different styles of chopsticks – perhaps as a nod to the teachings of Confucius. As the cultures settled on different chopsticks, the Chinese opted for more of the blunt-end chopsticks and not the pointed-end chopsticks.

Japan is the other country that adopted the use of chopsticks, and for the Japanese, 8-inch chopsticks were preferable for men and the 7-inch chopsticks for women. And in 1878, the Japanese were the first to come up with the disposable; now, ubiquitous chopstick sets made of wood or bamboo. However, the wealthy diners would use chopsticks made of jade, ivory, coral, agate, or brass, even as the more privileged used the silver sets. The silver sets were also preferred by the privileged, who soon learned that the silver chopsticks would be used to detect poisoned foods, with the silver chopsticks turning black when in contact with poisoned food.

It is, therefore, notable that throughout history, chopsticks have held a nice symbiotic relationship with rice, a staple in Asian cuisine. Remember that in as much as chopsticks come off as a poor choice of utensils for eating rice, it is the standard in Asian countries because rice in Asia is of the medium or short-grain variety, with the starches in the rice turning the rice and clumpy and gummy, unlike the long-grain rice of the west. So, the chopsticks work beautifully for rice in Asia.

Why are chopsticks called chopsticks?

The word ‘chopstick’ is believed to have been derived from the Chinese Pidgin English, where the phrase ‘chop chop’ meant ‘quickly.’ The Oxford English Dictionary, which features the earliest publication where the word is used, it takes the word from the book Voyages and Descriptions of 1699 written by William Dampier. In the book, reference is taken from the sentence “…they are called by the English seamen Chopsticks.”

Then there is the possibility of the term ‘chopsticks’ being derived from chow or chow chow, which is another pidgin from the Southeast Asia phrase meaning food, and consequently, chopsticks would translate to food sticks.

But according to linguistics, the standard Chinese term for the chopsticks is kuàizim, a semantic compound with one phonetic section meaning ‘quick’ and the semantic bit ‘bamboo.’ So, in written Chinese, chopsticks would be written as zhu. The root words, however, mean fast or quick, and with the other part of the word meaning ‘bamboo,’ you’d see where the name chopsticks came from.

Why Are Chopsticks Important To China?

Besides being the first type of utensil used by the Chinese about 6,000 years ago, the teachings of Confucius was very influential around the use of chopsticks. Unlike knives, Confucius believed that the chopsticks emphasized happiness and contention during meal times rather than violence or war.

How to use chopsticks in china?

There is more than one way of using chopsticks, but this is the standard way.

  • Put your unmoving lower chopstick with its food end protruding at 5 to 15cm on your 4th and 5th fingers, with the middle of the thumb on the top side to hold it still.
  • Hold the movable upper chopstick as you would a pen when writing, but with its end protruding more from your fingertips, at the same level as the lower fixed chopstick.
  • Now, pick up your food by moving your upper chopstick and holding still the lower chopstick.
  • To be able to separate a chunk of food into two, exert more pressure (controlled) on your chopsticks, moving them apart from each other (you won’t get this right the first few times, but you will with practice.

Conclusion

So, if you ever wondered about chopsticks and why they are a staple with the Chinese and Japanese, now you know.


References

why are chopsticks called chopsticks?Retrieved from. wikipedia

By yelang

My name is Yelang, I love my country. I love Chinese history, Chinese culture and Chinese food, I want to share my story to friends all over the world. Truly, without any political bias, let you know my motherland. For this reason, I have traveled all over China's 20 + provinces and visited more than 100 + cities. At the same time, I read a lot of books and articles, and let you know through the website of sonofchina. At the same time, I hope to get to know friends all over the world and know different countries in the world through sonofchina.So, if you have any questions, please let me know.

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