First of all, I want to ask you guys a question, what do you usually eat with when having Chinese food in the restaurant? Chopsticks!
Yes, chopsticks are shaped pairs of equal length sticks that have been used as the traditional utensils in China and some areas which are culturally close to Han Chinese populations for thousands of years. Today, I’m going to talk about the history, physical element, American idea, Chinese etiquette and the profound meaning of chopsticks.
The earliest evidence was six chopsticks, made of bronze, which were 26 cm long and 1.1-1.3 cm wide, excavated from the Ruins of Yin near Anyang City, in China’s Henan Province. The chopsticks dated roughly to 1200 BC; those were supposed to be used for cooking. The earliest known extant textual reference to the use of chopsticks comes from the Han Feizi, a famous Chinese philosophical text written by Han Fei in the 3rd century BC. There’s no doubt Chopsticks originated in ancient China as early as the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC).
However, as Chinese, we have our own legend of chopsticks. According to Liji, meaning “The Book of Rites”, which was one of the best-known historical records, in the Pre-Qin period, people used to eat food with their hands, but then they found the cooked food was so hot, so they picked up some wood sticks and branches to seize bits of food. It is said that the first chopsticks were used for cooking and stirring the fire as well. It was not until the Ming Dynasty that chopsticks came into normal use for both serving and eating. Now, as time passes, they became the most common eating utensils in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and some other East Asia countries.
Chinese chopsticks are thicker, with squared or rounded sides and ending in blunt, pointed tips. Blunt tips and pointed tips are more common in wood and bamboo varieties. To use chopsticks, the lower chopstick is stationary and rests at the base of thumb; the second chopstick is held like a pencil, using the tips of thumb, index finger and middle finger, and it moves while eating.
The English word “chopstick” may have derived from Chinese Pidgin English, a pidgin in which “chop chop “meant “quickly”. The Chinese term for chopsticks is “筷”, with the lower part of the character meaning “quick” (快), and the upper part meaning “bamboo”. You see, when the two parts are put together, it is chopsticks.
Worth mentioning, there’s a time in China that the ideology of people was quite critical and feudal, thus it developed a lot of Chinese etiquette of using chopsticks: 1. It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl; only beggars make this sort of noise to attract attention. 2. It is impolite to spear food with chopsticks. Anything too difficult to be handled with chopsticks is traditionally eaten with a spoon. 3. It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.4. Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice, because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes “feeding” the dead in general. 5. When seated for a meal, it is a common custom to allow the elders to take up their chopsticks before anyone else. 6. Chopsticks should not be used upside-down. 7. One should not ‘dig’ or ‘search’ through one’s food for something in particular. This is sometimes known as “digging one’s grave”, and it’s extremely poor manners. 8. Resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl means “I’ve finished”. Resting chopsticks on the side of one’s bowl or on a chopstick stand signifies one is merely taking a break from eating.
Compared with the knives and forks, chopsticks were considered more friendly utensils and were regarded as a special way to demonstrate the faith of “He Weigui”, peacefulness is precious with a variety of imperative good wish in China. When used as a gift for newly-weds, a pair of chopsticks means to have sons soon. A poet in the Ming Dynasty wrote “殷勤向竹箸，甘苦尔先尝，滋味他人好，尔空来去忙”,which not only eulogized the beauty of true love and company of couples characterized by the cooperation between two parts of chopsticks, but extolled the spirit of serving people selflessly as well. Owing to the stationary straight shape of chopsticks, they were also considered as the integrity of a person, for this reason the emperor Tang Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty once sent a pair of golden chopsticks to his most trustworthy minister as a reward.
Albeit chopsticks are so normal and common in the world, they really cohere a lot the quintessence of the Chinese culture. Chinese people can never live without chopsticks.
Thank you for your attention!