Chinese Chopsticks 🥢 Why, How and Everything Else You Need To Know
Chopsticks, or “kuaizi” in Chinese, is key element of many oriental cultures.
These 5,000 year old unique eating tools originated in China and are roughly the same age as the fork.
The origin of chopsticks refers to the earliest known textual mentioning from a philosophical text written in the 3rd century BC (280–233).
There is much folklore about the invention of chopsticks.
The most popular one is about Yu the Great, a legendary ruler in ancient China.
Legend says he used sticks to pick hot food from deep pots filled with hot water.
But there is no exact historical record about who invented chopsticks. We can only say that it was smart ancient Chinese person.
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The Evolution of Chinese Chopsticks
Apparently Chinese ancestors were the first who invented chopsticks.
They did this by discovering that using two twigs is better for reaching into pots full of hot water or oil, rather than using hands or fingers.
The earliest version of Chinese chopsticks were used for cooking about 6,000-9,000 years ago.
The first physical evidence was found roughly in 1200 BC, these were six chopsticks made of bronze.
They were excavated from the ruins in Henan, where also the earliest examples of Chinese writing was found.
Early chopsticks were used mainly for cooking until 400 AD when people began eating with the chopsticks.
Chinese philosopher Confucius back in 5th century BC was a key figure in the history of chopsticks.
His focus on non-violent teachings and the fact that he was vegetarian led to the removal of eating instruments associated with war or violence, such as forks and knives.
Wooden chopsticks were popular among the lower segments of society, when middle class diners could eat with ivory, jade, coral, brass or agate versions.
The royal families used silver chopsticks to test for poisonous food.
It was believed that silver would corrode and change colour when it touched poison
During 20th century China the nation changed from an Empire to a Communist Country.
Therefore, the lifestyle became more modest and the Chinese population started moving back from too extravagant and expensive materials.
Nowadays we use porcelain, bamboo disposable, plastic and metal chopsticks.
45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are produced yearly in China and producing it needs 25 million fully grown trees every year.
In April 2006, China imposed a 5% tax on disposable chopsticks to reduce waste of natural resources by overconsumption.
Why Are They Called Chopsticks?
The English word “chopstick” may have arrived from Chinese Pidgin English, in which “chop chop” meant “quickly”. This is something we can never be certain of however.
Another possibility is that the term refers to “chow” (chow chow) which is also a pidgin word that means “food”.
In Chinese, the term chopsticks is “kuàizi” (筷子). The first character (筷) means “quick” (快) and has “bamboo” radical (⺮).
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So Why Do Chinese Eat with chopsticks?
After all, Chinese used chopsticks first because this utensil came from ancient people of the Middle Kingdom nearly 6000 years ago.
Secondly, Confucius, one of the most influential people in Chinese history, positively enhanced the usage of the chopsticks.
The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.
Confucius, and his teachings since 5th century BC, now exert a deep influence on society in China.
Lastly, if you think about it, chopsticks are like an extension of the index finger.
If you learn how to use chopsticks you will definitely see how many benefits they have compared with fork. You can literally pick up anything using chopsticks.
It’s also really comfortable to use them whilst cooking.
According to my own experience, when you have stayed in an Asian country long enough and have become a very skilled chopsticks eater, back home you will keep using them quite a lot.
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How to Use Chopsticks?
The million dollar question.
Now some things are best done by video than by text so we recommend you get a set of chopsticks, grab a bowl of popcorn (you’ll see why in the video) and play along with here…
PS – for a challenge, replace the popcorn with peanuts!
Things to Avoid with Chopsticks
There are some taboo’s when using chopsticks so to avoid embarrassment when staying at a homestay in China, avoid these!
- DO NOT STICK CHOPSTICKS IN YOUR FOOD – Half way through your meal and need a break, do not stab the food with your chopsticks! Why? At funerals, chopsticks are commonly stuck in rice so by doing this, you are mimicking a dark day!
- DO NOT POINT YOUR CHOPSTICKS – this one goes without saying really. Pointing at people is generally considered a tad rude, but pointing your chopsticks, yeah, not so wise!
- DO NOT STIR FOOD WITH CHOPSTICKS – this applies to communal things like hotpot for example. Stirring the bowl with your chopsticks is considered rude and unhygienic.
- DO NOT TAP THE TABLE WITH YOUR CHOPSTICKS – similar to a knife and fork. In China this is considered a sign of begging.
BONUS – want to become a wizard when ordering from a Chinese menu, download and save this great cheat sheet!
How Long are Chopsticks?
Of course this can vary depending on the set you use. It’s also worth remember that in China, Japan and Korea, different kinds of chopsticks are used generally.
However as a general rule of thumb chopsticks are 15–25cm (6–10 inches) long. In terms of width they are about 5mm (a fifth of an inch) thin.
How are your chopstick skills?
Are you an expert with Chinese chopsticks? Let us know below and tell us what you think about our article!
Chopsticks in China – FAQ’s
Did Chopsticks originate in China?
They did indeed. Chopsticks were created about 4,000-5,000 years ago.
How do you say Chopsticks in Chinese?
Kuài zi (筷子) is how you say Chopsticks in Chinese.
How many disposable pairs of Chopsticks are used a year in China?
Roughly 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are produced yearly in China, this requires a huge 25 million trees.
Is it rude to point at someone with Chopsticks?
This goes without saying really. Pointing at people is generally considered a tad rude, but pointing your chopsticks, yeah, not so wise!
Can I stick my chopsticks in my food when I am finished eating?
Do not stab the food with your chopsticks! Why? At funerals, chopsticks are commonly stuck in rice so by doing this, you are mimicking a dark day!
How long are chopsticks?
As a general rule of thumb chopsticks are 15–25cm (6–10 inches) long. In terms of width they are about 5mm (a fifth of an inch) thin.
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