The Origin of Chinese Chopsticks
Whereabouts in Asia chopsticks came from?
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 are many 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 history record about who invented chopsticks. We can only say that it was smart ancient Chinese.
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 was used for cooking about 6000-9000 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 chopsticks history. 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”. 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).
Now we can answer the question “Why Chinese eat with chopsticks?”
After all, Chinese use 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 affected 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 and by 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.
In case you missed it…
We’ve also written a blog about how to be vegetarian or vegan in China with some great recommendations for dishes. Tofu also goes hand in hand with Chinese hot pot, check out our guide to eating Chinese hot pot also. Please feel free to visit both of these blogs!
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