History of Chopsticks

What are Chopsticks?

Chopsticks refer to the small and tapered pair of sticks both of equal length that are used as traditional eating utensils in Greater China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. "Chopstick" is the Pidgin English and English name for the tools. The Chinese name for chopsticks is Kuaizi and Khu during the ancient times. Japanese chopsticks are called Hashi or Otemoto.

History of Chopsticks

The history of chopsticks can be traced back to the ancient times when the Chinese invented the Zhu, probably from twigs, for nipping their favorite boiled or steamed food and vegetables, which can be done with difficulty when using spoons. The enduring popularity of the chopsticks during such time can probably be linked to the Chinese cooking methods, like stir-frying, which makes it easier for the ancient Chinese people to stir their meat and vegetables before cooking than using spoons.

While it remains unclear when the first chopsticks were invented, experts believe that the use of wood and bamboo chopsticks can be traced back to 1000 years earlier than ivory chopsticks. It was recorded in Li Ji (The Book of Rites) that chopsticks were already in use during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1700BC) and it was mentioned in Shiji (The Chinese history book) by Si Maqian (about 145 BC) that Zhou, the last king of the Shang Dynasty (around 1100 BC) used chopsticks that were made of ivory. During such time, ivory was defined as the most valuable material, thus when the first ivory chopsticks were invented, only the King and Queen could afford them.

Bronze chopsticks were invented in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 BC -771 BC) and, like a precious treasure, they signify their user's prosperity, authority, and social status. Lacquered chopsticks from the Western Han Dynasty (206BC - 24 AD) were discovered in Mawangdui, China, while gold and silver chopsticks became popular in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Silver chopsticks were deemed necessary for detecting poison in food and kung fu masters were said to carry a piece of them around to detect possible poison in the food offered by the inns.

Uses of Chopsticks

Asian Cutlery

For over 3000 years now, the Chinese have been using chopsticks as part of the main tableware. Some experts credit the influence of Confucius with the widespread adoption of the chopsticks as an eating utensil due to the latter's belief that knives are equated with acts of aggression and should not, therefore, be used to dine.

Symbols for Good Luck and Social Status

Tradition also tells us that the different colors and materials of chopsticks reflect good luck, social status, rank, and so on, and that they express the artistic and aesthetic sensibilities of the Chinese people. In Oriental fashion, chopsticks even played a glamorous role as beautiful ladies would wear silver and gold chopsticks as part of their dressing, just like in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Cultural Symbols of Unity

As a cultural symbol, chopsticks stand in importance only next to the dragon and are delighted as gifts for couples and wedding gifts due to their name, Kuazai, which, in China, means to have sons soon. The "Chopsticks Theory" in the Chinese culture also regards the chopsticks as a symbol for unity, strength, and togetherness in the family with the following demonstration: If you take a single chopstick, it is easy to break it. But take ten, it becomes impossible.

Chopsticks Gifts, Favors, and Decor

A lot of people worldwide also cherish chopsticks as fine works of art, especially, that they tend to be unique being handcrafted or painted by skilled Chinese artists and artisans. Modern uses of chopsticks also range from wrapping them Asian gifts and souvenirs for special occasions, creative event stylists and decorators occasionally have them, too, as chopstick centerpieces and indoor space decorations.