Chopsticks are the simplest and perhaps the most convenient of all eating tools men have devised for themselves. Historical documents show that the use of Chinese chopsticks dates back over 3,000 years. Chopsticks are a symbol of Chinese culture, and the Chinese people are proud of them.
Chopsticks were called “箸” (zhu) in ancient China. This word was a taboo on ships because it was homonymous with another Chinese word “住” (zhu), which means stop. Ships stopping on route would mean an accident or disaster. In order to avoid the ominous sound, fishermen called chopsticks “快” (kuai), which means “fast” in Chinese. Later, people added the suffix “zi” to “kuai”. Thus, “箸” became “筷子” (kuai zi).
It is an age-old custom in the past that chopsticks should be part of a girl’s dowry, because the two Chinese characters “kuai” and “zi” are homonymous with the two characters “quick” and “son” respectively, suggesting having a son as quickly as possible in the coming years. People in some areas still observe this tradition today.
Since maintaining an adequate food supply was always Chinese people’s major concern, or the greatest concern between the Heaven and the Earth. In the past, chopsticks were sometimes buried with the dead to guarantee that he would not suffer from the shortage of food in his afterlife.
Chinese food lends itself nicely to eating with chopsticks. Everything is cut up into bite-size pieces before it is served, with the exception of the chicken, fish or suckling pig, which are sometimes served whole for people to appreciate before eating. If you want to have Chinese food in China, you had better learn how to use chopsticks.
The art of eating with chopsticks often presents difficulties to foreigners, but it is nevertheless easy to learn. The way the Chinese handle their chopsticks vary from person to person, but generally speaking, chopsticks are held in the right hand (many people do hold chopsticks in the left hands). The first, keep the low chopstick remain stable and let the thick ends of it rest naturally upon the junction of your thumb and your index finger. The second, the upper chopstick is held by the thumb, middle finger and index finger. In this way, the tips of the chopsticks can be spread apart or brought together to pick up a morsel.
Unlike Japanese chopsticks, Chinese chopsticks are blunt and round on the eating end. Apart from bamboo, wood, jade, ivory, plastic, silver and gold can all be used to make chopsticks. They are roughly the same length throughout China (about twenty-five centimeters). Special long bamboo chopsticks are used in the kitchen.
Chopsticks are not only used as eating tools and they have many other functions. In the past, silver chopsticks or wooden chopsticks inlaid with silver thread were used to test if a dish had been poisoned or not. The silver would turn black if it touched poisonous food.
As part of ancient Chinese diet culture, Chinese table manners are the traditional styles that are used for eating in the country. There are some taboos in traditional Chinese table manners.
- Never stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, which will be viewed as an evil presage and will sustain the disapproval of the seniors. The reason is that, it is the unique way to show the esteem and care for the dead.
- Don’t tap on your bowl with your chopsticks especially when you are a guest, because people believe that is the humble behavior of beggars when they beg for food.
- It is considered bad manners to hold chopsticks all the time over the meal. The diner should put down the chopsticks beside his eating bowl or plate as soon as he sends a bite into his mouth.
- It would be impolite or even offensive to point chopsticks at other people during the meal.
Sometimes the host will serve some dishes with his or her own chopsticks to guests, which, unlike the West, is a way to show his or her hospitality. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat the whatever-it-is and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable with that, you can just say “thank you” and leave the food there.
Chopsticks are also used in Mongolian dancing. In certain dances, Mongolian girls have a bundle of chopsticks in each hand. As they dance, they beat the sticks against their shoulders, arms, waists, legs, feet, or the chopsticks in the hands of the others.