Friday, January 16, 2015

Chopstick (筷子), History, and Etiquette

Chinese people have been using chopsticks as main tableware for more than 3,000 years and were first used about 5,000 years ago.The earliest evidence of a pair of chopsticks made out of bronze was excavated from the Ruins of Yin near Anyang, Henan, dated roughly around the time of the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE) It is thought that people cooked their food in large pots which held heat for a long time, and hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. By 400 B.C., because of such a large population, and dwindling resources, food was chopped into small pieces so it could be cooked rapidly to conserve fuel. The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and thus, chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that during The Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) Confucius, who was a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse.

Chopsticks have been made from a variety of materials. Bamboo has been the most common, and popular material because it is inexpensive, readily available, easy to split, resistant to heat, and odor. Cedar, sandalwood, teak, pine, and bone have been used to make chopsticks as well. Throughout out history, the very wealthy had chopsticks that have been made from various different materials including jade, brass, coral, ivory, bronze, silver, and gold.

In the times of the dynasty periods, it was thought that silver chopsticks would turn black if they came into contact with poisoned food. It is now known that silver had no reaction to arsenic or cyanide, but if rotten eggs, onions, or garlic were used, the hydrogen sulfide they released might cause the chopsticks to change color.Traditionally Chinese chopsticks are usually 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end, as opposed to the sharp point sometime seen.

 Rules of Etiquette:

Chopsticks are to be used as an extension of one's fingers, to pick up portions of food which are prepared and brought to the table in small and convenient pieces.

Chopsticks may also be used as a means for sweeping rice and other nominal morsels directly into ones mouth from the bowl.

Always hold your chopsticks towards their end, the further away from the food the better. This is not only proper etiquette, it gives you better leverage.

After you have finished eating, or are not using your chopsticks, lay them down in front of you with the tips to left.

Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into rice. This is reminds one of death. This is a ritual done only at funerals when rice is put into a small bowl on the altar, with the chopsticks sticking straight up.

Never pass food directly from one set of chopsticks to another. Again, this is a funeral tradition that involves the bones of a cremated body, and the immediate family members.

It's considered rude to point, wave them in the air, or play with your chopsticks.

How to use Chopsticks:

To separate a piece of food in two, simply exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other in order to tear the food. This takes some practice. With larger pieces of food it is  acceptable to pick the whole morsel of food up with your chopsticks and take a small bite.

Further Information:

For those really interested in chopsticks visit the Kuaizi Museum in Shanghai. The museum has collected over 1,000 pairs of chopsticks. The oldest pair ever unearthed is from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). Kuaizi is the Chinese word for chopsticks, meaning 'quick little fellows'. Fear of using chopsticks is called consecotaleophobia.

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