Eating Utensils

When food is mentioned, it is highly necessary to say something about the eating utensils. It is said that there are generally three ways for people of picking up food to eat:40% of people grasp or tear food with their bare hands,30% use knife and fork, and 30% make use of chopsticks. It is the Chinese who first used chopsticks thousands of years ago.

So chopsticks can be said to be a great invention by the Chinese. They are regarded as the extension of fingers, which are not afraid of extreme heat and coldness. But exactly when the Chinese began to use chopsticks, as an eating instrument is anybody’s guess. It is said that people began using chopsticks during the Shang Dynasty. They were first mentioned in Liji (The Book of Rites),a work compiled nearly 2,000 years ago. Likewise they were initially in theform of twigs, which the primitive Chinese possibly used to pick up a roast after they began to use fire. The twigs evolved into the wooden, tapering sticks, as we know them today. It is generally held that chopsticks began to be called kuaizi since the Ming Dynasty. But in the documents of the Ming and the Qing dynasties, kuaizi was seldom used, instead, zhu was often used to refer to chopsticks, especially in literary works.

Materials of Chopsticks

Zheng Chuanyin and Zhang Jian made a succinct summary about the invention and development of chopsticks in the Dictionary of Chinese Folk Customs,”Chopsticks,a food picking utensil made of bamboo or wood, is widely used by the Hans and some minority ethnic groups. In remote ages, they were made of branches, bamboo or natural animal bones. Later they were made of scraped bamboo or wood. Ivory and jade chopsticks appeared during the Xia and Shang dynasties; bronze and iron chopsticks emerged during the Spring and Autumn Period. Lacquer chopsticks did not appear until the Han Dynasty. Later silver and gold chopsticks were made. Among all kinds of chopsticks, the ones made with rhinoceros horns, jade or ebony inlaid with gold were the rarest.”

Chopsticks may be made of several materials: bamboo, wood, gold, silver, ivory, pewter, and plastics. In the cross-section, they may be either round or square. Some of them are engraved with colored pictures or calligraphy for decoration. Ordinary chopsticks usedin Chinese homes are made of wood or bamboo; those for banquets are often ivory, whereas gold ones belonged only to the royalty and aristocracy.

Holding of Chopsticks

Whatever their shapes or their material, chopsticks should go in pairs, and the pair must be identical to each other. The correct way to use chopsticks is to hold the pair in the hollow between the thumb and forefinger of your fork hand. The one closest to your body should rest on the first joint of the ring finger and stay relatively immobile. Hold the other one with the forefinger and middle finger, which manipulate it like pinchers to pick up the food. The strength applied by the fingers should vary with the things to be taken hold of. The skill to pick up, with speed and dexterity, small things like beans and peanuts and slippery things like slices of preserved eggs can only come from practice and coordinated action of the fingers.

Chopsticks-Dexterity and Intelligence of the Chinese People

Incidentally,using chopsticks has a great deal in common with wielding a brush to write Chinese characters.Those who write with a good hand,some scholars have observed,are invariably those who handle the chopsticks correctly.One holds the writing brush in the same way as one would the moving chopsticks and,while writing,one must achieve coordination in the movement of the shoulder,arm,wrist and fingers in order to write well.Westerners are very much fascinated at the skills the Chinese display at chopsticks and it is said that there are training centers established specially to teach people how to handle chopsticks.

The invention of chopsticks fully displays the dexterity and intelligence of the Chinese people.According to some Japanese scholars,to properly handle chopsticks requires the coordination of over 80 joints and 50 muscles;what’s more,certain cranial nerves are also involved.Therefore,using chopsticks can help make people more dexterous and intelligent.

Westerners are often impressed with the cleverness of the Chinese hand that makes embroideries and clay sculptures with such consummate skill.Couldn’t this skill be attributed to the constant use of chopsticks?

Chopsticks are initially used in China,but the first museum in the world of chopsticks isestablished in Germany,where are exhibited,from various countries and regions and periods in history,more than 10,000 pairs of chopsticks that are made of gold,silver,jade,animal bones,etc.