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Chinese Chopsticks


Introduction to Chopsticks

Chopsticks are a pair of sticks, usually made of wood, used for eating Asian food. In Chinese, the old word for "chopsticks,",and also in some varieties of modern Chinese such as Hokkien, was zhù (箸 Pinyin:zhù, Minnan: tī). However, using the word “zhù” became a taboo on ships because it sounded the same as another word meaning "to stop" (住). Consequently, it was replaced by a word of opposite meaning, kuài (fast, quick), which evolved into the current term, “kuàizi.” This gradually spread until it became the word for "chopsticks" in most varieties of modern Chinese. The character for this new meaning of "chopsticks" (筷) for kuài has the radical for bamboo added to the character meaning "fast" kuài (快). The English term, “chopsticks,” is supposedly derived from the Pidgin English spoken in British Chinese colonies. The Chinese term, “kuai-tzu,” or “quick ones” became chop (Pidgin for “quick”) sticks.

Chopsticks come in many different forms. Bamboo tends to be the most popular material from which to make them. There is plenty of bamboo in Asia, and it is easy to split and extremely resistant to heat. Other popular materials have included wood and bone, and chopsticks made of precious metals were not uncommon among the wealthy in ancient times. It was believed that silver chopsticks would turn black upon contact with poisoned food, although this has since been disproven by modern science.

It is believed the first chopsticks were developed over 5000 years ago in China. The earliest evidence of a pair of chopsticks made out of bronze was excavated from the Ruins of Yin near Anyang, Henan, dating back to roughly 1200 B.C. Early Asian man would retrieve his food from the fire using sticks or branches broken from trees. Later, as the population grew and resources became scarce, people would cut food into smaller pieces to save fuel because the smaller portions cooked faster. This eliminated the need for knives, and chopsticks became the utensils of choice. The onset of Confucianism is believed to have further cemented the use of chopsticks as the primary Asian eating utensil. Confucius taught, “The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen, and he allows no knives on his table.” Confucius’ disdain for the presence of knives at the kitchen table, coupled with the popularity of his teachings no doubt contributed to the expanding use of chopsticks among the population.

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