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Why did the Chinese use chopsticks to eat?

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#1 chinaking


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Posted 09 June 2007 - 05:43 AM

I'm just curious about the historical origin of chinese chopsticks. The westerners tend to use fork and knife to eat their food. But for the chinese, they tend to use chopsticks instead of fork and knife.

Why did the chinese use chopsticks to eat chinese food instead of using fork & knife?

Edited by chinaking, 09 June 2007 - 05:44 AM.

#2 DaMo


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Posted 09 June 2007 - 06:12 AM

Well, the use of a fork as an eating implement is relatively recent. Westerners used to eat with the hands a lot until this fork/knife thingy became popular. Chopsticks are much older, and can do pretty much whatever a fork does. Spoons are used at the Chinese dinnertable, I'm pretty sure. It's just knives that are not used ... but the food is expected to be already in bite-sized pieces or easily dismemberable.
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Posted 09 June 2007 - 06:26 AM

I'm just curious about the historical origin of chinese chopsticks. The westerners tend to use fork and knife to eat their food. But for the chinese, they tend to use chopsticks instead of fork and knife.

Why did the chinese use chopsticks to eat chinese food instead of using fork & knife?

According to what I read in chinese pre-history, the chinese were also using fork & knife to eat the food before switching to chopsticks. During the pre-historic times, knife was used to cut the food and the fork was used to grap the food to the mouth. However, with the invention of clay pottery during neo-lithic times, the pre-historical chinese began to cook their food in pots over fire and share it among the family members. You can't actually use fork to grap the food in pots, as they were too short, so people found what's available in the forest (mainly two sticks), and use the two sticks to grap the food in the pots to eat. This two sticks soon began to be developed as what's called chopsticks today.

The above is just a possible explanation of the historical origin of chinese chopsticks. But the development of chinese chopsticks as the main utensil for eating cannot be explained without a further clear understanding of characteristics of chinese culinary and eating culture .

1. Chinese Eating Culture exists in terms of 'sharing food' rather than 'distributing food separately to a person'. In western culture, food is usually served separately to a person (individually - partly for hygiene reasons and partly due to individualism). But in chinese eating culture, food is often shared amongst friends/other people on a round table. [P.S. This was a clear demonstration of the cultural difference between chinese and west in the form of "collectivism (chinese) vs individualism (west) "].

The sharing of food amongst chinese eating culture has its origin from prehistoric times when the chinese hunters shared the food amongst everybody . They would sit around a pot with cooked food inside and use a 'public chopsticks' to grap the food onto their bowls/plates. Then they will cut the food using a knife and eat it with a fork.

As times developed, the chinese began to think of a more convenient way of eating. They would have someone prepare the food in a pot (i.e. cut the meat into pieces and then cook it) and then serve it to share among others. But instead of using only one "public chopsticks" for all, they would have individual chopsticks for each person, so that they can easily grap the food from the pot. Because all the food were already prepared (i.e. cut), there was no need to use knife/fork to cut the food during eating. This soon led to the practice of using knife/fork to eat food being abandoned. What's replaced was the practice of using chopsticks.

2. The chinese food culture soon developed into two main areas namely: "art of cooking" and "art of eating". The art of cooking (culinary art) was more concerned with skill of cooking good food. The art of eating was more concerned with enjoying good food and the culture associated with eating.

In terms of eating art, the presence of 'knifes & forks" on the table was considered to be 'dangerous' as it could lead to possible 'fighting' (considering the fact that knifes & forks are sharp enough to kill someone). Therefore any form of 'danger' should be removed from the eating tables, so that there could be a peaceful moment/atmosphere for eating. And b'cos the chinese tend to share the food, having 'lots of fork/knifes' might create a certain sense of danger during the prehistoric times, chopsticks gradually replaced 'fork & knives'. Chopsticks do not in anyway pose any danger to other people who are sharing the food on the table. It was thus considered to be 'more civilized' from chinese perception to eat with chopsticks rather than using fork and knives.

3. Eating in chinese culture is a way of improving human relationship among family/friends. Not only was the food to be shared among family, "Serving food to others on the same table" was also commonly practised. Serving food to others (by helping others grap food to their plates on the table) was best practised using chopsticks instead of fork & knives, because fork & knives are considered 'dangerous' and impolite.

The above are just some points mentioned when I read a book on chinese eating culture. Any comments are appreciated.
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