Why Do Chinese People Eat With Chopsticks?

Chopsticks I
Chopsticks I | © Michael Johnson / WikiCommons
Rachel Deason

Though people like to joke that a rice-staple country shouldn’t be eating with two long sticks, chopsticks lend themselves well to China‘s style of cuisine. Now ubiquitous in the country and in Chinese restaurants worldwide, they have a long and distinguished history. Here’s everything you need to know.

The earliest confirmed use of chopsticks in China was in 1200 B.C. during the Shang dynasty. Yes, the same dynasty that gave us the oracle bones and the strongest examples of ancient Chinese artifacts also originated China’s favorite utensil.

These earliest chopsticks were made of bronze and were used primarily for cooking. Designed much longer than today’s chopsticks, the bronze versions were able to reach deep into pots of boiling oil.

Chopsticks from around Asia

For almost a thousand years, this was the primary function of chopsticks – it wasn’t until 400 A.D. that they were shortened and used for eating. Around this time, cooks started chopping meat into small pieces to conserve cooking oil. Consumers quickly realized that chopsticks were perfect for moving these bite-sized pieces from bowl to mouth.

Long before this, however, the utensil had already received a celebrity endorsement from none other than Confucius himself. The philosopher believed that sharp utensils like knives would remind eaters of the gruesome way the meat came to be in the bowl. Chopsticks, on the other hand, had dull ends, thus sparing their users from images of the slaughterhouse.

Chopsticks on bowl

By 500 A.D, chopstick use had spread from China to neighbors Japan and Vietnam, where the design was adapted to local tastes. In Japan, chopsticks were made in different sizes for men, women, and children respectively. In Vietnam, palm wood was used in favor of bronze and porcelain.

While it was Japan that eventually invented the one-use chopsticks in 1878, China was the original source of the ingenious design that has brought angst to many a takeout eater worldwide.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article