Why do people in the East eat with chopsticks and not with forks?

THE Chinesei Japanese and other Far Eastern peoples do not use the fork because, when cutlery became commonly used in the West (around the 18th century), they used chopsticks for many centuries and they had no intention of changing their habits. In fact, chopsticks have existed since approximately 2nd millennium BCwhen he was in power there Shang dynasty. Originally they were only used for cooking, but at the time of Han dynasty (III BC – III AD) the Chinese also began to use it to put food in their mouths.

Today chopsticks are used daily throughout the Far East, both for eating and, sometimes, for stirring food or transferring it from the pot to the plate. The reasons why they have become so popular can be traced back to China’s economic and cultural history.

What are chopsticks and how to use them

The chopsticks – called kuai zi in Chinese, hashi in Japanese e chopsticks in English – are tools used to bring food to the mouth. They are used in China and other Far Eastern countries, particularly Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The use is facilitated by the fact that in these territories generally Not you bring foods to the table that need to be cut (meat, for example, is already served in small pieces).

Chopsticks, held between the thumb and fingers of one hand, function as pliers. One chopstick must be held still and the other must be moved to “grab” the food.

There shape of chopsticks it changes depending on the place. In China, they typically have one square end and one round end; in Japan they are shorter and pointed; in Korea, they are of medium length and often have decorated handles. Also materials with which they are built are very varied: wood, bamboo, plastic, steel and others.

Chopsticks of various types (credits FiveRings)

Why don’t the Chinese use a fork?

China and the peoples of the Far East they have not passively suffered Westernization. The fork, although already existing in the ancient world, became a commonly used utensil in Europe between the 17th and 18th centuries (previously people used spoons and hands to eat). The Chinese, who had already developed the chopstick system for many centuries and were suspicious of contact with the West, had no reason to change such an ingrained habit. But since when have chopsticks existed?

Fork and chopsticks in a Vietnamese restaurant in France (Credits Guilhem Vellut)

Origins and diffusion of chopsticks

Chopsticks have been used at least since the time of Shang dynasty (18th-12th century BC). The oldest example found by archaeologists dates back to around 1200 BC. However, originally chopsticks were not used for eating, but for cooking. The most common piece of cutlery was the spoon, which allowed for easy eating milethe most consumed food of the time.

The use of chopsticks to bring food to the mouth is attested by time of the Han dynasty (III BC – III. AD) and with the passing of the centuries it has spread to an ever greater extent, even crossing the Chinese borders and establishing itself in much of the Far East. Chopsticks coexisted with spoons until the period of Ming dynasty (17th-20th century), during which they definitively took over.

Because chopsticks have established themselves

Various theories have been formulated regarding the reasons why chopsticks were invented in China. One of the most accredited claims that they spread thanks to the Confucianism – a religion/philosophy still very popular today – according to which knives are symbols of war and should not be used at the table.

Pseudoportrait of Confucius

Other explanations refer to economic-social factors. During the Han Dynasty and subsequent centuries, China’s population underwent rapid decline population increase, due to which it became necessary to produce greater quantities of food. The rice became the most common food and new dishes spread, such as noodles (Chinese noodles), which became very popular at the time of Song dynasty (960-1279). The change in eating habits favored the spread of chopsticks, which could easily “grab” new foods.

Furthermore, there is a reason related to eating habits: some foods are extracted directly from the broth or boiling water and the chopsticks allow you to remove them from the mouth just enough to avoid burning yourself.

Song dynasty time chopsticks, spoon and bowl (credits Gary Lee Todd)

The rules for using chopsticks

The use of chopsticks is regulated by precise rules of social behavior. The rules vary depending on the country, but some principles are accepted by all Far Eastern peoples. For example, they don’t have to never use chopsticks to skewer food (with rare exceptions) and to move plates and bowls. Furthermore, it is absolutely forbidden to use them for fiddle or, worse yet, to play an imaginary drum set!