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All About “Kuàizi”-Chopsticks in China

What is Kuàizi?

The Chinese term for chopsticks that is used nowadays is kuàizi (筷子) where the first character means “quick” (快) and the second means “bamboo” (竹). However, in Ancient China they were first referred to as “Jia” (箸). Then in the Qin period, it changed to “zhu” (箸), which had the meaning of “tool for picking up food”. Around the late Han and early Ming dynasties, it changed to “kuàizi” as the old word for it had a pronunciation that was close to “stop”, which is one of the words in Chinese that is considered negative and not bringing luck.

How do chopsticks in China look like?

The Chinese chopsticks are usually around 10 to 11 inches long. If the sticks are made of melamine, they are almost always with rounded or squared blunt tips, but if the production material is bamboo or wood, they are more likely to have pointed tips. The chopsticks in China are not tapered and are relatively thicker compared to the chopsticks in Japan.

Chinese people pick food from a further distance because they have to pick up the food from shared plates on the table. They use gong kuai (shared chopsticks) to pick up food from these shared dishes and serve them on their own plate.

Their design can vary a lot. Some of them are engraved with different colors and carry messages from Chinese poems. Others are visually richer by having different ornaments or settings painted on them.

What materials are used?

chopsticks Materials

The Chinese chopsticks have been historically composed of almost any material so there have been over 200 different types only based on the material used and its source. The most common sticks nowadays are made of melamine plastic. They are used mostly in restaurants because they are easy to clean and durable. Their demand is on the rise as the Chinese government is trying to move away from using disposable bamboo chopsticks due to environmental reasons.

After plastic, the most common types of chopsticks are bamboo and wood (usually sandalwood, cedar, pine or teak). The reason is that they are inexpensive, widely offered and resistant to heat. Other types of materials that are used are metal (stainless steel and precious metals), jade, ivory, and porcelain. However, these are all common only for relatively wealthy families.

During the Chinese dynasties, the chopsticks made of silver had a curious use. They were believed that they could detect poisonous food by changing color to black. However, this was not the case for almost any type of poison. On the other hand, they changed color when used for rotten eggs, garlic, and onion, because the silver is reacting when touched with the hydrogen sulfide that these foods release.

History of chopsticks in China

History Of Chopsticks In China

Originating between 4000 and 5000 years ago, what we now call chopsticks used to be simply bamboo twigs, which were used for cooking and serving food from pots with boiling water or oil. The first evidence of chopsticks use is 3 pairs of bronze sticks, which were 10 inches long. They were found near Anyang (Henan province) dating to 1200 BC. Approximately a century later, the emperor of the Shang Dynasty Zhou was recorded to be using handcrafted ivory chopsticks. The text where this is mentioned is the “Han Feizi” written by Han Fei in the 3rd century BC.

Chopsticks in China were most probably first used as table utensils during the Han dynasty (500-400 AD). However, during the Ming dynasty, they got their current length, a new name – kuaizi – and became widespread. At that time the Chinese population was experiencing high growth so natural resources became scarce.

Food was prepared faster by being cut into small pieces, which was ideal for the inexpensive bamboo chopsticks. Knives stopped appearing on the dining table at that time. Great influence for that to happen had the philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC) and his non-violent teachings. The fact that knives could remind the Chinese of weapons or violence even influenced the shape of the chopsticks as their tips became blunt.

An honorable man keeps well from the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his dining table.

Chinese chopsticks etiquette

There are certain norms that any local or foreigner should obey when eating with chopsticks in China. Although the Chinese do not follow them so strictly as they once did in their history, it is good manners to at least be conscious of them. Here is a list with what you should or should not do with your sticks:

  • do not spear food;
  • do not suck them;
  • do not play with them;
  • do not hold them in your left hand;
  • do not use uneven sticks at the same time;
  • do not leave them crossed on the plate or table;
  • when finished, leave them at the top of the bowl;
  • do not leave them sticking upright in the rice bowl;
  • do not dig in the food searching for something specific;
  • when not in use, place them to the right or below your plate;
  • when taking a break from eating, leave them on either side of the bowl;
  • you can transfer food to close relatives if they cannot pick up the food themselves;
  • do not point people with chopsticks or leave them resting pointing towards someone;
  • do not tap them on the edge of your bowl as the Chinese associate that with begging;
  • do not use them upside-down, unless you stir or transfer the food between plates or dishes;
  • holding them incorrectly would be considered as a failure from the parents to teach their children;
  • when on the dinner table, wait for the elderly people to take up their chopsticks before anyone else;
  • use serving chopsticks to take food from the common dishes to your own bowl, if there are such on the table;
  • when eating rice from a bowl, hold the bowl up to your mouth and use chopsticks to push the rice directly into the mouth;


Why do the Chinese use chopsticks?

Chinese have been using chopsticks almost since the founding of their civilization. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of their culture and history, which the Chinese are proud of using every day.

How do you say “chopsticks” in Chinese?

The Chinese word for chopsticks is “kuàizi” (筷子).

Do the Chinese use chopsticks?

Yes, the chopsticks in China are normal eating utensils. They are used daily by over 1.2 billion Chinese people.

Are chopsticks Chinese or Japanese?

Although the Japanese are renowned for the long chopsticks craftsmanship, China is the motherland of the chopsticks as they originated there around 4000-5000 years ago.

Who invented the chopsticks in Ancient China?

There is no single person or year connected to the first chopsticks ever created. However, there are 3 legends coming from the Chinese folklore about who and how invented them. Of course, all 3 of them have some historical inconsistencies, but nevertheless, speak a great deal about what the Chinese culture is.