From Wikipedia Aug 2013

Chopsticks (singular: chopstick) are short, frequently tapered sticks used in pairs of equal length, which are used as the traditionaleating utensils of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Originated in ancient China, they can also be found in some areas of Tibet and Nepal that are close to Han Chinese populations. Chopsticks are most commonly made of wood, bamboo or plastic, but in China, most are made out of bamboo. Chopsticks are held in the dominant hand, between the thumb and fingers, and used to pick up pieces of food.


The English word “chopstick” may have derived from Chinese Pidgin English, a pidgin in which “chop chop” meant “quickly”.[1][2]According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest published use of the word is in the 1699 book Voyages and descriptions byWilliam Dampier: “[T]hey are called by the English seamen Chopsticks”.[3]

The Chinese term for chopsticks is kuaizi (Chinese: 筷子; pinyinkuàizi). The first character (筷) is a semantic-phonetic compound with a phonetic part meaning “quick” (快), and a semantic part meaning “bamboo” (竹).[4]

In ancient written Chinese, the character for chopsticks was 箸 (Middle Chinese: d̪jwo-; pinyinzhùPe̍h-ōe-jī: tī/tū). Although 箸 may have been widely used in ancient spoken Chinese, its use was eventually replaced by the pronunciation for the character 快 (pinyin:kuài), meaning “quick”. The original character, though still commonly used in writing, is rarely used in modern spoken Chinese languages, with the exception of modern Hokkien, which maintains the old usage.

For written semantic differentiation between the “fast” versus “chopsticks” meanings of 快, a new character 筷 was created for “chopsticks” by adding the “bamboo” (竹) radical (⺮) to it.[5]

In Japanese, chopsticks are called hashi (箸). They are also known as otemoto (おてもと), a phrase commonly printed on the wrappers of disposable chopsticks. Te means hand and moto means the area under or around something. The preceding o is used for politeness.[6]

In Korean, 저 (箸, jeo) is used in the compound jeotgarak (젓가락) which is composed of jeo (chopsticks) and garak (stick). Jeocannot be used alone.

In Vietnamese, chopsticks are called “đũa“, which is written as

the semantic, and 杜 đỗ as the phonetic part in Chữ Nôm.


See also: List of Chinese inventions

Chopsticks originated in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE), replacing the fork.[7] The earliest evidence of six chopsticks, made of bronze, 26 cm long and 1.1 – 1.3 cm wide, were excavated from the Ruins of Yin near AnyangHenan, dated roughly 1200 BCE and those were supposed to be used for cooking.[8][9][10] The earliest known extant textual reference to the use of chopsticks comes from the Han Feizi, a philosophical text written by Han Fei (c. 280-233 BCE) in the 3rd century BCE.[11]

The first chopsticks were probably used for cooking, stirring the fire, serving or seizing bits of food, and not as eating utensils. Chopsticks began to be used as eating utensils during the Han Dynasty. Chopsticks were considered more lacquerware friendly than other sharp eating utensils. It was not until the Ming Dynasty that chopsticks came into normal use for both serving and eating. They then acquired the name kuaizi and the present shape.[12]

17th c Chopsticks

A painting of a Japanese woman using chopsticks, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi


To use chopsticks, the lower chopstick is stationary, and rests at the base of the thumb, and between the ring finger and middle finger. The second chopstick is held like a pencil, using the tips of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and it is moved while eating, to pull food into the grasp of the chopsticks.[13] Chopsticks, when not in use, are placed either to the right or below one’s plate in a Chinese table setting.[14]

For cooking

Saibashi (菜箸; さいばし) are Japanese kitchen chopsticks used in Japanese cuisine. They are used in the preparation of Japanese food, and are not designed for eating. These chopsticks allow handling of hot food with one hand, and are used like regular chopsticks.[citation needed] These chopsticks have a length of 30 cm or more, and may be looped together with a string at the top. They are made from bamboo, but for deep frying, metal chopsticks with bamboo handles are preferred, as the tips of regular bamboo chopsticks discolor and get greasy after repeated use in hot oil. The wooden handles protect against heat.


There are several styles of chopsticks that vary in respect to:

Length: Very long, large chopsticks, usually about 30 or 40 centimeters, are used for cooking, especially for deep frying foods. In Japan they are called ryoribashi[15] when used for cooking and saibashi when used to transfer cooked food to the dishes it will be served in.

Taper: Chopsticks are usually tapered, either China’s blunt or Japan’s sharp and pointy.

Material: Chopsticks are made from a variety of aterials: bambooplasticwoodbonemetaljadeporcelain and ivory.

Bamboo and wood chopsticks are relatively inexpensive, low in temperature conduction and provide good grip for holding food. They can warp and deteriorate with continued use if they are of the unvarnished/unlacquered variety. Almost all cooking and disposable chopsticks are made of bamboo or wood. Disposable unlacquered chopsticks are used especially in restaurants. These often come as a piece of wood that is partially cut and must be split into two chopsticks by the user (demonstrating that they have not been previously used). In Japanese, these are known as waribashi (割り箸).

Plastic chopsticks are relatively inexpensive, low in temperature conduction and are resistant to wear. Due to their composition, plastic chopsticks are not as effective as wood and bamboo for picking up food because they tend to be slippery. Also, plastic chopsticks cannot be used for cooking since high temperatures may damage the chopsticks and produce toxic compounds.

Metal (commonly stainless steel) chopsticks are durable and easy to clean, but metal is slippery. Silver is still common among wealthy families, as are silver-tipped wooden or bone chopsticks.[16]

Other materials such as ivory, jade, gold, and silver are typically chosen for luxury. Silver-tipped chopsticks were often used as a precaution by wealthy people, as it was believed that the silver would turn black upon contact with poison.[17]

Embellishments: Wooden or bamboo chopsticks can be painted or lacquered for decoration and waterproofing. Metal chopsticks are sometimes roughened or scribed to make them less slippery. Higher-priced metal chopstick pairs are sometimes connected by a short chain at the untapered end to prevent their separation.

Styles in Different Cultures


From top to bottom: Taiwanese melamine chopsticks, Chinese porcelain chopsticks, Tibetan bamboo chopsticks, Vietnamese palmwood chopsticks, Korean stainless flat chopsticks with matching spoon, Japanese couple’s set (two pairs), Japanese child’s chopsticks, and disposable “waribashi” (in wrapper)

  • Chinese: longer than other styles at about 25 cm (~10 inches), thicker, with squared or rounded sides and ending in either wide, blunt, flat tips or tapered pointed tips. Blunt tips are more common with plastic or melamine varieties whereas pointed tips are more common in wood and bamboo varieties. Chinese sticks may be composed of almost any material but the most common in modern day restaurants is melamine plastic for its durability and ease of sanitation. The most common type of material in regular households is lacquered bamboo. 
  • Japanese: shorter length sticks tapering to a finely pointed end. Japanese chopsticks are traditionally made of wood or bamboo and are lacquered. It is common for Japanese sticks to be of shorter length for women. Children’s chopsticks, in smaller sizes, are common.  
  • Korean: medium-length with a small, flat rectangular shape. Traditionally they were made of brass or silver. Many Korean metal chopsticks are ornately decorated at the grip. They are used simultaneously with the Korean spoon. 
  • Vietnamese: long sticks that taper to a blunt point, quite like the Chinese style; traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo. A đũa cảis a large pair of flat chopsticks that is used to serve rice from a pot. 


Chopsticks 2

The proper way of holding chopsticks

Chopsticks are used in many parts of the world. While principles of etiquette are similar, finer points can differ from region to region.

Chinese Etiquette

Further information: Customs and etiquette in Chinese dining

  • When eating rice from a bowl, it is normal to hold the rice bowl up to one’s mouth and use chopsticks to push or shovel the rice directly into the mouth.
  • It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts. Often, family members will transfer a choice piece of food from their plate to a relative’s plate as a sign of caring.
  • It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl; beggars make this sort of noise to attract attention.[18][19]
  • It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick. Anything too difficult to be handled with chopsticks is traditionally eaten with a spoon.
  • It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.[20]
  • Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes “feeding” the dead and death in general.
  • Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on a child’s parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children.
  • Traditionally, everyone would use their own chopsticks to take food from the dishes to their own bowl, or to pass food from the dishes to the elders’ or guests’ bowls. Today, serving chopsticks (公筷, “community-use chopsticks”) are used. These are used to take food directly from serving dishes; they are returned to the dishes after one has served oneself.
  • When seated for a meal, it is common custom to allow elders to take up their chopsticks before anyone else.
  • Chopsticks should not be used upside-down; it is “acceptable” to use them ‘backwards’ to stir or transfer the dish to another plate (if the person does not intend to eat it). This method is used only if there are no serving chopsticks.
  • One should not ‘dig’ or ‘search’ through one’s food for something in particular. This is sometimes known as “digging one’s grave” or “grave-digging” and is extremely poor form.
  • Resting chopsticks at the top of the bowl means “I’ve finished”. Resting chopsticks on the side of one’s bowl or on a chopstick stand signifies one is merely taking a break from eating.

Taiwan Province(China) Etiquette

Chopsticks Bento Box

Chopsticks with a bento in Taiwan

  • Food should not be transferred between chopsticks. Food in need of transportation should be placed onto the recipient’s plate or on a new plate for collection.
  • Using chopsticks like a knife and fork to cut soft foods into smaller portions for children is widely accepted.
  • Chopsticks should not be planted on the rice such that they stand up, as this resembles incense stuck in the ash of a censer and is thus connected with death.
  • Chopsticks should not be rested on the table but rather on a provided chopstick rest or lying across the rice bowl in a sideways fashion. Alternatively, they can be placed flat on the bowl when finished.
  • Chopsticks should not be bitten on, or linger in one’s mouth for too long.
  • Chopsticks should not be dipped into the soup bowl or used to pick up contents from the soup bowl.

Japanese Etiquette

Further information: Dining etiquette in the Japanese cuisine

  • Food should not be transferred from one’s own chopsticks to someone else’s chopsticks. Japanese people will always offer their plate to transfer it directly, or pass a person’s plate along if the distance is great. Transferring directly with chopsticks is how bones are passed as part of Japanese funeral rites.
  • The pointed ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used. However, when a chopstick rest is not available as it is often the case in restaurants using waribashi (disposable chopsticks), a person may make a chopstick rest by folding the paper case that contained the chopsticks.
  • Reversing chopsticks to use the opposite clean end is commonly used to move food from a communal plate, and is acceptable if there are no communal chopsticks (for example, if the meal is hosted at someone’s home). If the meal is at someone’s house, communal chopsticks are not requested if there are none on the table. At a restaurant, it is better to mimic the locals. If one is the host, community chopsticks should be provided.[citation needed]
  • Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table, as this symbolizes death, or vertically stuck in the rice, which is done during a funeral.[citation needed]
  • Chopsticks should be placed right-left direction; the tips should be on the left. Placing diagonal, vertical and crossing each stick are not acceptable both in home and restaurant manners.[original research?]
  • In formal use, disposable chopsticks (waribashi) should be replaced into the wrapper at the end of a meal.[original research?]

Korean Etiquette

In Korea, chopsticks are paired with a spoon, and there are conventions for how these are used together.

  • The elders pick up the utensils first, then the younger ones do.
  • It is considered uncultured and rude to pick up a dish or a bowl to bring it closer to one’s mouth, and eat its content with chopsticks (except certain noodle dishes likenaengmyeon). A spoon is used with chopsticks, if the food lifted “drips”. This is in stark contrast to Chinese and Japanese convention.
  • When laying chopsticks down on the table next to a spoon, one must never put the chopsticks to the left of the spoon. Chopsticks are only laid to the left during the food preparation for the funeral or the memorial service for the deceased family members, known as jesa.
  • Holding both a spoon and chopsticks in one hand simultaneously or in both hands is also frowned upon.
  • Use a spoon to eat soup, stew, liquid side dishes, and rice, and chopsticks for solid side dishes. Eating rice with chopstick is accepted but traditionally considered to be practice of low class and may be frowned upon. Traditionally, one will use chopsticks to pick up a side dish, lay it down on the table, then pick up the spoon to eat rice or soup.


Vietnamese etiquette

  • As with Chinese etiquette, the rice bowl is raised to the mouth and the rice is pushed into the mouth using the chopsticks.
  • Unlike with Chinese dishes, it is also practical to use chopsticks to pick up rice in plates, such as fried rice.
  • One should not pick up food from the table and place it directly in the mouth. Food must be placed into your own bowl first.
  • Chopsticks should not be placed in the mouth while choosing food.
  • Chopsticks should never be placed in a “V” shape when done eating; it is interpreted as a bad omen.
  • The individual’s chopsticks should not be dipped into the communal soup bowl, e.g. canh.
  • Reversing the ends of the individual’s chopsticks to the “clean ends” is preferred if communal serving utensils are not provided.

Environmental impact

Disposal Chopsticks

Disposable chopsticks in a university cafeteria trash bin in Japan.

The most widespread use of disposable chopsticks is in Japan, where around a total of 24 billion pairs are used each year,[22][23][24] which is equivalent to almost 200 pairs per person yearly.[25] In China, an estimated 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are produced yearly.[25]This adds up to 1.66 million cubic metres of timber[26] or 25 million fully grown trees every year.[25] In April 2006, the People’s Republic of China imposed a five percent tax on disposable chopsticks to reduce waste of natural resources by over-consumption.[27][28] This measure had the most effect in Japan as many of its disposable chopsticks are imported from China,[25] which account for over 90% of the Japanese market.[24][29]

American manufacturers have begun exporting American-made chopsticks to China, using sweet gum and poplar wood as these materials do not need to be artificially lightened with chemicals or bleach, and are appealing to Asian consumers. The USA also has an abundance of wood, reducing the number of trees that are cut down in Asia.[30]

The American-born Taiwanese singer Leehom Wang has publicly advocated use of reusable chopsticks made from sustainable materials.[31][32]In Japan, reusable chopsticks are known as maihashi or maibashi (マイ箸?, meaning “my chopsticks”).[33][34]

Health Effects

A 2003 study found that regular use of chopsticks by the elderly may slightly increase the risk of osteoarthritis in the hand, a condition in which cartilage is worn out, leading to pain and swelling in the hand joints.[35] There have also been concerns regarding the use of certain disposable chopsticks made from dark wood bleached white that may pose a health risk, causing coughing or leading to asthma.[36]

A 2006 Hong Kong Department of Health survey found that the proportion of people using serving chopsticks, spoons or other serving utensils has increased from 46% to 65% since the SARS outbreak in 2003.[37]

See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online“Definition of chopstick”.
  2. ^ Norman, Jerry (1988) Chinese, Cambridge University Press, p267.
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition 1989
  4. ^ Wilkinson, Endymion (2000). Chinese history: A manual. Cambridge: Harvard University. p. 647. ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4.
  5. ^ Norman, Jerry (1988) Chinese, Cambridge University Press, p76.
  6. ^ “otemoto”. 2002-12-08. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  7. ^ Needham (1986), volume 6 part 5 105–108
  8. ^ 卢茂村 (Lu, Maocun). “筷子古今谈 (An Introduction to Chopsticks),” 农业考古 (Agricultural Archaeology), 2004, No. 1:209-216. ISSN 1006-2335.
  9. ^ “Le due leggende sulle bacchette cinesi”. 2008-06-19. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  10. ^ (Chinese) 嚴志斌 洪梅编著 『殷墟青銅器︰青銅時代的中國文明』 上海大学出版社, 2008-08, p. 48 ”第二章 殷墟青銅器的類別與器型 殷墟青銅食器 十、銅箸 这三双箸长26、粗细在1.1-1.3厘米之间,出土于西北岗1005号大墓。陈梦家认为这种箸原案有长形木柄,应该是烹调用具。” ISBN 7811180979 OCLC 309392963
  11. ^ Needham, Joseph. (2000). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 5, Fermentations and Food Science. Cambridge University Press. p. 104. footnote 161.
  12. ^ Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A Manual (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Rev. and enl., 2000), 647 citing Yun Liu, Renxiang Wang, Qin Mu, 木芹. 刘云. 王仁湘 刘云 Zhongguo Zhu Wen Hua Da Guan 中国箸文化大观 (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1996).
  13. ^ Reiber, Beth; Spencer, , Janie (2010). Frommer’s Japan. John Wiley & Sons. p. 37.ISBN 0-470-54129-6. “The proper way to use a pair is to place the first chopstick between the base of the thumb and the top of the ring finger (this chopstick remains stationary) and the second one between the top of the thumb and the middle and index fingers.
  14. ^ Giblin, James Cross (1987). From hand to mouth: How we invented knives, forks, spoons, and chopsticks, & the manners to go with them. New York: Crowell. p. 35.ISBN 978-0-690-04660-1.
  15. ^ Shimbo, Hiroko (2000). The Japanese Kitchen. Boston, MA: Harvard Common Press. p. 15. ISBN 1-55832-177-2.
  16. ^ See Aero, page 48
  17. ^ Access Asia: Primary Speaking and Learning Units. Carlton, Vic.: Curriculum Corporation. 1996. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-86366-345-8.
  18. ^ “Difference”. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  19. ^ “Pandaphone”. Pandaphone. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  20. ^ “Chinese Chopsticks”. p. 4. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  21. ^ Naver(web search site inKorea, bookeesibil aoulbook,2010.3.25, Shin sora, Kim youngmi, Lee jaeyoung, Kim eunsook
  22. ^ Hayes, Dayle; Laudan, Rachel (2009). Food and Nutrition. New York: Marshall Cavendish Reference. p. 1043. ISBN 978-0-7614-7827-0.
  23. ^ Rowthorn, Chris (2007). Japan (10th ed.). Lonely Planet. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-74104-667-0.
  24. a b “Rising Chinese chopstick prices help Japan firm”Asia Times Online. Asia Times. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  25. a b c d “Japan fears shortage of disposable chopsticks: China slaps 5 percent tax on wooden utensils over deforestation concerns” Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  26. ^ “Annual output of 4 billion pairs of biodegradable plant fiber chopsticks project of Jilin Agricultural Science Hi-tech Industry Co., Ltd.”. People’s Government of Jilin Province. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  27. ^ “China imposes chopsticks tax”ABC News. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  28. ^ “As China goes ecological, Japan fears shortage of disposable chopsticks”USA TODAY. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  29. ^ “Japan faces chopsticks crisis”The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  30. ^ Philip Graitcer (2011-07-17). “Chopsticks Carry ‘Made in America’ Label”. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
  31. ^ “Wang Leehom, “Change My Ways”” 2007-08-22. Retrieved 2008-09-07.
  32. ^ Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  33. ^ “Chopstick Economics and the “My Hashi” Boom | Japan”. Stippy. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  34. ^ [1][dead link]
  35. ^ “Chopsticks and Osteoarthritis in the Hand”. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  36. ^ “Xinhuanet News Article”. 2005-06-02. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  37. ^ “Hong Kong Department of Health survey”. 2006-12-26. Retrieved 2009-07-14.

External links