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The story of Chopsticks

Updated on September 21, 2011

When the first English Seaman set his foot on the beach of the Yangtze River near Shanghai, he saw some Chinese fisherman having their lunch. Those fishermen invited him to join in, and gave him a bowl of boiled rice and a pair of bamboo sticks, and they shared a pot of chicken stew.


When the English seaman was watching interestingly how those Chinese fishermen shovelled rice from the bowl into their mouth and pick up chicken from the pot using a pair of bamboo sticks. Those fishermen waved their chopsticks, saying: "Chop, Chop. "(Eat, eat!) Then they showed him how to pluck chicken meat off the bone by the chopsticks. What they meant actually was to encourage the seaman to start eating, but the English seaman mistook it as the name of bamboo sticks. So he wrote in his sea diary: Chinese don't eat with forks and knives, they use chopsticks instead!


That's how this English word chopsticks has been invented. Actually, the Chinese word for Chopsticks was "Zhu", which sounds similar to the word "stop", so it became a taboo among the superstitious fishermen on the ship. They wish their boat sailing quickly, so they call chopsticks "Kuai", which means "quick". As such "Kuai zi" eventually replaced the original word "zhu".


Ying C Compestine invented a story for the origin of chopsticks in her book, and said "all Chinese people ate with their hands", and she gives credit for the invention of chopsticks to a hungry boy named "Kuai zi", who "pulled two sticks from the kindling pile and used them to spear chunks of hot food."


I wonder why Mrs. Compestine invents this story which is neither witty nor humorous, nor lacks of culture meaning. Actually, why do we need a human brain to use a stick to fish out food from a hot pot? The world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees, Dr. Goodall observed that even a chimpanzee can use thin sticks to fish termites out of a termite mound, and they even use sticks to measure the depth of water and as "walking sticks" to support their posture when crossing.


Western people don't know how to use chopsticks, because they have been evolved too far away from their ancestor, and totally forgot how Adam and Eve ate with a pair of sticks, for there is no records in the Bible. But Chinese people continue to use chopsticks generation after generation, and they decorate the chopsticks with delicate calligraphy, pictures of dragons and phoenixes, and images of Chinese opera and landscapes. We make chopsticks out of different materials such as wood, bamboo, silver, gold and ivory. We turn chopsticks into wonderful artworks, a pair of chopsticks are not only just eating tools, but also collectible art which bears five thousand years of culture and history.


It's said that the tyrant King Chou of Shang dynasty first ordered his craftsman to make chopsticks out of ivory, but we now know that there are no elephants around the Yellow River basin in the North China. Archeologists develops a theory of climate change on Central Kingdom, where once was a very warm area such as India. But most of the historians believe that the ivories which King Chou used had been tributed by nations from the south.


Ancient forensic also used silver needle to detect poisons such as arsenic, so it's wide spread belief that that silver chopsticks can detect poison for they may turn their silver colour into black when they came in contact with poisonous food. The fact was that the arsenic was not pure due to poor refinery technology, which contains traces of sulphur or sulphide which can produce a layer of silver suphide by chemical reaction, so that change the colour of silver.

Kungfu Chopsticks

Chopsticks is also a lethal weapon as deadly as knives and forks in the hands of Chinese kungfu master. I am not kidding, and it's one of real hidden weapons, and even more difficult to defend because the kungfu master don't have to take out flying darts, he simply shoots out his chopsticks while he's feasting with his enemy, and the talks break down. A normal bamboo chopstick can penetrate a metal washing basin, you can imagine how it may happen when it hit human flesh!

Unity is strength

We all know that you can easily break one chopsticks, but it's quite difficult to break a bunch of chopsticks. This is so called "unity is strength", and this story has been handed down generation after generation. Once upon a time, an ancient King who had twenty sons, every one of them has one merit or another, but they always fought against each other. One day, the King was lying in his deathbed, he summoned all his sons to his room, and gave one chopstick each, and ordered them to break it. The sons did easily. Then he gave them each a bunch of chopsticks, and again asked them to break it. But the sons found it was very difficult to do so, almost impossible. The King looked at them meaningfully, and breathed his last. The princes understood what their father was trying to teach them, and they stopped fighting each other, and worked together to create a powerful dynasty.

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