Chopsticks are shaped pairs of equal length sticks that have been used as the traditional ancient kitchen and eating utensils in virtually all of East Asia for over six thousand years. Chopsticks were first used by the Chinese and later spread to countries, through cultural influence or through Chinese immigrant communities, such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, and Myanmar, as well as in areas of the United States, especially California and Hawaii, and cities in Canada and Australia with Chinese communities. Chopsticks are smoothed and frequently tapered, and are commonly made of bamboo, plastic, wood, or stainless steel. They are less commonly made from gold, silver, porcelain, jade, or ivory. Chopsticks are held in the dominant hand, between the thumb and fingers, and used to pick up pieces of food.
Chopsticks were invented in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE) and possibly even earlier during the Xia dynasty. The earliest evidence were six chopsticks, made of bronze, 26 cm (10 inches) long and 1.1 to 1.3 cm (0.43 to 0.51 inches) wide, excavated from the Ruins of Yin near Anyang (Henan) and dated roughly to 1200 BCE; those were supposed to be used for cooking. 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.
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.
Styles in different countries
China: longer than other styles at about 25 centimetres (9.8 in), 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.
Japan: 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. Many Japanese chopsticks have circumferential grooves at the eating end which helps prevent food sliding.
South Korea and North Korea: medium-length with a small, flat rectangular shape, and made of metal. Traditionally they were made of bronze or silver. Many Korean metal chopsticks are ornately decorated at the grip. They are used simultaneously with the Korean spoon.
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