Reading an interesting book called Chopsticks: a Cultural and Culinary History, By Q. Edward Wang (Cambridge University Press, 2015). He looks at their history from neolithic bone chopsticks found in Jiangsu to the widespread use in oriental restaurants in the west today. Indeed he writes of chopsticks cultural sphere which includes Japan Korea and Vietnam. The first documented evidence is that of King Zhou of the Shang dynasty who used ivory chopsticks around 1,000 years before Christ. Instructions on how to use them may be found in several ancient Chinese classics.
It's odd that such a book has never been written since nearly two billion people use them to eat everyday, and several hundred million more every now and again. Indeed some historians have divided the world into there three groups of finger-feeders, fork-feeders and chopstick feeders. Chopsticks may in fact be seen as a superior means of eating finger-style, as artificial fingers.
Wang provides detailed analysis of the evolution of chopsticks, and the current distinction between materials used to make them wood in Japan, metal in Korea and porcelain in China. Some believe the use of chopsticks has unexpected benefits are:
Perhaps the most original chapter is on chopsticks as gift, metaphor and symbol, for example in wedding ceremonies in China or on special occasions at the New Year when the Japanese must use new chopsticks, which are often of the double-ended kind so that a person may eat with one end and share food with others with the other end.
It had never occurred to me in reading my favourite Chinese poet, Li Bai, that in ‘Hard is the Journey’ the phrase “I lay my chopsticks down” is used to accentuate his sorrow at leaving his friends, that chopsticks were such a powerful social symbol.
Gold vessels of fine wines,
thousands a gallon,
Jade dishes of rare meats.
costing more thousands.
I lay down my chopsticks down,
no more can one banquet,
And draw my sword and stare
wildly about me
Ice bars my way to cross
the Yellow River,
Snows from dark skies to climb
the T'ai-hang Mountains!
[translation by Arthur Cooper, in Li Po and Tu Fu, Penguin, 1973]